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Sandakan hosts 4th Pastoral Meeting on Migrants

The Eucharist - source of communion among the delegates.
The Eucharist – source of communion among the delegates.

SANDAKAN – Eighty-two people representing six dioceses from three regions converged in the Diocese of Sandakan for the 4th Pastoral Meeting, themed Church without frontiers, Mother to all, to look into pastoral issues regarding migrants and itinerants between the Sending, Transit and Destination Dioceses. The dioceses involved are the Sending arch/dioceses of Ende and Larantuka of Flores, Indonesia, the Transit Diocese of Tanjung Selor, Kalimantan, and the Receiving Dioceses of arch/dioceses of Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Keningau of Sabah.   The meeting, hosted by the Diocese of Sandakan, was held at the Conference Hall of Diocesan Pastoral Centre on  Oct 19 – 22. The theme was taken in conjunction with the message of Pope Francis given in Rome for the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

The first of such meetings took off in 2011 at Sta Maria Imakulata Chuirch in Tarakan, Diocese of Tanjung Selor, the second at Holy Trinity Church Tawau in 2012, while Larantuka hosted the third one at Rumah Bina Saron in 2013.

This year’s meeting saw an increase in participation including  Bishop Julius Gitom of Sandakan, Vicar General Romo Gabriel of Larantuka, 16 priests, 11 religious and 53 delegates.

The aim of the meeting was fivefold: (1) to map out a common direction in the pastoral care of migrants and itinerants among the sending, transit and receiving dioceses; (2) to assess the effectiveness and challenges faced in the implementation of decisions resulting from the 3rd Pastoral Meeting; (3) to realise and understand the reality and difficulties faced by migrants and itinerants; (4) to strengthen collaboration in the planning and implementation of the pastoral response towards the migrants and itinerants; and (5) to strengthen and expand the networking among the sending, transit, and receiving dioceses.

The event kicked off on the first day with words of exhortation by Bishop Gitom, “The theme for our tripartite meeting ‘Church without frontiers, Mother to all’ emphasises that the Church is a Mother to all, who is open to whoever is thirsty and hungry for God, needy, in travail, and in need of help, among these are certainly the migrants and itinerants. This, therefore, is our Mission.”

The prelate continued,  “The pastoral meeting provides us the foundation to learn how to foster friendship with one another. A caring attitude, welcoming or receiving visitor who is not known to you, as well as a willingness to help strangers and destitutes, is a Christian attitude, as reflected in Pope Francis’ message for World Day of Migrants and Itinerants “The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, when living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy.”’

He went on, “In this Year of Mercy, we must remember mercy shown us by the Lord, so therefore why couldn’t we in turn be witnesses to this mercy shown us? With this, let us spread this mercy to the Catholic migrants and itinerants who have come to us, and who one day would return to their land of origin a better Catholic.”

Representatives presented their reports on the response to the last statement made during the 3rd Pastoral Meeting  on the second day, followed by an input on ‘The Reality of Migration from the Political, Economic and Social Aspects’ by Simon Sipaun, a human rights activist. The day continued with another session on the significance of the positive and negative impacts on the local Church by the presence of migrants, among which are: increasing the Catholic population in the transit and receiving regions, giving colours and enriching the life of the local Church and its various ministries, facing different challenges in dealing with migrant issues, and the need to organise effective pastoral strategies to overcome them.

On the third day, Sr Anita Yuniastuti RGS of Ruteng Diocese touched on the impact of migration on the family, highlighting the internal factors why migrants leave their homeland as well as what attracts them to the region of destination, among which a major factor is poverty. Migration has caused numerous problems such as the stigma of children not knowing their parents, the threat of violence including sexual abuses, marriage infidelity and the spreading of HIV/Aids.

Group discussions by  diocese and region on the course of direction to take and the formulating of action plans followed. All the reports were consolidated and compiled for the drafting of the final statement for presentation by the resource team on the final day. The day ended with a cultural night after dinner, with stage presentations from the various communities of different language groups in the Diocese of Sandakan: Kadazandusun, Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino.

The last session on the final day – the presentation of the draft for the Final Statement –  was facilitated by Dominic Lim from the Archdiocese of Kota KInabalu. After taking into account the observations and comments contributed by the delegates, the draft was formulated into the Final Statement. Bishop Julius Gitom, the signatory of the document, would present it to the arch/bishops of the eight participating arch/dioceses for their acceptance and adoption. – DOSPO, DS


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