You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. (Ex 22:20)
I remember the first time when my mother left us to work abroad. I was young then and we were left in the care of our minders. It was temporary and only lasted a month. When it happened again when I was 15, I still couldn't comprehend how a mother could leave her children in search of money. It lasted almost two years. In my youth, I reasoned that I didn't need the money but her presence. I spent many nights crying and hating the fact that we had to be in that kind of situation.
I am only one of millions who experienced this. The Philippines has 1 in 8 people who go abroad. That's 10 million people and if multiplied by the families it affects, it could reach 50 million people. There are families who have been separated for more than 25 years.
But due to economic reasons, it has become almost a national strategy to send out people so that the Filipinos could search for greener pastures abroad. The remittances of the Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs has kept the Philippine economy afloat that they have been called the country's "new heroes".
But what do the OFWs go through when they're abroad? I have been witness to the attempted suicides, abortions and predicaments of the OFWs when I was in Abu Dhabi. I remember the blood stains of an abortion on the carpet that I spent hours trying to scrub off. I saw a bloodied wrist as it was getting bandaged after a suicide attempt. I heard the many horror stories and saw the lashes in the women's prison when a young Filipina (almost my age 15) was hit on her bare back 100 times with a reed leaving red blood marks on her skin because she had killed the man that raped her. Rape was common and yet the women kept it to themselves because they had to send money back home for their families. I saw the cramped quarters of the takas or runaways whose employers had abused them.
I am now in Switzerland and I am still privy to the many stories of broken homes, mistresses, depression and wayward children back home because of lack of adult supervision. It haunts me that families have to be apart because parents seek to provide a better future for their children, a brighter tomorrow that they couldn't have imagined if they had stayed back home.
But I understand now, I am an OFW myself. I am sending home money to my family and I am far away with only friends to call family. It is difficult and it is still painful but I have learned to live with the situation because as a migrant here, I am treated with respect and dignity.
I reflect on the reading for today in Exodus. It is not the first time that people have left their countries of origin in search of better tomorrows. To reiterate Dr. Manuel Dayrit's talk during the Workshop on Migration and Development a few weeks ago, we weren't the first to migrate, it was the Jews, then the Africans and the massive exodus of all the nations. And migration had a spiritual aspect.
And in those times, migrants were treated unkindly and unjustly, oftentimes becoming slaves. These days, there's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what Atty. Cej Jimenez calls for is that migrants' rights be included in the basic human rights. Everybody needs to be treated with dignity and that migration is not dealing in commodities but in human persons.
There are three different types of aliens or strangers.
1. One is to be feared - those that are deemed to be dangerous and are a threat to society.
2. One that needs to be taken cared of - like the victim in the story of the Good Samaritan.
3. One to be respected - like the Good Samaritan.
This is the line of thought of the Couples for Christ thrust to build the Church of the Pilgrim. When the Jews were slaves, they not only brought themselves but also their faith. Each pilgrim or migrant brings with himself his culture and his belief system. Thus, migration does not only have an economic or political value but also a spiritual face. It is in those times that introduction to the one God - Yahweh - began. And from then on, whenever a believer travels, he spreads the Good News or spreads his belief. And because migration is rampant, there is a need to build a Church for the Pilgrim and to take care of the spiritual needs of the migrants.
Since we are all pilgrims on this earth, one way or another, we should not forget to remember that we should treat strangers and aliens with the utmost respect befitting a human person and a person who is created by God in His image. In today's Gospel, we are reminded that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind and strength and also to love our neighbour as God has loved us.
This call brings us the challenge of loving every person in need and not to oppress anybody because if we were in their shoes, we wouldn't want to be taken advantage of or to be subjected to ill-treatment. We would like to be respected and to be treated as human beings worthy of living with our dignity in tact.
Tomorrow marks the day of a week-long forum on migration and development. Many nation States will come to Manila for the Global Forum on Migration and Development and will deal with issues relating to the many migrants who have made the world a smaller place because boundaries are blurred. Let us continue to pray that migration will become a migration out of choice and not out of need. And that if we are faced with becoming migrants that people will treat us with dignity and if we meet migrants that we will answer the call to love our neighbours as God has loved us.