Hospitality, for most of us, is something that belongs to the domain of etiquette. We usually do not think of it as a moral virtue. But when hospitality is animated by a genuine concern for others and is mixed with a generous dollop of social justice, there can be little doubt not only that hospitality can be a moral virtue, but that its embodiment in human behavior can be an inspiration.

Take, for example, the hospitality shown by the town of Grand Forks, British Columbia, during the devastating ice storms in January 1998 that hit Quebec and Eastern Ontario, leaving millions of people without electricity for an extended period of time, in some cases, for several weeks.

Grand Forks is a farming and forestry town located in a valley near the United States border about 500 kilometers east of Vancouver. Its 5,000 residents are not particularly affluent. Unemployment is 11% and layoffs are looming in its three wood-processing mills. But generosity is a local tradition.

So, when the citizens of Grand Forks learned about the deprivations their fellow Canadians were experiencing as a result of the century's most damaging ice storm, they were determined to do something to help their suffering neighbors in the East. School superintendent Denny Kemprud proposed that the town provide hospitality for some students. The idea was met with a wave of enthusiasm and soon Internet wires were buzzing with plans of adopting 74 students, ages 13 to 17, plus four teacher-chaperones to come to Grand Forks.

Air Canada agreed to free up 78 seats. Two hundred families volunteered to provide food and lodging. Grand Forks Secondary School organized committees for transportation, housing, and entertainment. The good citizens of this small community with a big heart chose to rescue their so-called "Eastern refugees" from evacuation centers in hardest-hit Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.

Gift of light

When the "refugees" landed at the airport in nearby Kelowna, a local McDonald's restaurant treated them to a free meal before they boarded buses for the ride through the mountains to Grand Forks and their first hot showers in two weeks. The town opened its arms to its guests. The town council presented them with T-shirts. Generous merchants enabled them to go bowling, attend hockey games, and watch the Titanic at the local movie theater.

Operation "Freeze Lift" was an immense success. It is a reminder to the world that with the advent of the Electric Age, we inherit the potential for practicing a new corporal work of mercy: "I was in the dark and you provided me with light." One of the teachers back in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is planning to use the image of hospitality displayed in Grand Forks as a lesson plan for a school course in values, morals, and ethics.

An American author by the name of C.M. Kirkland once said, "Like many other virtues, hospitality is practiced, in its perfection, by the poor. If the rich did their share, how the woes of this world would be lightened."

East meets west

Grand Forks, as mentioned, has a tradition of generosity. One-third of its population has descended from Russian Doukhobors or other European immigrants. It hosts summer visits by young radiation patients from Chernobyl and operates a relief program in Russia. When it was time, after two weeks, for the "Eastern refugees" to leave, the Doukhobor church provided them with a mouth-watering feast of Russian fare, including borscht and vereniki dumplings.

Apparently little was mentioned about the political tension between Quebec and the rest of Canada. But if the students harbored any negative feelings about English-speaking Canada, they seemed to have melted under the warmth of Grand Forks hospitality. As one of the teacher-chaperones stated, "The majority of the students will leave here with a different view of the West." One of the students put it this way: "When part of the country is in trouble, that another part would help is something . . . what would you say, strengthening?"

Though somewhat cloistered in the rugged Kootenay Mountains, Grand Forks might appear, to geographical reductionists, as an isolated community. But its strong moral sense of the needs of others gives it a legitimate place on the stage of world affairs. According to philosopher Francis Bacon, "If a man be gracious to strangers, it shows that he is a citizen of the world, and his heart is no island, cut off from other islands, but a continent that joins them."

The residents of Grand Forks, British Columbia are surely citizens of the world. They are also a moving, albeit modest, example of how morality can be a more powerful factor in unifying people, as well as a nation, than politics.




DeMarco, Donald. "Hospitality." Lay Witness (October, 2000).

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness magazine.

Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.


Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2000 LayWitness

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