“Failte” (pronounced “FALL-chah”) is the Irish word for welcome, but for me it has come to symbolize my experience of the Irish people.
When I landed in Dublin Airport, I was met by Elizabeth McArdle, an associate of the Columbans here in Ireland. As soon as she discovered that I was the young American that she had been sent to pick up, she greeted me with three simple words: “You are welcome.” It sounds a bit strange in American English because of its similarity to our response to a gracious remark, but for the Irish it’s a heartfelt greeting that really has substance. In other words, the Irish don’t leave the “welcome” at the doormat as Americans sometimes do.
In an hour’s time, Elizabeth had driven us northwest from Dublin to Dalgan (in County Meath), where the Columban Fathers built an enormous seminary early in the 1900’s. After having tea with a few of the Columbans that live and work at Dalgan, Fr. Padraig O’Donovan offered to give me a tour of the wildlife reserve that encircles Dalgan. So, for the next three hours Fr. Padraig and I walked along the many footpaths and with each step we became more acquainted with the land and one another.
What Fr. Padraig did is something that I think is very particularly Columban. In order to get to know me, he journeyed with me. He could have politely slipped away after we had finished our tea, but instead he took the time to get to know me through the simple shared experience of walking together.
During the walk, we came to a cemetery where the two founders (Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr. John Blowick) and more than a hundred other Columbans are buried. Next to the cemetery is a wall that has the name of every Columban that has died since the Society’s founding in 1918, along with their age and the country in which they died. What really struck me was how many of the early Columbans died so young in the effort of sharing their experience of faith with people who lived unimaginable distances from their own island homeland. They suffered and died because they chose to journey with people that had all but been forgotten by others.
The Columbans that I’ve had the privilege to meet since my arrival in Ireland have really demonstrated that they have not lost this willingness to encounter people who are different from themselves, and it’s something that really compliments the Irish sense of hospitality. By welcoming strangers, they allow for the opportunity to learn from an experience that is different from their own. By journeying with them, they deepen their understanding and appreciation for people by seeing them face to face.
So, as the week progresses, I look forward to the opportunity to welcome strangers into my own life, and journey with them toward a great appreciation of God’s Creation.