The United States has always distinguished itself for being an extremely hospitable country, because, except for the original Native Nations, practically all of the Northamerican population is derived from immigrants. The same happened in Brazil, which received representatives of at least 60 different peoples.
The democratic spirit and respect for religious differences are enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. Now comes a President, Donald Trump, who has broken a long Northamerican tradition: the respect for religious differences; by rejecting the Moslem population, especially people coming from Syria, and the traditional hospitality for the various types of people who came or are coming to the United States.
In his last book, “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”, the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) proposed a world republic, (Weltrepublik), fundamentally based on two principles: hospitality and respect for human rights.
For Kant, hospitality, (he uses the Latin expression, “die Hospitalität”), is the first virtue of this world republic, because «all of humanity lives on the Earth, and all, without exception, have the right to live on her and to visit her places and peoples; the Earth belongs to everyone in common». Hospitality is a right and the duty of all.
The second principle consists of the human rights that Kant considers «the apple of God’s eyes» or «the most sacred that God gave the Earth». Respecting them make possible the birth of a community of peace and security that puts a definitive end «to the infamous belligerency».
This hospitality is being denied in Europe to thousands of refugees who are fleeing the wars sponsored by peoples from the West. This same hospitality is consciously and explicitly being rejected by Donald Trump to thousands and even millions of foreign “illegal” workers.
In this context is worth remembering one of the most beautiful myths of Greek culture, the hospitality offered by an elderly couple – Filemon and Baucis – to two divinities: Jupiter, the supreme god of Greece, and his companion, the god Hermes.
The myth goes that Jupiter and Hermes disguised themselves as miserable wanderers, in order to test how much hospitality still remained on Earth. They were rejected by all, everywhere they went.
But one late afternoon, very hungry and tired, they were warmly welcomed by this elderly couple, who washed their feet, offered them food and a bed where they could rest. These acts of hospitality moved the gods.
When Jupiter and Hermes were getting ready to rest, taking off their rags, they decided to reveal their true divine nature. In an instant they transformed the humble shack into an splendid temple. Frightened, the kind elderly couple prostrated themselves on the ground in reverence.
The divinities told them to make a request, which would be promptly granted.
As if they had already agreed, Filemon and Baucis said that they would want to continue receiving pilgrims in the temple, and that at the end of life, the two, after such a long life of love, would like to die together.
And they were heard. One day, when they were seated at the courtyard, waiting for the pilgrims, suddenly Filemon saw that the body of Baucis was filled with flowering foliage and that his own body was also covered with green leaves.
They barely had time to say good bye to each other. Filemon was transformed into an enormous Oak tree, and Baucis into a luxuriant Linden. Their crowns and branches intertwined in the heights. And thus, embracing, they remain together forever. The elders of that region, now part of Northern Turkey, always repeat the lesson: those who welcome the foreigner, welcome God.
Hospitality is a test of how much humanism, compassion and solidarity exist in a society. Behind each refugee coming to Europe and each immigrant to the United States is an ocean of suffering and anguish, and also of hope of better days to come. Rejection is particularly humiliating, because it gives immigrants and refugees the impression that they are worthless, that they are not even considered to be human.
The refugees go to Europe because for more than two centuries, the Europeans were in their countries. They took over power, imposed different customs and exploited their wealth. Now that the refugees are in such great need, they are simply rejected.
It is worth rescuing the value and the urgency of hospitality, present as something sacred in all human cultures. We must reinvent ourselves as hospitalarian beings, so as to be worthy in the eyes of the millions of refugees and immigrants in the whole world.
Leonardo Boff Theologian-Philosopher and Member of the Earthcharter Commission
Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, email@example.com.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.