Welcoming and Appreciating Migrants and Refugees

Migrant Sunday was celebrated at the 9.00 am Mass on September 23 at the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) in Sg Ara, Penang. The theme for that Sunday was Greatest in the Eyes of the Lord are Those Whose Heart Has Room for Everyone; this was very much in line with Pope Francis’ message for the 104th World day of Migrants and Refugees 2018 entitled Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting and Integrating Migrants and Refugees. In his message, the Holy Father wrote, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age.”. The message put forward an action-oriented initiative and a template for a shared response based on the four key concepts: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.

In his homily, parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando explained that it is not easy for newcomers to be accepted in a foreign land. He cited the example of the first Christian missionaries in Korea who were mercilessly persecuted and killed for being true to their faith. He reminded us that such persecution continues today and will continue in the future because the forces of evil are at work. Evil needs no reason to make the innocent suffer and the first reading for the day (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20) illustrates this point, giving an insight into how evil works. Similarly, Jesus too was innocent but was cruelly nailed to a cross; he served with love, performing only good deeds, but ended up being put to death. However, Jesus entrusted himself to God, and God, though He did not save Jesus from death, did something far greater: He saved Jesus out of death. Fr Martin then related the true story of an Armenian boy who was trapped under rubble after an earthquake, yet was found alive and well by his father who went on digging for many days. That young boy never lost hope because he trusted his father to keep on searching for him until he was found. In the same way, even in the face of suffering that we do not understand, we need not despair but only trust in our heavenly Father and put our lives in His hands.

Fr Martin then went on to expound the Gospel reading for the day (Mark 9:30-37) in which Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all”. True greatness does not come from undertaking ambitious projects or resorting to ruthless methods to get what we want. Instead, the way to greatness entails serving others and submitting to God's plan for us. Fr Martin then put this into context with the Pope's message. We can be of service to migrants and refugees by making them feel welcome. We can protect and promote them by making an effort to help them achieve better lives for themselves. We can integrate them into our shared goal of becoming more like Jesus so that they too may serve others for the glory of God.

During the presentation of gifts, representatives from the migrant community offered up a basket of fruits and an original artwork by a Nigerian parishioner, symbolic of  the community's commitment to their work and the variety of talents that they possess. At the end of Mass, a video prepared by the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerants in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (ECMI-MSB) was shown. Fr Martin then invited all migrants to come forward for a special blessing.

After Mass, our migrant brothers and sisters from various countries - India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Philippines and Vietnam – were ushered to the Faustina Hall to partake of a hearty lunch. The dishes had been lovingly sponsored, cooked and served up by CDM's local parishioners, some of whom also dropped by just to meet the migrants. A number of them commented on how touched they had been by the Psalm sung in Vietnamese by Martha Oanh Nguyen. The first reading, was proclaimed in the Yoruba language of Nigeria by Adu Emmanuel Ifedayo, and the second reading was proclaimed in Bahasa Batak-Toba by Erni Juntak. These made an impression, as some in the congregation had felt that they were truly hearing the Word of the Lord even as their eyes followed the English translation. Even the ECMI video received the thumbs-up with its heartfelt visuals and the very apt reminder at the end that when we welcome one another, we welcome the Lord.

Written by
Ng Wai Queen
30th September, 2018

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