The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Today, the First Sunday of Lent, we focus our attention on Jesus Christ who, immediately after His baptism, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. There He spends forty days and forty nights, fasting, reflecting, praying and battling the devil victoriously.
Then He begins His mission, inviting all to conversion. His invitation to take the Gospel seriously and change for the better is addressed also to each one of us. The fruitfulness of this Lenten season depends to a great extent on our response to His invitation.
Today we also celebrate the 23rd National Migrants’ Sunday. The theme of this year’s observance is “The Sacrifice of the Filipino Migrants Mirror the Journey of St. Paul.” As our fellow Filipinos migrate to other countries, they may suffer hardship, isolation, loneliness, or abuse.
But like St. Paul, they also bring with them the richness of our Catholic faith and traditions. And this is a great opportunity for them to bring the light of Christ to all the people they will meet.
As the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI opened the year of St. Paul in 2008, he said that the apostle’s courageous witness to the faith should serve as a model for contemporary Christians. His words apply fittingly to migrant Filipinos who are scattered in over 190 countries around the world working to support the needs of their families back home and hoping for better times.
The fate of the Filipino migrants gives them the chance to become the ambassadors of Christ, just as the Holy Father had stressed in his message during the World Day of Migrants and Refugees held last January 18, 2009. Just as St. Paul moved around the various cities along the Mediterranean, Filipino migrants are journeying all over the world. Whenever and wherever they find themselves, they are constantly challenged to give witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, remained faithful to his calling as ambassador of Christ despite the many rejections and difficulties. He had to work in order to support himself and the mission. Prior to his conversion, he had great influence and authority. But in his missions to other lands, he experienced the common treatment given to an ordinary foreigner.
Similarly, Filipinos who are professionals in our country find it difficult to adjust when they have to work overseas taking lowly jobs. We see these struggles in the humbling experiences of teachers who willingly work as household workers or of doctors who have become nurses.
As an itinerant, Paul experienced the difficulty of understanding the culture of the places where he preached the message of Jesus. Similarly, migrant Filipinos find themselves inevitably exposed to strange languages and cultures or countries where religious expression is not freely permitted.
As St. Paul was well-versed in certain languages like Latin and Greek, Filipinos are proficient in the English language. Knowing the English language puts Filipinos in an advantageous position as migrants; but language, unfortunately, is just not enough when one is going through the experience of isolation and loneliness or when one’s basic rights are violated and one’s dignity is lost.
Filipino migrants have to endure a lot of sacrifices to secure the future of their children. They want to work in the Philippines, but the jobs are not enough in the country nor are the salaries sufficient to pay for their basic needs. Persistently, they would embrace jobs overseas out of desperation. After almost forty years of the government’s policy to deploy Filipino workers overseas, the country has still failed to come up with a meaningful alternative means of sustainable livelihood for its people.
For the Church, however, it is very important that as we look at migration as a possibility for the migrants to improve their lives, we should be careful that it is not to the extent of their being exploited or abused. We encourage our migrant Filipinos to become missionaries to other countries by witnessing to their faith.
Many of our migrant workers look at the Church as a place of refuge in times of extreme anxiety. They pin their hopes on Filipino chaplains and pastoral workers whenever they experience exploitation, especially from their employers and labor agents – a reality evidently observed in Asia.
The Pauline letters indicate Paul’s desire to maintain his ties with fellow Christians, especially during his time of incarceration, if only to demonstrate his love for Christ and to witness to his mission. Many Filipino migrants detained overseas may find themselves in the same circumstance as St. Paul.
In fact, those migrants who are not allowed to enjoy a day off would find their situation analogous to the disciple’s detention. Their only access to the outside world is through text using mobile phones, or if they are lucky, through letters. Worse, some of them are sexually abused by their employers while some who could not cope with unbearable difficulties have lost their mind.
Just like Paul who preached the Gospel of Christ and was imprisoned, some Filipino migrants have been detained for their faith. This holds true for a number of migrant Filipinos who were not aware of the laws in certain countries where the public expression of Christianity is forbidden.
But the generosity of the Filipino migrants still shines through whenever they raise funds and give to their kababayans struck by natural calamities such as typhoons or earthquakes. This could be likened to St. Paul’s appeal for collection to aid the poor Christians in Jerusalem (see his Second Letter to the Corinthians).
Amidst the sacrifices of the Filipino migrants, we see the similar values of St. Paul who has shown us how to be a missionary to the Gentiles. Filipino migrants have sacrificed for their families, even to the extent of allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by others, all the time trusting only in God that some day things will be better for them and salvation will be theirs.
Often, they rely on God who will vindicate them from the abuses that they have suffered. The Cross of Christ is their reminder that their sacrifices will bear fruit, just like the sacrifices of St. Paul, who had remained faithful to the Lord. Indeed, the sacrifices of the Filipino migrants mirror the journey of St. Paul.
Fr. Edwin D. Corros, CS
CBCP Episcopal Mission for the Pastoral Care
of Migrant Workers and Itinerant People
Euchalette, 1 March 2009
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