HAVING consulted the College of Consultors, His Grace Most Reverend…
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral care of Migrants and Itinerants (EMI) held the 8th edition of its annual gathering in Brunei recently from 28 Apr – 1 May 2016.
The four-day annual conference was hosted by the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei Darussalam and was held at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (COLA), Bandar Seri Begawan. The event was attended by 18 delegates from nine arch/dioceses from the three countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. This year Sibu and Keningau Dioceses were not represented.
Aside from the usual updating of diocesan reports, members had ample opportunities for interaction with the migrants during the informal part of the meeting, which enhanced their understanding of the plight faced by the migrants.
The migrants were invited to join the members for Mass. In his homily, Fr Alvin Ng noted, that as a Christian community, we are called, we are chosen, and we are commissioned to proclaim the Good News. He called on the members to ponder on the challenges on how to respond to the presence of single mothers, divorced and remarried couples, those who are living in ‘irregular situations’, as well as gay men and women in our church. He quoted Pope Francis, who encourages dialogues, and not to judge and to ensure that we are not guarding and preventing them from entering the door of our church. He added that we must be embracing like Christ, without distinction.
Most of the foreign workers hail from the Philippines, Sarawak and Sabah.
Bishop Cornelius Sim, Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, who had just returned from the 7th United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) Global Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan, said that 90% of the topics were on immigration and migration. There are many challenges faced by the receiving countries, affecting the migrants and locals with both positive and negative effects.
He gave further encouragement to the members, “To all who are serving in the migrant and refugee ministry, it is a tough task but necessary. We need people like you who are able to present their real life stories. We cannot just leave them behind. They need our help because they are also human just like us. The Year of Mercy urges us to ‘welcome the stranger.’”
The members also had the opportunity to visit two other churches, the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception (COOL), Seria and St John’s Church (SJC), Kuala Belait.
A Q & A slot enabled members to share about their struggles and how they meet challenges while serving in the migrant ministry in their respective dioceses. As an aid to find solutions to roadblocks and to empower each other through the sharing session, members listed out the challenges and recommendations on three chosen topics on Migrant Community Development: 1) Integration and Assimilation among migrants and locals; 2) Community Development among migrants; and 3) Reducing Forced Absence of Family Unity among Migrants
Sr Marie Dipal rgs from Sandakan Diocese shared that it was very encouraging for her to see how the Church provides place and space for the various groups/communities enabling them to carry out their activities. “I can feel the welcoming spirit among them, a strong sense of belonging. I am deeply touched by the “free bread and soup” given to parishioners every Sunday after Mass. Migrants serving migrants! This bread-baking activity, initiated by Bishop Cornelius Sim, seems simple and yet, I see it as a way of building connection and friendship among the people and the Church” said Sr Dipal.
Another representative from the Sandakan Diocese, Shirley Joseph said “I am more aware of the reality of life, that as human being that we are people on the move. Migration is part of our lives. It is happening everywhere around the world; whether crossing the country border or just from our remote birth place to the town area nearby to look for a better life and better future. People get hurt during the process of migrating for whatever reasons. Problems cannot be completely overcome but it can be reduced.”
Sandakan Diocese was slated to be the next host for the 9th EMI in 2017, while Singapore Archdiocese would host the Exodus Formation Programme. – DOSPO, Shirley Joseph