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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 81, December 1999

Third National Migration Sunday
 in Taiwan*

Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao
President of the Pontifical Council

National Migration Sunday is held in honour of our brothers and sisters who, with a great spirit of sacrifice, have left their homeland in search of a better condition of life for themselves and their families. Migration for them is a safety valve for the difficult situation in which they live, and at times, a means of redemption from misery. At the same time, it also calls to mind those who leave their country for professional or cultural reasons. For them economic questions are not the foremost reason for moving. Yet, whatever the motive for migration may be, migrants come to a country whose culture is not their own, whose language perhaps they do not know, where the religion of the majority may not be theirs. Very often, migrants feel alone, perhaps lost, in a foreign land. Whom shall they turn to?

In his Message for World Migration Day, the Holy Father called to mind the words Yahweh addressed to the chosen people: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This was meant to call their attention to the way God treated migrants and that they should treat them similarly. Today, God is addressing these words to us, the members of the Christ’s Church, his chosen people. We are to treat migrants the way God treated them.

Whom then can migrants turn to better than the Church, the Christian community? A privileged expression of community – the Holy Father says - is the parish. It is the place where all the members of the community come together and interact. It makes visible God’s plan to call all people to the covenant established in Christ, without any exception or exclusion. In fact, it gathers together into a unity all the human diversities and inserts them into the universality of the Church.

Welcoming the stranger, integrating baptized persons from different cultures, having a dialogue with believers of other religions is not an optional or a supplementary responsibility of the parish community. It is a duty inherent in its task as an institution. 

A migrant can therefore turn to the parish, where everyone is welcome. In the parish no one is discriminated against, for there, no one is an outsider. It combines the stability and security people feel in their own home with the movement or transience of those who are passing through. There, differences between locals and strangers fade in the awareness that all are children of God. Priests, ministers of unity in the parish community, are called to serve with zeal the unity of all the children of the one Father in heaven.

This last year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is dedicated to God, our Father. If God is our Father, then we are all brothers and sisters, members of one family. To one another we have only one debt: love. As St. Paul says: “Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited. It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.” In this year dedicated to the Father, special attention is given to the virtue of love, charity.

Today, Migration Sunday, we are also celebrating the feast of a humble migrant, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, a Filipino-Chinese mestizo, a sacristan in Binondo, Philippines. Lorenzo was forced to migrate to flee from unjust accusations. He experienced the pain of leaving his family behind, when he would have wanted to stay with them. He experienced the suffering of being deceived. The ship he took brought him to Japan while he thought he was going to Macao. He experienced the anguish of persecution, because he professed a different religion from the majority. He experienced fear for his life, and he wanted to save it. But stronger than his love for his life was his love for his Lord and Saviour. A proof of this is his answer to one of his persecutors: “If I had a thousand lives, I would give them all for Christ.” 

My dear brothers and sisters, most probably God is not calling us to a martyrdom similar to that of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. However, he is surely calling us to the daily martyrdom that love, true Christian love entails: sharing our food with the hungry, sharing our clothes with the naked, forgiving injuries, bearing with others, keeping silent instead of answering back, returning good for evil, praying for those who persecute and calumniate us so that we may be children of the Father who makes his sun shine on the good and the bad and makes his rain fall on the just and the unjust.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz was an ordinary person, a “common folk”. His greatness lay in handing himself over to God’s design. Had he not done so, he would have remained in what Cardinal Sin defined as the gray ordinariness of the common folk, with gifts never brought to fulfillment, a greatness never realized, because it can be realized only in grace, activated by the holiness and power of God.

Like St. Lorenzo Ruiz, let us abandon ourselves to God’s design, follow his sometimes unfathomable plan for our lives, in the certainty that our greatness lies in being docile instruments in his hands.

Can migration be a design of God? And why not? Pope Pius XII said: “The phenomenon of modern immigration undoubtedly follows its own laws, but it is really Divine Wisdom which makes use of human events, including sad ones at times, in order to fulfill the design of salvation for the benefit of the whole of mankind.” 

The exhortation that the bishops of the Philippines once addressed to Filipino migrants and overseas workers could very well be my closing message to you: “We exhort you to live your Christian faith, wherever you are. In that way, like St. Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, our migrant saint, you give witness to Christ before the whole world.”

[*] Celebrated in Koahsiung, Taiwan on 26 September 1999.