Musings On Building Strong Foundation For Catholic Migrants: Inclusion Matters
Moving to a new country for the first time may not be easy as it seems. One needs to adjust to the new life, with the new environment, new friends and new society. The migrant is bound to face a lot of changes, i.e, getting over homesickness, and the culture shock from learning and living in a new place.
For Catholics moving abroad, it has been observed that they will either embrace and practice their faith more deeply or they will set aside and abandon their faith all together. Unfortunately, the second observation is in fact a sad reality and that’s what happened to one of my friends.
This friend of mine was given the chance to visit the United States, and so she decided to migrate abroad with no concrete plans in mind. She had a great career in Manila but had to leave the place to seek greener pastures and hopefully to be able to capture the upper labor market in the U.S.
To make a long story short, after three months of her stay in the new place, she was still not able to find a job. Despite of her get-up-and-go attitude and her stellar academic qualification and work experience, she failed to achieve her dream job. As a result, she became depressed and worried of what will happen next. The option to go back home was not possible. It was the most devastating moment of her life especially with no one to turn to in a far away place from home. She had neither siblings nor relatives and friends to confide to during her trying times. She needed help from anyone, from someone who could at least listen to her problems – about what she was going through.
Suddenly, she thought of visiting a Catholic Church near to their place. However, she went there at an odd hour on a regular non-busy day. Unfortunately, the doors of the Church were closed, so she found no one to talk to. There was another church nearby, and when she entered, the people inside invited and welcomed her, even though she was a stranger to their sight. She didn’t realize that the said gathering did not belong to a Catholic Church.
You see, when one is alone, troubled, and a newcomer in a strange place, that could be both riveting and disorienting. As such, any form of assistance and support from anyone, even from non-Catholics would more or less provide solace and comfort to one’s life. And this is what my friend actually experienced. She confided her problems to a Church group which apparently belongs to another Christian denomination.
I was informed she also made attempts to visit the Catholic church on Sundays and she was fortunate to attend Holy Masses. However, her visits to the Church became infrequent. She may have reasons behind it, but I could only surmise that her vulnerability and unfortunate situation in a foreign place made it more difficult for her to avoid the calls and invitations from people who have first adopted and consoled her when she needed help most. These people even provided her with everything to be able to go on with her life, including a temporary employment. She couldn’t afford to give them excuses to their invitations because of the social connectedness or the feeling of “belongingness” which provided her the boost to her self-esteem.
It was too late already when she confided me her situation as she had already undergone another water baptism under the said Christian fellowship. I could only remind her that she had already been baptized in the Catholic Church and that the Sacrament of Baptism already entitled her as a full fledged follower of Jesus Christ and that she can always go back, make friends, request for spiritual direction, and become more involved in Catholic Church activities. I advised her to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our spiritual Mother, to guide her in her quest for truth and happiness and to St. Anthony de Padua as he is the patron saint of lost articles, things, causes or even “lost souls”. Unfortunately, the pieces of advice and suggestions through emails have not been heeded. Last time I know, she was still with the said Church community. I know it is not too late for this friend of mine to go back to her Catholic faith, but in due time she will.
The Catholic hierarchy is supportive of the needs and requirements of the migrants worldwide for the “common good”. For instance, the Diocese of Brooklyn (which includes the Queens Borough) has been actively promoting and assisting migrants, regardless of their origin. In fact, the Diocese was the first one to establish a Migration Office in the U.S. with the end view of providing hospitality to those in need, especially for migrants who find themselves lost and in weak situations. They have instituted an Annual National Migration Week which gives all migrants, including non-Catholics an opportunity to bond together. Incidentally, I was privileged to be part of it in one of their previous activities (See blog post on “40 years of welcoming a stranger”).
It has been said and I have heard this before that welcoming a stranger regardless of status in life is part of our Christian responsibility. Opening our hearts and “doors” of our Churches literally at any time of the day will keep one migrant’s faith strong and this should be encouraged. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation ”Evangelii Gaudium” on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, visualizes the Church as on “a pilgrimage, and thus as in need of transformation rather than resting on some laurels”. He emphasizes that the Church is called to be “the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.” He further “insists on inclusion of diverse persons: The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems”. Furthermore, he states that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.
With the foregoing as our guide, let us pray to the Lord for all of us that as migrants here on Earth, we may be able to open our hearts and our respective “doors” to every migrant we meet specifically those in dire need and the vulnerable, providing them the hospitality they require; that we may also be able to welcome and invite strangers in our faith community and in our homes. We also pray that the concerns (e.g. immigrant status, employment, discrimination, recognition/acceptance of kids in school, etc.) of both old and new migrants specifically that of the undocumented ones be included in the development of plans, programs and activities in every parish of the Catholic Church, not only in America, but throughout the world. Amen.
Note: One of the Sundays next month would be the National Migrants’ Sunday. This blog….