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Lawas hosts 10th ECMI conference

ECMI delegates pose with a migrant community they visited as part of their conference on 23-26 Apr 2018, Lawas Sarawak.

LAWAS – Lawas, a quiet town in the Diocese of Miri in northern Sarawak, hosted the 10th annual conference of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants (ECMI) on 23-26 Apr 2018.

Thirty delegates comprising clergy, religious and lay representing all the arch/dioceses of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei spent four days at St Martin’s Church Lawas, receiving inputs and exchanging viewpoints and ideas for the ongoing pastoral care of the migrants and itinerants in their respective dioceses.

Delegates met and interacted with Indonesian and Filipino migrants working in the wood-processing industries. Bishop Bernard Paul, president of the Commission, presided an evening Mass at a lumber sawmill, which saw the active participation of some 200 migrant workers and their children from various lumber camps in the vicinity.

In his homily, Bishop Bernard commended the migrants for their tenacity and fortitude in facing  challenges and working under conditions that are often far from ideal. He encouraged them to look to Christ as the Good Shepherd who does not forget his flock and guides them to truth and freedom.

A visit to the local fishing village also opened the eyes of the delegates to the harsh realities of the fishing industry. Here, both foreigners and locals work to catch fish and smoke them for markets in Miri, Limbang and nearby Sabah and across the border to Brunei. In between sampling delicious smoked fish offered gratuitously, the delegates also enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the people.

The situations of Indonesian migrants in the Archdiocese of Kuching and Diocese of Sandakan were highlighted by Father Alvin Ng and Father Phillip Muji respectively.

Shirley Joseph from Sandakan Diocese  presented the annual Migrant Sunday Kit, followed by a presentation by ECMI Chairperson, Peter Barnabas of the Diocese of Penang.  He shared on the International Catholic Migrants Commission (ICMC) council meeting in Rome in March and the ICMC meeting in Johor Bahru, Majodi centre in February this year.

The conference also featured Naoko Maruyama, South East Asia and East Asia coordinator of the Migrants and Refugees Section (personally directed by Pope Francis), on the Vatican’s Integral Human Development Office as guest speaker and resource personnel.

Maruyama reiterated the pope’s call to minister to migrants using the four action verbs, namely, to welcome, to promote, to protect and to integrate so as to ensure the integral dignity and humanity of the migrant or refugee. She also explained her role as the liaison between Bishop Conferences and the Vatican while pointing delegates the way to get assistance and support for issues pertaining to migrants and refugees in their own dioceses.

The delegates also took time to sit and discuss the ECMI conference forward moving direction.

Bishop Bernard Paul gave a much needed   recollection for all delegates. Before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, he asked everyone to ponder on the theme of “Oppression”. Participants were invited to ask themselves these questions: Where am I? Oppressed? Oppressing? Freeing? Is there anything oppressing me from setting the oppressed free?

The third day ended with Mass at the new Church of St Martin, with Bishop Richard Ng presiding.

The conference concluded with Mass presided by Fr Alvin Ng.   The delegates returned back to the migrant communities where they serve, recharged and energised to respond even more generously to challenges ahead. In the words of the Franciscan author, Richard Rohr, “We can only give away who we are. We can only offer to others what God has done in us.” – Fr Alvin Ng SJ

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