Forging Ahead Towards An Ever Wider “We”

  • Sep 19, 2021

As a member organisation of Caritas Singapore, the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants & Itinerant People (ACMI) has been looking after the pastoral needs of migrants in Singapore since 1998. As the universal Church prepares to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sept 26, CATHOLIC NEWS speaks with MR RAYMUNDO YU, the newly-appointed Chairman of ACMI’s Board of Directors, on his ideas and plans to serve the migrants and integrate them into the local Church and society.

ACMI’s outreach at a mosque during Eid al-Fitr.

CN: Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate: these are ACMI’s four guiding values and the four “verbs” that Pope Francis, in his 2018 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, reaffirmed must be our shared response to the migrants in our midst. Let’s talk about WELCOME (Hebrews 13:2): “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

RY: I came to Singapore in the 80s as a first-generation migrant, a total stranger, but I will always remember how my family and I were welcomed warmly by my colleagues, both in the office and in their homes.

ACMI’s new Board of Directors, constituted in February 2021, comprise not only experts in their fields of healthcare, media, information technology etc, but the majority of them are also first generation migrants from countries like India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. They are all very passionate about serving in ACMI because having been strangers once themselves, they can understand, identify and empathise with fellow migrants. Also, as practising Catholics, with many having served as faith formators in RCIA and catechism before, they are eager to contribute towards pastoral care and outreach beyond their Directorship portfolios.

CN: What about PROTECT (Psalm 146:9): “The Lord watches over the strangers”?

RY: Very often, migrant workers are seen as means to an end e.g. another “thing” that is necessary for the construction of a building or the upkeep of a home. However, Catholic Social Teaching’s Principle of Human Dignity holds that each and every one of us, regardless of race, nationality, belief or socio-economic status is endowed with the inviolable dignity of a person created in the image and likeness of God.

One of ACMI’s aims is to change the mindset of people to help them see migrants as subjects or persons instead of mere objects or things. When migrants receive the dignity and respect they deserve, they will feel safer and more secure here. In the meantime, for migrants who are feeling spiritually lost, Fathers K S Michaelraj, Joseph Kace, Sambodo Sri Ujianto SS.CC and Romeo Yu Chang, CICM and Friar Julian Mariaratnam, OFM, the spiritual directors of the Tamil, Myanmar, Indonesian, Filipino and Sri Lankan Catholic communities respectively, are there for them.

CN: Now we come to PROMOTE (Deuteronomy 10:19): “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Pope Francis said that this entails empowering migrants to achieve their potential as human persons.

RY: The Holy Father, in this year’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, tells us that we have to change our attitude towards migrants from one of “them” and “us” to one of “we”. His desire is reflected in the theme of his 2021 Message “Towards an ever wider ‘we’”.

Outreach initiatives include giving out free haircuts, vouchers and EZ-Link cards to migrant domestic workers.

If we are to promote the integral human development of migrants i.e. to help them grow not just socio-economically, but also physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well, then we will certainly need to collaborate with Caritas member organisations e.g. with Clarity for mental health issues, and other Archdiocesan agencies as well.

As part of an ever wider “we” of Church, we are also collaborating with parishes to design programmes customised to meet the needs of each parish. For example, the needs of migrants in Our Lady of Lourdes Church (mainly from India) differ from those in the Churches of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (mainly from Vietnam and Myanmar), St Bernadette (mainly Philippines and Indonesia) and St Mary of the Angels (largely from Sri Lanka). So far, we have partnered with these parishes, together with Novena Church and the Churches of the Holy Family, the Holy Spirit and St Vincent de Paul. Our plan is to gradually set up operating centres equipped for skills development and pastoral formation in each District, starting with St Bernadette’s in 2022 and Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2023.

CN: The last, but perhaps the most important guiding value for the migrants themselves, is INTEGRATE (Ephesians 2:19): “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household.” To do this, said the Pope, the Church needs to foster a “culture of encounter”.

RY: Momentary encounters like dropping off goodie bags at workers’ dormitories are not enough to give migrants a sense of belonging; to truly be “family to migrants”, we must earnestly accompany them in friendship, like my colleagues did with me when I first arrived. We hope to pair local “host” families with transnational “guest” families to help them settle in; values such as generosity, kindness, inclusiveness, mutual respect and appreciation of each others’ cultures will be inculcated in children of both families.

Thus, our vision of the Holy Father’s ever wider “we” is one where all parts of the Body of Christ – ACMI, migrant chaplains, parish priests and parishioners, host families – accompany migrants, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, during their sojourn here in Singapore, as one united “we” of the Church. In this way, we obey the Word of God, we witness to our faith in Him by our good works, and we bring joy and peace to our fellow men and women as one “we” of humanity.

But although the harvest is rich, the labourers are few. All migrants hope and dream of a better future for themselves and their families. In this Catholic200SG year and beyond, we invite all people, young or old, Catholic or non-Catholic, to join ACMI’s greater “we” as volunteers to change lives for the better. Just come with loving hearts and open minds, and with the grace of God, we will equip you to shine and ignite through life-giving encounters with our migrant friends!

Published on Catholic News on Sep 19, 2021.