Towards an ever wider ‘WE’

Pope Francis highlights the importance of inclusiveness and fraternity in his 2021 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, stressing that an ever wider “we” will help renew the human family, build a future of justice and peace, and ensure that no one is left behind.

Sep 25, 2021

Pope Francis highlights the importance of inclusiveness and fraternity in his 2021 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, stressing that an ever wider “we” will help renew the human family, build a future of justice and peace, and ensure that no one is left behind.

Setting the scene for the message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father explained that in the Encyclical Fratelli tutti, he expressed a concern and a hope that once this health crisis passes, “we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’.”

For this reason, said the Pope, “I have wished to devote the Message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees to the theme, Towards an Ever Wider “We”, to indicate a clear horizon for our common journey in this world.”

Reflecting on the Holy Father’s message in the Malaysian context, we take a look at how we, as the local Church, can help expand the notion of ‘WE’ to include our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.

We live in a fragmented and divided world. The politics of division in Malaysia is abundantly clear. We too are so, by race, ethnicity, culture, religion etc. We (are made to) think of ourselves as Chinese, Kadazan, Indian, Iban, Malay, Bidayuh, Orang Asli, Bumiputra, non-bumiputra, Muslim, non-Muslim, etc. We are constantly reminded of it. We go by numbers and on who is the majority.

In this context of division and sometimes even segregation, how are we as Church? We must admit that this way of thinking and living has crept into the Church too.

In our parishes, how do we fare? In cities and towns, we are not homogenous. It becomes challenging, and it is so easy to slip into the “them and us” mode regarding foreigners, migrants, and refugees. This mindset also imposes a barrier within us in relating to foreigners. In our outreach to foreigners, is language a barrier? How often do we say, “They cannot speak English or Malay, so how am I to help them?” How about saying instead, “I cannot speak Myanmarese or Urdu?”

Is religion a barrier? Have we ever found ourselves saying, “They are not the same religion as us, so why should we help?”

Do we not make a distinction between an “expat” and a “migrant”? What is the difference really? Nature of job? Monthly income? Place of residence?

In the eyes of God, there is only a “we”. We are invited to work together to break down the walls that separate us, both within the Church and in society, with Malaysians and with foreigners. It is only when we step into the shoes of the other that we can begin to understand the needs of our fellow human beings.

All must be included in the Church and in her care and concern
We meet foreigners wherever we go – in supermarkets, restaurants, workplaces, at home, in church – in fact, everywhere. We have the opportunity to embrace the diversity of foreigners who come to our country. As we encounter such vast and diverse cultures and religions, we are enriched ourselves. There is so much that we can learn just by getting to know people from other countries and their cultures.

There is a need to be ever more faithful to becoming more Catholic, more universal. Are we able to acknowledge their presence, greet them with respect? Do we even say “Hello”? Do we welcome them into our homes for a meal? Listen to their stories?

If there is a foreign helper in our home, do we respect her as another human being? Or is it a case of getting the maximum out of her? I am paying her so she must be only doing work. Does she get any rest? Does she get an off day? How about her living conditions? Are they decent? Is she made to feel part of family celebrations or is she just an observer, watching from a distance and serving? Do I allow her to sit and watch TV together with the family? Do I allow her to watch her favourite TV channel once in a while? Am I willing to sponsor her to learn a skill so that when she returns home for good, she can be gainfully employed and uplift her life? Or do I say, “This is not stipulated in the agreement?” Can we go beyond the law (if it is enforced?).
If you see your neighbour’s or relative’s or friend’s foreign house helper not being treated well or humanely, what do you do? If in your workplace, you see your boss treat a foreign worker differently, would you have the courage to speak up about it?

What can we do to teach our children to better respect foreigners, to treat them as brothers and sisters? How about our BECs? Our parish? If we are Catholic, are the migrants made to feel welcome to be a part of parish life, even in our liturgies?

Maybe I can try to influence my BEC, or just one or two others, to be more involved in the lives of migrants. Or I could join the parish’s migrant ministry.

Or if there is none, shall I try to talk to our priest about it? If there is no enthusiasm shown, then shall I work with a few who are interested? Or if I know of an NGO or group that helps migrants and refugees, I could join them. Or shall I volunteer to teach at one of their learning centres? I do not need to be an activist to do this. I just need to be a Christian who shows care, concern and compassion to migrants and refugees.

We are called to work together. We can grow more and more as the Catholic Church. “We are one body” (Ephesians 4,4). Pope Francis invites us to reach out. While we are all different, we are still one human family. We can play our part in the family and include all people in it.

Let us journey together. We need to build a future of justice and peace. Let us dream together to build a new world. No one must be left behind. We have to persevere and make His creation ever more beautiful. God will demand of us an account of our work. We are one Church, one home, one family.

Encountering God in the migrants and refugees
My every encounter with them amazes me and I find it a rewarding opportunity in my life. The migrants and refugees have moulded me to become who I am today. In them, I encounter a God who is hopeful, hospitable and loving. I admire the sacrificial love for their family, leaving behind their loved ones in order to give them a better life. Hearing their stories, has helped me to appreciate and love my own family more.

The prolonged lockdowns during this pandemic have caused both Malaysians and foreigners to be jobless. Many find it a challenge to even buy food because they are in the “no job no pay” category. As we provided food baskets, this group identified those in need. What was indeed surprising was that local names too were listed! Some were even ready to forego their own share as they said they had already gone back to work. The needs of others were still very much on their minds, even though locals were able to access government welfare aid and others sources.

Migrants and refugees still found ways to be self-supporting as far as possible – even ready to do some simple planting of crops and vegetables or do some work online to earn something… not just waiting for handouts.

In times like these, challenging and painful as they may be, we experience what it means to be one big human family, created by God. It is a concrete, felt experience. We are all in the same boat in this journey of life and are called to work together so that there will be no more divisions between “us and them” but, rather, a single ‘we’ encompassing all of humanity. This is my experience of what Pope Francis speaks of in his message this year, echoing St Paul’s words in Ephesian 2:19 “So, you are no longer strangers and foreigners to one another but are members of God’s family”. — Josie Tey (Coordinator for the Migrants-Refugee Ministry under the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development)


(Josie (standing 4th from right) with some of the domestic workers, personnel and Indonesian Catholic community at the Indonesian Embassy Shelter)

We are all one big family
Refugees can be seen all over our country. How many can we help? About four years ago, we began some contact with refugees from Myanmar and Africa. I could communicate in simple English and BM with them, which means that they must have been here in Malaysia for some time already. Some are single and some married with children.

We got to know of the presence of the Myanmarese Chin Refugees through some friends. It was a bit difficult at first to reach out to them. However, when they found that we were genuine and wanted to do good, it became easier. Slowly they opened up. It became easier to communicate, so we could connect with them and understand the situation they were in. They have the UN card. They are hardworking, with husband and wife working on different shifts or an extra job. They take turns to look after their children. They want to earn enough before they leave Malaysia and go wherever they may be offered resettlement.

There is also hardship among them, especially during the pandemic. A few of us did our best to give them basic food necessities or took them to hospital when needed. Some unfortunately died and we assisted with funeral arrangements to give them a decent burial.

One of the bigger issues faced by them is education. Some have children about 10 years old. They are thinking of the future when they go to a third country. All they need is some lessons in English, Mathematics and Science. If there are several children, it becomes more difficult as they are of varying ages. It is always difficult to find volunteer teachers and even more so in rural areas.

There are a few from Africa too around Pahang. Some are with children. They work hard to earn money to pay for rental and household needs. As the house they were staying in was empty, neighbours and friends were kind enough to furnish it with the basics and even some new things. A Sudanese woman had just given birth and needed assistance as she had complications. A local Chinese woman took her, the new born baby and his elder brother into her house and looked after all their needs. Just picture it: A Chinese woman taking in an African woman into her house. She had only recently befriended and got to know her. Yet she was able to do this.

Incidents like this encourage me in this ministry to migrants and refugees. It is good to see people of different races and religions rallying together to help them in their time of need. Malaysians do care, seeing that we are all one big family of human beings. How good it would be if you could join us in this journey. — Karen Gan (Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mentakab)

NOTE: There are some 179,450 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia as of the end of July. Some 154,860 are from Myanmar, comprising about 102,960 Rohingya, 22,490 Chins and 29,390 other ethnic groups fleeing conflict or persecution in Myanmar. The remaining ones are some 24,590 refugees and asylum seekers from 50 countries fleeing war and persecution, including about 6,640 Pakistanis, 3,270 Syrians and 2,610 Afghans. [Source: FMT July 23, 2021: Malaysia can do more to protect refugees, say activists]

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Eddy W.
Ironically, "We" and "All" do not include the unvaccinated.