We need to move towards a wider ‘WE’

Migrants and refugees have contributed greatly to the economy and society of the country and have become a part of the social fabric of the Church too.

Sep 25, 2021

Pope Francis meets refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos at the Vatican Dec. 19, 2019. (CNS photo/Stefano Dal Pozzolo)


Guest Editorial
Fr Jestus Pereira

The worldwide phenomenon of migration is not something new. It is done even domestically in Malaysia. In recent decades, we have seen large numbers from the Federated States of Sabah and Sarawak heading for Peninsular Malaysia for further studies in private and public universities, for job opportunities, for service in the Armed Forces or the Police or even just to settle down in the Peninsular. This internal migration will continue as long as these reasons exist. Then we have those who have come from other countries in search of greener pastures or to seek refuge before they are sent for resettlement to a third country.

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). Even in the Old Testament, we see migration with its inherent challenges. This is our Christian standard. From the very beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has kept the vulnerable in society close to his heart and the thrust of his whole pastoral ministry.

Today we commemorate Migrants’ Sunday, and as both Church and society, we need to ask ourselves a crucial question: where are we in relation to migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and indeed, any foreigner that comes to our land? For this year, the Pope has chosen the theme: Towards an ever wider “WE”. It simply means this: We are all human beings, we have a shared humanity and we are brothers and sisters in a common family, created by God “in his image and likeness” (Genesis 1:27).

Often, it is an “us and them” attitude or mindset. Our current pandemic surely brings this to the fore. Many individuals, parishes, NGOs and companies with their corporate social responsibility programs have done a great job in providing the basic needs to migrants and refugees. Sometimes this has been done with a “I am helping you” kind of condescending attitude. The many individuals and groups who have come to the aid of migrants and refugees deserve our kudos. It is disappointing to note that some have opted to help only “their own kind” — according to ethnicity or religious affiliation. Some authorities, statutory bodies and groupings have taken a definitive stand to not go to the aid of foreigners.

Migrants and refugees have contributed greatly to the economy and society of the country and have become a part of the social fabric of the Church too. Yet, at a crucial time, when the economic sector is not doing well and many businesses are closed and many are without jobs and income, employers have chosen to abandon their foreign employees. It is a grave injustice to make use of workers and profit well during good times and then forsake these migrant workers when times are bad. Our fellow human beings need, at the least, the very basics for living: clothing, food, health care and shelter. We need to go beyond seeing: What is in it for me? What can I benefit by helping? Or, this group is not going to vote for me!

Parishes are called to reflect on these as well. Our Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) or neighbourhood groupings play a key role in first, identifying the presence of foreigners in their vicinity. Being sensitive to their needs will move us towards the process of integrating “them” into a larger “we” of the BEC and parish. This calls for shedding-off of prejudices against any particular group or nationality and overcoming cultural, religious and social factions and Xenophobia.

Pastors too are called to be especially diligent in looking after those who are away from their homeland and burdened with special difficulties. All are to be included in their pastoral ministry. It devolves on the pastor to harness the gifts and abilities of lay people so that the mission of the parish can be enhanced, thus ensuring that no group of people is excluded from the care and concern needed. Then we become more Catholic, embracing all peoples, even those who are not of the Catholic fold, and truly live out our identity as Church.

A conversion of minds and hearts is needed. It cannot be any longer an “us and them” attitude. There must be a personal and collective commitment that regards all as brothers and sisters. As Pope Francis says, we need to dream big if we recognise that we are companions on the same journey. Then we are in the right direction, moving towards a wider We

--Fr Jestus Pereira is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and currently serves at the Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mentakab, Pahang.

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