Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move - N° 93, December 2003, pp. 307-308
Eucharist and Cooperation between Churches
Bishop Ramón C.Argüelles
Commission for Migrants and Itinerant People
(Episcopal Conference of the Philippines)
An undocumented Filipina factory worker in Taiwan, thanking me for bringing her money to her family at home and for paying some debts to the bank, narrated her spiritual journey as a migrant. In the homeland her whole family went to mass only during Christmas, town Fiestas and birthdays. Her Catholic faith consisted only in those infrequent traditional practices.
After she left for -and illegally overstayed in- Taiwan, her family gradually fell into sectarian groups. But exposed to a non-Christian milieu and in search of a remedy for her loneliness, she sought refuge in clusters of fellow Filipinos gathering in Catholic Churches. The Church-based organizations provide needed company and consolation but also and more importantly the deepening of the faith. The Filipina always looked forward to the Sunday reunion in the Chaplaincy.
Once her Chinese employer asked: “Why do you have to go to Church every Sunday? Why are you not like us? We go to the temple only when we are in need of something!” The Filipina answered, ‘I must go to Mass; I must have fellowship with my fellow Christians; because God loves us and we love Him. We must encounter Him frequently.’ Her faith witnessing led her to influence, first, the children and, later, the parents to take interest in following Christ.
Like this Filipina in Taiwan, most Filipinos take for granted the faith while in the Philippines. Exposed to non-Christian or de-Christianized environment, some lose their faith; but others take the faith more seriously. They at times complain: “Why didn’t they tell this to us earlier?” They regret not being properly formed in the faith back home. Indeed, not only was there lack of proper Catechesis, there was severe lack of enthusiasm to undergo catechetical formation.
At home migrant Filipinos participate in the Eucharist out of social convention. Away from home they seek and gradually find deeper meaning in it. Participation in the Eucharist in their place of economic exile is no more obligatory family activity nor the result of social pressure. The Eucharist is seen as a source of strength helping them carry on with the difficult life without losing hope.
The Great Jubilee Year brought many bishops, coming from all directions of the globe, to congregate one Sunday at the Audience Hall for the Eucharistic Concelebration with the Holy Father. The bishops presented themselves to one another. When some bishops learned that I was from the Philippines, almost all of them would exclaim: “Oh! The Philippines, the most Catholic nation in the world!” To which I swiftly replied: “I wish it is true, Your Excellency, but I feel we still are a long way before we can merit such compliment.” To this the prompt rejoinder will be: “Oh yes, it’s true. I have forty, or four hundred, or four thousand or forty thousand Filipinos, in my diocese. They fill the Churches; they make the liturgy lively; they are devout and God-fearing people!” The late Bishop DiPietro of Port Pyrie told me how he valued a Filipina married to a local person in the Australian outback. She took care of her two growing boys in a very Catholic and Filipino way that everybody noticed the extraordinary upbringing they got from her. Moreover she took upon herself voluntarily the duty of taking care of the parish Church and preparing the Sunday liturgy to make it easier for the priest coming from the distant parish. In many other places many Filipinos are asked to take care of parishes in the absence of a resident priest. I saw this myself in Frechen, Germany. A parish in Mallorca is being taken care of by a Filipino couple whom I knew in my first assignment as a young priest. In Saudi Arabia, a Filipino lay minister almost died a martyr for being an active Catholic leader of the Filipino community. He proudly and joyfully narrated how he celebrated priestless Sunday service several times before he was put in jail. He took the consecrated host from the Italian chaplain who “anointed” him to be an extraordinary eucharistic minister.
Filipinos overseas find the Eucharist very important and indispensable in life. They feel its hidden power that gives them strength. They see the Eucharist as the first reason for fellowship. But the Eucharist also gives them the meaning of their suffering and sacrifices. It is also the basis of what they perceive as their duty to be bearers of the same faith to others.
Many host Churches have seen the importance of strengthening the faith of the Filipinos. Archbishops and bishops have visited Filipino communities within their jurisdiction, thanking them for their presence and activities which contribute to the re-evangelization of their local Christian Communities. They admit the missionary potentials of Filipino migrants. In many places, bishops and archbishops have given migrant Filipinos their places of worship. They realize the importance of the Eucharist for the Filipinos. They provide the Filipinos with holy places where, in participating in the Eucharistic mysteries, their faith is strengthened and their evangelical effectivity is assured.It is the hope of the Church in the Philippines that the host Churches continue to give the Filipinos overseas the possibility of always starting afresh in Christ by providing them with the possibility of frequently celebrating and deeply living the Eucharistic mysteries in their daily life in order that they can become true evangelizers of the Third Millennium.