Filipino migrant workers as missionaries

Culture and faith helps millions of people working abroad grow in generosity for those they are serving
Filipino migrant workers as missionaries

Filipino migrant workers gather in Hong Kong's central district on Sundays. (Photo by Joe Torres)

The phenomenon of Filipino migrant workers around the world reminds us of the Jewish diaspora — a people in search of greener economic pastures because their homeland provides no food, shelter, or education for their children.

Like the Jewish people, Filipino migrant workers bring with them their culture and faith in a God who never abandoned them in their struggle against loneliness.

Most of the estimated 10.2 million Filipinos working abroad are women household helps and caregivers. Many are taking care of children, the elderly and the sick — the so-called least, lost and last in society.

Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar says of women Filipino workers abroad: "The Filipina is a mother and a sister. When she takes care of a little boy in Hong Kong or a little girl in Madrid, she does so with the same tenderness [she does with her own children]."

"As best she can, she leads her children to holy sites and develops the awareness that there is a world beyond consumerism, materialism and individualism. She cooks the delicious meals of her [grandmother] and takes care of the sick stranger who has nothing in common with her in terms of culture, ethnicity and religious tradition.

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"She prays in her own way; uses her prayer book ... fondles the rosary that was blessed by the pope ... lights candles … and sings even if she's off-key."

Filipino migrant workers may not preach directly the word of God, but through their kindness and warmth they are bringing God's message of hope to people. They incarnate in their gentle presence the human face of God's mercy and compassion to lonely strangers.

These Filipinos are missionaries in their own right. What better terms can we call the very humane services extended by these people to the children and elderly of the world?    

The simple but deep belief in a loving and faithful God that Filipinos encountered in their homeland is ironically strengthened in a foreign land. Tested by poverty, they learn to leave home and choose to wander in lands supposedly "flowing with milk and honey."

In these foreign lands, migrant workers also encounter insecurities that lead them to come together and celebrate their cultural identity and faith. Flowing like a river, the Spirit, through the celebration of the Eucharist and other sacraments, accompanies their spiritual journey.

It is their very personal struggle of poverty, loneliness, and alienation that challenge Filipinos' faith to grow stronger and to put their trust in the goodness of God.  

In fact, for many Filipino workers abroad, their internal struggles allow them to grow in generosity, not only for their own families, but toward those they are serving.

They have become truly missionaries even if they were not formally given the mandate by church leaders. 

In baptism, they received their missionary identity and were sent "to bring the Good News to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, free the oppressed and announce the Lord's Year of Mercy."

Indeed, these Filipinos, who leave home and family, are missionaries of the church bringing the human face of God's mercy and compassion to children, the elderly and the sick of this world.   

Bonifacio Tago Jr. is vice president for academic programs and professor of philosophy at Good Samaritan Colleges in Cabanatuan City, Philippines. He is currently taking up a doctorate degree in Theology in Consecrated Life at the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia.

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