On 25 August 2019, the annual Sale Diocese Migrant and Refugee Mass was held at St Michael’s Parish, Berwick.
In the late 1940s, the Bishops’ Conference decided to recruit Migrant Chaplains for the pastoral care of their communities, largely to cater to the language and cultural needs of post WWII immigrants.
In 1976, St Patrick’s Cathedral held the first Migrant and Refugee Mass which is still an annual event ever since. Father Joselito Asis is our current Filipino migrant chaplain based at St Brigid’s Parish in Fitzroy North.
Special guests in attendance during the Migrant Sunday at St Michael’s included the Most Reverend Adolfo Tito Yllana, the Apostolic Nuncio (Pope’s representative) appointed by Pope Francis in 2015 to Australia, along with Bishop of Sale Diocese, Patrick O’ Regan, our parish priest Father Jeff, assistant priest, Father Hiep and visiting clergy.
It could have been just one of those Migrant Masses, but to us the Filipino community, it was made special as the Apostolic Nuncio is of Filipino background, born in Naga City. His earlier diplomatic posts were in Ghana, Sri-Lanka, Turkey, Lebanon, Hungary and Taiwan.
Before his arrival, a community friend asked me to keep a replica of a statue for a month, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, a miraculous image of the Blessed Mother originating from Spain, who is the patroness of the Bicol Region. The Nuncio has her emblem on his coat of arms and has a very special devotion to her. Little did I know that this wonderful icon would be a source of many answered prayers including the safe return of my daughter and her family from the Bahamas (during a month trip to USA) two days before hurricane Dorian hit the country.
The homily of the Apostolic Nuncio was inspirational. Jhon Manalili shared that what really touched him was his message about families—he was grateful for the presence of many children running around the church—their noise and restlessness could be annoyance to us adults but to God, they are communicating with the Lord in their own special ways, being presented to our God at an early age.
The event also made me reflect on my own migration story back in 1984. Although I did not arrive on a boat as a refugee or on a plane as an asylum seeker, I came as a very uncertain young woman, fearful of her tomorrow. I left behind parents, family, career, friends, and everything I had for a “blank future, perhaps a wasted trip.” Leaving a heady love relationship made me cry every night as I called the Philippines every day, wanting to go back. I bemoaned to the Lord that His calling might be a fatal mistake.
As I knelt before the Blessed Mother in 1984 at St Francis Church Melbourne, so forlorn, I asked her to guide me. I was on a visitor’s visa of three months, knew no one except for a relative of a relative, who was kind enough to accommodate me. I did not mind the days ticking by, as if no miracle was possible, I could joyfully go back home. At the nick of time, I met my husband and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was only 20 years later that I realised that God’s plans for me made sense. Jeremiah 29:11- “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yet, despite all the many blessings I received year in and year out, there was always a dissatisfaction, trying to live in the past. I used to grumble of many things Australia did not offer me. I would wake up every night having nightmares and my heart ached of my old home. Such angst is not an easy emotion to understand by those who have not experienced it.
But during a Life in the Spirit seminar, when I was baptised in the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel’s prophecy boomed into my heart like a sped arrow: “Thus says the Lord, through you I shall manifest my holiness in the sight of the nations. I shall take you out of the midst of the nations, gather you together from every foreign land. I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed of all your stains. And I shall give you a new heart…”
As Jesus taught me to know and love Him, I realised that I should be grateful He plucked me out of my old home, to give me much-needed salvation.
Not long after, He gave me back my parents and siblings, successfully sponsoring them, many friends, jobs, communities and parishes to serve.
Together with my sister and brother-in-law who sings at the Sunday 11am Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians at Narre Warren, we have offered our gift of faith from our home country for over 30 years now in different capacities. Nothing wasted in the Lord; in fact, blessings multiplied a hundredfold. No one can really outdistance God in kindness, mercy and generosity once we surrender to Him.
The Apostolic Nuncio at our Migrant Mass that Sunday was rejoicing over what he saw that day. We had a Filipino choir, Filipino food, Filipino attires, but most importantly, he was joyful to see us happy with brothers and sisters from other cultures, quite settled, like adopted sons and daughters, sharing the best of our faith, gifts, talents, treasures, time and energy with our parish and with others and finally appreciating the goodness of our new home.
The fervour to serve the Lord reverberated through the joyful unity waved through our flags, though distinct and diverse, covered by one big banner – the love of Jesus over us.
Photos: Sophy Morley | Catholic Diocese of Sale Facebook Page
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