Migrant workers from four countries proudly carried their country flags high followed by candle bearers as they processed into the church during the entrance hymn of the 9 am morning mass on the 11th October, 2015. They then placed their flags from India, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam on the flag stand and the lighted candles at the end of the sanctuary to proudly announce their countries of origin. Migrants from CDM and Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Georgetown were invited to celebrate Migrant Sunday and more than 300 of them responded. There was an even mix of men and women from the factories, construction sites, private homes (as domestic helpers), and also from professional and managerial sectors. Many came smartly dressed in their national costumes and joined in the mass that was carried in four languages.
The main organizer of the event was the CDM Migrant Ministry assisted by the Diocesan Migrant Ministry of Penang represented by Peter Barnabas. In his speech, Peter mentioned that we must strive to be a borderless church for everyone. This annual event’s main objective was to recognize the dignity of migrant workers within our community. To be more aware of their contributions towards our nation’s economic development, to express our acceptance and support for the challenges that they face in coming to work in a foreign country. It also gives the community an opportunity to pray for them in helping them overcome the emotional pains of separation from family and friends back home. In doing so, we may be able to extend a warm welcome as fellow Catholics and assist those in need of fellowship and spiritual strength in integrating into our community here in Penang. Efforts were made to keep in contact with them so that future activities may be planned to cater more closely with their needs.
To give the congregation a sense of their culture, eight Vietnamese young ladies presented a dance at the offertory.
In his homily, Fr Martin Arlando, the parish priest of CDM, remarked that in this world, we really do not possess anything in life but in reality things possess us. We are often reminded in the First Commandment to give absolute priority to God but we often fail to do so. To illustrate Fr related a story about how monkeys are caught in Africa. A coconut is cut and an orange is placed inside it. The coconut is put together again leaving a hole just enough for the monkey to put its hand through it. The coconut is then tied to a tree and left as bait for the monkey. Eventually, the monkey gets a whiff of the smell of the orange and comes to slip its hand into the coconut and reaches for the orange. But the hand is unable to retrieve the orange as the hole in the coconut is too small for both to go through. The hunter then comes along to throw a net over the monkey who is unwilling to let go of the orange and escape. This is the same with many people today who are unwilling to let go of many things in their lives to follow Jesus. This was the same with the rich man in the gospel of the day (Mark 10: 17-30). Jesus asked the man to turn his back on his riches and follow him but he was not able to give up his wealth. Jesus had looked at the man with love with this offer of eternal life. For the wealthy, this is a difficult decision. In those days, wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and poverty and hardship and a sign of God’s disapproval. Jesus then remarked that it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle (a small entrance in the wall of the city for people to enter after dark when the city gates are closed) than one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. In order for the camel to get through the eye of the needle, the goods it carried had to be unloaded first.
Fr also mentioned that in the First Reading (Wisdom 7:7-11), God was pleased with King Solomon for asking for wisdom instead of wealth. Yet in preferring wisdom, Solomon never left any wealth behind. The important thing is to make use of knowledge to make good choices. To illustrate this, Fr related another story about how a crown price went about choosing between two women as his bride. They were asked to enter the royal gardens and pick any fruit they wanted. One chose to gather a basket of apples, each apple representing her love for the prince. The other chose apple seeds so that she could plant them and have as many apples as she wanted to present to the prince. Needless to say, the crown prince chose the second woman. The rich man in the gospel lived a virtuous life but had poor wisdom. He could not unload his wealth. Small children on the other hand are detached from wealth. Jesus did not ask everyone to leave things behind. He only did so when he had a mission for them. This is seen in the calling of people like Abraham, Moses, Padre Pio, St John Paul II, St Faustina and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We are all accountable to God on how we use our wealth. If we seek and enter into a personal relationship with God, he will call us out. A call to give ourselves more truly and let go of our possessions. This is a call to go and walk in the Lord’s way. This call comes when we least expect it. But everything is possible with God and his grace to live our lives as he wants us to. We will all be restless until we heed his calling. St Augustine was aware of this when he said that our heart is restless until it rests in God.
In welcoming migrants into our community, Fr Martin said we are bringing them to the feet of Jesus. With guiding prayers and works of mercy, we become their sisters and brothers who bring them to the heart of God. He emphasized that our life is a gift from God and we cannot accept the gift without opening our hands. Only with empty hands can be receive the gift of God’s body and blood to live out the call of Christ and be that Jesus to all of them.
Just before the final blessing Fr Martin invited all migrants to approach the altar for a blessing. Fellowship with the migrants was held after mass where the parishioners had the chance to interact with the community of CDM. It was a meaningful time for the migrants who came in taxis, buses and vans to celebrate Migrant Sunday.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
19th October, 2015