10th Scholastics’ and Brothers’ Circle Meeting: Migration

Thomas Njaralamkulath (Jesuit Scholastic)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 137/ April 15th, 2007 

The 10th Scholastics’ and Brothers’ Circle (SBC) of East Asia and Oceania Assistancy was held at Malacca, Malaysia between 21st December, 2006 and 6th January, 2007. The meeting was attended by thirty scholastics and two brothers-in-formation from the different provinces and regions of the Assistancy. It was unfortunate that due to visa and immigration restrictions, delegates from China and East Timor were unable to attend the meeting. Scholastic Thomas and Brother Muraoka represented the Japanese province. The theme selected for the 10th SBC was “Migration and Urbanization.” The meeting was facilitated by Fr Jojo Fung, SJ and Fr Paul Dass, SJ.

The tenth meeting of the Scholastics and Brothers’-in-formation Circle began by locating the issues and challenges of migration within the primary sources of our Jesuit Spirituality: the Gospels, the Spiritual Exercises, and Constitutions. Fr Paul Dass SJ, Secretary of the Social Apostolate in the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania, presented the underlying framework of these sources as a means to discover the Jesuit model for mission in the social apostolate, together with the individual’s personal call, common ideals, criteria for discernment, and apostolic strength.

As a model for social involvement, the Exercises reveal a four step process: experience, analysis, reflection and action. Consideration of each of these steps provides the justification and motivation for Jesuit involvement in the social apostolate:

Experience: Experience is the starting point of a Jesuit who makes the Spiritual Exercises and who also works in the world. Two elements are integral: exposure and immersion. Exposure requires a preparedness to step out the comfortable and to be affected by what is read, seen and heard. Immersion is a developed form of exposure: it is more total envelopment in the new environment, which enables an inner understanding of another world to come about. The prime result is empathy.

Analysis: While experience exposes a Jesuit to the “what,” any understanding of the causation of “what” demands the question “why.” Analysis is the application of difficult questions, principles of logic and general critical thinking to elements of the prior experience. The fruit of this enquiry is an increased awareness of the cause and effect of a particular event, environment or state of affairs. Accordingly, experience and analysis become the two most important tools for making an Ignatian discernment.

Reflection: Reflection is the stage of process whereby the Jesuit gathers together the knowledge gained, and takes it to prayer. Here, the Jesuit is open to the movement of the Spirit, employing the Ignatian tools of Scripture and the individual’s own narrative. This sense of the Spirit’s movement must tend to whatever serves the greater good, the more universal benefit, the more urgent necessity for a greater number: in other terms, the Magis.

Action: Action springs out of a discernment of the will of God based on the Word of God and prayer. Although the particular action need not be world-changing, the significance lies in the concrete engagement. This fourth step enables a deeper entry into the alienation and marginalization of the other so prevalent within the ministries of the social apostolate.
Accordingly, in the same way that the structure of the 10th SBC meeting was conceived according to Fr Dass’ model for Jesuit involvement in the social apostolate, so does the following report consider the proceedings of the 10th SBC meeting in terms of the following categories: Experience, Analysis, Reflection and Action.

Experience

For the majority of the SBC meeting participants, the experience of this year’s conference theme of migration began prior to the meeting, during the formulation of each country’s report in relation to migration. In researching the policy and practice of each province’s national government, many participants had the opportunity – in many cases for the first time – to consider the national situation on migration and modes of Jesuit response. In the case of other scholastics and brothers-in-formation, the research and composition of country reports re-inforced prior personal experiences of the migrant worker situation, such as past care for refugees or migrant workers who have sought for help through the existing apostolates of the Society. Listening to the country reports from various provinces and regions was an enriching, shocking and thought provoking experience.

The immersion program: The next experiential element of the program constituted an immersion experience for all participants. Introduced by Fr Paul Dass SJ, the program was designed to enable participants to be present with migrant workers, in order that each of us could bring to our analytical skills derived from studies those experiences of reality which are held by migrants. Fr Paul emphasized that the experience of being unable to transcend language barriers would be an essential part of the experience. This linguistic handicap enabled us to enter more deeply into the experience of a migrant in a foreign land. Fr Paul also impressed on each participant the need to come to this experience without prejudice and uninfluenced by previous experiences with migrants. We were also expected to employ the method of the Application of the Senses in order properly appreciate the effect of the experience upon our inner life.

During the immersion, we were separated into four general groupings. The Vietnamese scholastics were with Fr Paul Dass, SJ. Another group composed of three Indonesian scholastics joined a predominantly Catholic community of Indonesian migrant workers from Flores. The third group went to a community organized by the NGO Tenaganita to a place called Port Klang. Majority of the participants went to the different communities of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur organized by the JRS counterpart organization in Malaysia.

For three days, each one of us was presented with the opportunity to interact and live with the migrant workers. We struggled with their living conditions, while at the same time appreciating deeply their great hospitality. We spoke and we listened to them despite the seeming language barrier. We ate with them, and we joined in their humble Christmas celebrations. We were moved by their steadfast faith and their resilience in overcoming their lives’ challenges. In hearing their stories, each of us was drawn to ask the question “why this is happening to them?”

Upon our return to Malacca, we were given opportunity to pause and reflect on the question, “What does all this experience with migrant workers mean to me?” The processing of our experience of the immersion was undertaken as a community, given that there was much to be learned each other’s experience of the short immersion program. Thus, we described our experience and articulated how this immersion has affected us. A central element of this process was critical analysis of the situation in terms of social, cultural, economic and political structures. On the affective side, we also concentrated on the religious and faith dimensions of the issue of migration. In this way, we were able to move forward by integrating head knowledge with the movement of our hearts. In summarizing the effect of the experience, Fr Dass observed that is was through our actual experience of immersion with various groups of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur and Johor that our sympathy for the troubles of the migrants transformed into real empathy. It is this empathy which evokes a Jesuit to make a commitment “to make the plight of the migrant and displaced, [our] own plight.” On reflection, such experience of immersion could not have happened at a more appropriate time than on Christmas when we celebrate the Incarnation of our God who in His great love for us, immersed Himself deeply into our wretched lives, to be with us, to be one with us, to be one of us. Our immersion with the migrants, thus, found greater meaning in the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Analysis

Equipped with a series of moving experiences, we were then invited to analyze such experience with the assistance of Dr Irene Fernandez, a Malaysian expert in the issue of migration and human rights. Dr Irene opined that we are presently experiencing a Third Wave of Globalization. The First Wave of Globalization occurred as European countries began their conquest of the world to reap the resources of other lands. The Second Wave of Globalization began after Europe had undergone the industrial revolution and was in search for cheaper means of production. In this period, the world began to witness off shore productions and the “green revolution.” Finally in the Third Wave of Globalization, the focus is on trade. In this stage of migration, capitalism is practiced without restraint. There is an ever-growing insistence on removing all barriers to trade and opening up all markets to competition.

As a consequence of this capitalistic ideology, every dimension of human life is evaluated based on the criteria of efficiency and economics. Dr Irene stipulated a number of emerging issues from globalization including the commodification of labor where laborers are treated as objects to be traded. In extreme circumstances this process has resulted in the stripping the human person’s rights and dignities. This Third Wave of Globalization has also brought about new forms of discrimination and violence targeted especially to the peoples of poorer, underdeveloped nations. Neo-liberal tendencies of globalization have resulted in deregulation and privatization of governmental sectors. While this may have increased efficiency in various sectors, it has also resulted in the commodification of basic necessities such as water. In effect, this colonization of the life-world by economics means that even access to basic necessities is regulated by financial considerations.

Dr Irene Fernandez highlighted the importance of analyzing the problem of trafficking as a component of migration. In human trafficking, we witness the reality of migrants as modern day slavery where people are forced into prostitution and bonded labor, where smuggling and trafficking of babies occur. Foreign brides coming from poorer countries looking for husbands from richer countries end up as maids with very little freedom. We were urged also to read documents such as the International Convention of Migrant Workers and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dr. Fernandez insisted on stipulating specific violations of human rights when defending the rights of migrants.
Dr Irene’s input was delivered by means of lecture, small-group work, feedback and personal sharing. On this basis, scholastics and brothers-in-formation were given the opportunity to contribute to discussion and conversation.

Reflection

The third component of our SBC meeting, conducted by Fr. Jojo Fung, S.J., enabled the scholastics to reflect upon their experiences from an Asian theological perspective. Fr Jojo insisted upon the necessity of a unique Asian theology that springs out of specific experiences in Asia with the “anawim”: those poor and dejected people in our midst. Fr Jojo facilitated a non-textual approach in conducting this theological reflection by expressing these concepts in paintings, poem-prayers and chants. This form of expression is the strength of Asian Theology. Drawing on biblical sources, Fr Jojo highlighted how the relations among the Israelites and the other people of the Old Testament developed over time. At first foreigners were seen as a threat to the people of Israel but this relationship developed to become one of mutual respect. This model of relationship developed to become one of partnership especially among the peoples of the New Testament. In this stage of history, people were considered to be equal in dignity because of the salvific action of Christ and the call to mission offered to all people.

After presenting the issue of migration in the light of the Old and New Testaments, Fr. Jojo led us to a reflection that allowed us to realize how God has been truly present at every stage of the migration of human persons and how we in turn need to be present to and for one another. God is present as He directs all movements and as He calls forth His agents to lead His people in the sojourn of life. His unchanging presence manifests His unfailing faithfulness to His beloved people who are always on the move. In a sense, God is also on the move as He journeys with each and every one of us.

Seeing how the story of our lives is a story of movement and migration, we recognize indeed how we are all called to undertake our journey in solidarity with others, most especially with the marginalized, the oppressed and the dispossessed. Integral to this call is our commitment to make a prophetic stance-to stand up for what is right and true at all cost. As what the Bishops in Asia have rightfully done, we must question critically the development model in Asia, which emphasizes too much on economic growth and dehumanizes people in the process. Moreover, we must be united in the condemnation of forced migration that has become prevalent among Asian countries but have unjustly benefited only the few who are rich and in power.

On the other hand, it must be emphasized that, despite the unfavorable situation in which some Christian migrant workers find themselves in, they remain to have the capacity to become agents of evangelization. Indeed, some good arises from such a dark situation. Empowered by God’s loving graces, they become preachers in deeds more than simply preachers in words. Through their edifying lives of service and charity, people all around them will recognize them as Christians.

Finally, as we recognize that we, ourselves, are part of this great journey with one another towards God, we, as Jesuits, will have to follow the path our pilgrim Father Ignatius has taken. We, too, must walk side by side with Christ, who is a Pilgrim par excellence in order that His Spirit may fill our hearts and lead us to make a difference in the sojourn of the People of God in this world.

Action

This section constitutes the recommendations proposed by the delegates of the 10th SBC. Following twelve days of input, discussion and deliberation in relation to migrants, migrant workers and refugees, the delegates of the SBC recommend, in order of priority:

Formation and formation communities

1. that each scholastic and brother in formation undertakes a personal commitment to and intentionally takes responsibility for his own Jesuit mission formation, theological education and integrative development, according to the heart of Ignatius, the spirit of General Congregation 34 and the mind of Father General. Actions which would expressly assist this process include:

1.1 selecting rigorous academic programmes and courses which teach, to a very high standard:

1.1.1 socio-political awareness together with social analysis and critical thinking skills;

1.1.2 an understanding of global and domestic economic structures;

1.1.3 an appreciation of fundamental human rights and obligations;

1.1.4 the theological and spiritual bases of a faith that does justice, as informed by the Spiritual Exercises;

1.1.5 Catholic Social Teaching; and

1.1.6 those humanities related fields that confer the ability to understand, analyze, reflect upon, articulate and debate issues and problems relating to contemporary social phenomena, such as migration;

1.2 consciously taking initiative to concern and creatively involve ourselves with matters relating to migration, migrant workers and refugees, in order to re-enliven young Jesuits’ commitment to the social apostolate and facilitate the formation for mission and integrative development required of a Jesuit. Working within the extant structures of the Society, such initiative could take the form of:

1.2.1 seeking out a Jesuit mentor who is active and experienced in the social ministries;

1.2.2 participating in, and actively contributing to, appropriate networks, workshops and seminars which concern issues and problems of migration, migrant workers and refugees;

1.2.3 undertaking pastoral work among migrants and refugees;

1.2.4 taking any opportunity to attend such mission exposure programmes that relate to migration, migrant workers and refugees and which are co-ordinated by the Society or related organizations; and

1.2.5 applying for regency in the social apostolates of the JCEAO member provinces, including those specific ministries which specialize in providing assistance, relief, education and advocacy services for the migrant and refugee communities;

1.3 establish an action group comprising volunteers from within the body of SBC delegates, to pursue and promote issues within and without the Society pertaining to human rights violations, migrant workers and refugees occurring in the East Asia and Oceania countries;

Feedback to the Province and Jesuit Communities

2. that SBC delegates formally communicate to their respective communities the information and experiences gained at the SBC meeting in relation to migration, migrant workers and refugees. Moreover, to the extent that it will be practical or helpful, SBC delegates should endeavour to:

2.1 write and offer for publication in provincial/regional newsletters and magazines, on web sites and for distribution among email groups; and

2.2 organize and present workshops concerning migration, migrant worker and refugee issues for the benefit of those in formation.

Youth, young adult and campus ministry

3. that, having regard to the priority and necessity of recommendation one, wherever a scholastic or brother in formation may be involved in youth, young adult or campus ministry, that Jesuit undertakes to promote the importance of fundamental human rights, and the derivative issues of migration, migrant workers and refugees. To the extent that these are practical and helpful, this commitment may be manifested in the following ways:

3.1 by discernment of what moves young people in today’s society, and the communication of an alternative values’ system grounded in “deepest desire” and a “faith that does justice”;

3.2 by introducing a migration, migrant workers and refugee component to the programme of the relevant ministry;

3.3 by offering exposure and immersion programmes within the Society’s social ministry located in the Assistancy of East Asia and Oceania, and with related non-government organizations and partners; and

3.4 by inviting young people to join us as partners in our mission wherever an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

Involvement with the Society’s social apostolate

4. that, given the richness of the social ministries conducted by the Society in the East Asia and Oceania Assistancy, SBC delegates involve themselves within the Society’s extant social apostolate structure, including:

4.1 connecting with the Jesuit (Refugee) Service and relevant personnel, in order to facilitate exposure to and immersion in their work, and communicate the JRS message to the communities in which we work and minister;

4.2 collaborating with lay people in both Society and related organizations. Such involvement may include Yiut-sari (Korea), ACTS (Malaysia), UGAT (Philippines), JSS (Australia) and migrant chaplaincies generally, in order to learn from their successes in mission, and overcome traditional patriarchal and institutional obstacles;

4.3 contributing to provincial/regional publications, web sites and other media regarding questions of human rights, migration, migrant workers and refugees. In time, and in an appropriate context, this contribution may be extended to secular publications;

4.4 being available to be incorporated into, or working in partnership with, diocesan agencies and other religious congregations in areas of common concern with regard to migrants.

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