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Malaysian Catholics support distressed Myanmar migrants

St. Joseph Church was supporting migrants and refugees from Myanmar and other countries even before the pandemic

Malaysian Catholics support distressed Myanmar migrants

Volunteers from St. Joseph Church in Sentul distribute aid to a migrant family during the Covid-19 pandemic. The parish has collected cash donations for 300 Myanmar migrant families. (Photo: St. Joseph Church) 

Catholics from a parish in Malaysia are supporting some 300 Myanmar migrant families who face hard times due to loss of jobs and income during the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Joseph Church in Sentul, a suburb of capital Kuala Lumpur, has run a successful campaign “Adopt a Myanmar Family” that earmarked donations from the faithful and channeled to the migrant families.

The parish’s Ministry of the Poor appealed to local Catholics through a letter circulated to parishioners and friends of the church to donate at least 50 ringgit (US$12) to the parish’s account. The campaign had 30,000 ringgit ($7,101) collected by July 11 and the amount was given to 300 Myanmar families.

Father George Packiasamy, the parish priest of St. Joseph Church, said he was inspired to run the campaign after he came to know a group of former schoolmates collected donations to support a poor migrant family with three children.   

“Taking the lead from that initiative, I then decided to do the same for the 300 Myanmar families in our parish. These families are desperately in need of help as most of them have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the pandemic and are struggling to make ends meet,” Father Packiasamy was quoted as saying by Herald Malaysia, the Catholic weekly of Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese.

“As a parish community, we have a responsibility to care for the needs of our own parishioners who are struggling during this time.”

The efforts of St. Joseph Church come at a time when many Malaysians are reportedly suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic

St. Joseph Church was established in 1908 after the colonial British government constructed the Central Railway Workshop in 1903 in Sentul, about six kilometers from the Central Railway Station of Kuala Lumpur. The British rulers set up the workshop to repair and maintain locomotives and build carriages in the strategic location on the Malaysian Peninsula.

Due to buzzing economic activities, Sentul has drawn migrants from various Asian countries and the parish’s various ministries have been supporting migrant families even before the pandemic.   

Since the Covid-19 pandemic struck Malaysia in March 2020 and consequent lockdowns, the parish has supported Myanmar migrant families with cash handouts from its Myanmar Fund. Besides, the parish has been providing groceries to some 100 families of migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India every month.

The Educare Ministry of the parish provides free tuition to children of migrants twice a week. Due to pandemic restrictions, classes have moved online.

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As the pandemic and lockdowns continued to be extended, the financial resources of the parish were stretched, prompting the Ministry of the Poor to come up with the crowdfunding project, which proved to be effective.

The efforts of St. Joseph Church come at a time when many Malaysians are reportedly suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The Malaysian government recently said the economy has been incurring daily losses of 2 billion ringgit ($40 million) due to lockdowns.

The International Labor Organization warned that the pandemic might trigger a rise in unemployment rate from 5 percent to 8 percent in Malaysia and some 2.4 million Malaysians would become newly poor due to loss of jobs and income. 

Amid extreme misery, local media reported a rise in suicide cases, while many distressed Malaysians have raised white flags to seek assistance for survival.

According to the Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia, 150,000 SMEs have been shut since the pandemic struck last year, resulting in loss of 1.2 million jobs.

Amid extreme misery, local media reported a rise in suicide cases, while many distressed Malaysians have raised white flags to seek assistance for survival.

Father Packiasamy, the parish priest, has expressed gratitude for the generosity of the faithful and well-wishers.

“I am grateful for their trust and confidence in supporting our mission for the Myanmar families. During this time of pandemic, our parish continues to remain true to our mission of reaching out to migrants and refugees who need our support,” the priest said.

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