Simbang Gabi and the Filipino Migrants

This is a backlog, written just enough for December 25 but was not able to finish it on time. This is ten days late, pero we are still in the Christmas season pa naman hehe. Excuses. Merry Christmas!  

The last of the Dawn Masses or Simbang Gabi was held early this morning of December 24, 2013. Tonight at 10 PM the Churches all over the Philippines will celebrate the Midnight Mass. The end of the Mass heralds the great Filipino family tradition of Noche Buena. Of course it’s in Spanish: a Viva Espana heritage, not an Uncle Sam thing – you know. By Noche Buena we ordinarily mean having on the table the symbolic quezo de bola which would ordinarily last until New Year as display item. Also, sweet spaghetti, with very Filipino ingredients like banana ketchup (in lieu of tomato sauce), corned beef and hotdog slices. We were laughing when some of my friends shared that they had that kind of spaghetti when they were young. “May corned beep yung spageti pare.”

My sister who works in Singapore and who is happily spending Christmas with us, shared that they too celebrate Simbang Gabi there. Filipinos in Singapore have been celebrating Dawn Masses for almost a decade now – at least in the Church she goes to. For other churches, longer. Her friend was kind enough to send some photos of the Dawn Mass at the Church of Divine Mercy. Here are two:

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Lobby of the Church of Divine Mercy

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Inside the Church

Some years ago Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, considered migrants as Bearers of Hope. It’s more of like they are the new breed of Christian missionaries. This is not new of course. Filipinos working abroad have brought with them our traditions and culture. They have been catalysts of change in the countries they work in. I have relatives working abroad, including my sister. I mean it’s a really difficult set-up. And this has made me reflect about how we see our kababayans working abroad.

Envisioning Filipino Migrant Workers

 

Sometimes labels have underlying visions. What are these visions? Let me point to you the difference between government and Church visions. Our government calls OFWs Unsung Heroes. For all intents, my heartfelt acquiesce, however, what is the underlying vision behind Unsung Heroes? The problem surfaces when they begin to explain what unsung hero means. This may be simplistic, but unsung hero when explained reduces OFWs  to mere economic props sending remittances that help augment Philippine economy. Definitely the primary purpose for leaving is monetary. But is that all? Migrants are heroes because we receive something? What if we do not receive anything? In reality, those whom we do not receive anything from are forgotten. Guys, we are not blind to abuses done to our domestic helpers, TNTs, factory workers, etc., abroad aren’t we? And they are not in the least treated as heroes. My problem with the government vision is that OFWs are reduced to economic terms. And to reduce people to economic terms is to reduce them to the language of exchange: equivalence. Behind the emo words like sacrifice, family, leaving, loneliness, departing, dreams of a better life and so on, is just a mere economic explanation.

On the other hand, the Church uses Bearers of Hope in envisioning Filipino migrant workers. An OFW in this kind of vision is not just an economic prop: he or she is not just someone who sends remittances more than a person who brings actual change in the society where he or she lives in. I think this is more holistic. Truly, a migrant worker is driven by financial needs to go abroad, but that migrant worker is a human being. And that human being brings with him his culture, beliefs, dreams, hopes – faith. The Church sees them as catalysts in foreign lands and not simply as job seekers. In a way the Church has a more dynamic vision of Filipinos abroad up and against a rather passive unsung hero vision of the government.

Bearers of Hope, Unsung Heroes: not that I am pitting government and Church against each other or endorsing an exclusive way of seeing our migrant workers. I don’t even think that we should put labels on them, although I know it helps. For, man! they are our brothers and sisters, tatays and nanays out there. But I think here of an imperative to ask ourselves often about how we see them; what kind of language do we use to describe them; for that speaks a lot about how we value them.

I am at fault here for putting this complicated matter in such a simplistic way but I am pretty sure you know the intricacies of what I am talking about. And I submit under you tender mercies to supply the more-or-less of the issue at hand.

Dawn Mass or Simbang Gabi has been celebrated all over the world by Filipino communities (a tradition, I believe, we share with the Latin Americans). Simbang Gabi, which is in itself really is Mass, is a gift from Christ Himself, not just a centuries-old Filipino tradition. Everytime it is celebrated by Filipino communities around the world it serves as a reminder of God’s love who thousands of years ago became man and had dinner with his friends before he died. Seeing our Filipino migrant workers as catalysts of faith-based-change breaks them free from the shackles of “economic necessities”.

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