My Japan Migrant Exposure

Andy Abing (Jesuit Scholastic, The Philippines)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue:  No. 138 / June 15th, 2007  

In the 10th Scholastics and Brothers’ Circle (SBC) meeting of the East Asia and Oceania Assistancy held in Malacca, Malaysia last December 21 to January 6, we, the delegates, drafted an action plan that was the fruit of our experience, analysis and reflection during the said gathering. Inspired by the Ignatian Magis, we proposed to inspire fellow Jesuits in formation, as we commit ourselves to get involve with the Society’s social apostolate, particularly in the care for migrants.

“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 structure, including… collaborating with lay people in both the Society and related organizations… and migrant chaplaincies generally, in order to learn from their successes in mission, and overcome traditional patriarchal and institutional obstacles” (10th SBC recommendation, 4 – 4.2).

This, coupled with my personal and meaningful experience during our immersion with the migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur, inspired me to move forward. Thus, trying to heed the challenge, I opted to work with migrants for the summer exposure, particularly with Filipinos, being a Filipino myself.

In terms of venue, actually, there are many choices. But Japan, being one of the countries where most Filipinos migrate, seemed to be the best option. This was confirmed by my experience, not to mention the generosity of the Japanese Province that warmly welcomed and accommodated me throughout my exposure. Indeed, I felt so blessed to stay and work in Japan for my exposure. More than any other, I felt the international brotherhood in the Society of Jesus in the Jesuit communities that I stayed with and visited. And of course, with my rich and meaningful work in the Catholic Tokyo International Center (CTIC), my exposure was truly fruitful and unforgettable one.

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CTIC Experience

Through the help of Fr. Adolfo Nicholas, S.J., president of the East Asia and Oceania Assistancy, I was able to come in contact with CTIC. Though it is a diocesan center, Jesuit influence can be seen having Fr. Nicholas himself as one of its forerunners in its founding years. But the center would speak for itself by its own works today.
CTIC caters to the temporal and spiritual needs of all migrants, as well as of locals in need. It does not limit to certain nationalities, but it encompasses all races, even other faiths and religions.

During the times I worked in all its three offices – Meguro, Chiba and Kameido, I had the opportunity to observe clients calling and coming to these offices to seek legal assistance, guidance and help in marital, parenthood, migration and other matters. I was touched by the personal care of CTIC staff members who were mostly volunteers, especially when they spoke the tongue of their clients and offered them quality services that were free of charge. I could sense in those moments how pains and burdens were eased through the clients’ breath of relief when they left the office.

But CTIC does not limit its work within the four corners of its offices. During the exposure, I also had the chance to go with its staffs visiting migrants in detention. In a visit to detained Filipina in the Chiba Police station, I felt how my compatriot breath hope when she saw us visiting her, although completely strangers to her, offering assistance both for her material needs and legal concerns. She beamed with gratefulness as we talked with her in a very short time, just within the “allowable time limit” for a detainee-visit. The same were true in our visits to the Shinagawa Immigration detention center where I noticed how the clients radiate with delight as people, who are their countrymen or at least who can understand them better, visit them and take concern of their plight.

Yet, for a Filipino like me, the most moving CTIC work I did during my exposure was the pastoral care to Filipino communities in the different churches of Tokyo, Saitama and Chiba prefectures. For instance, in our visitations and Eucharistic celebrations in the churches of Akabane, Toyoshiki, Kasukabe, Koiwa and Matsudo, I sensed how my migrant compatriots hunger for spiritual nourishment. When I learned that they traveled from distant places, taking leave from their works and other obligations, just to take part of the Masses, I felt moved by their desire and longing. It seemed they were, as Jesus said of the crowd in his time, “sheep without a shepherd.” They hunger for the word of God and the Eucharist.

The same was true with what I observed in the Mass at Umeda church where Fr. Ando, S.J. and Mr. Kogure, S.J. are doing their social apostolate. As with the other churches that I have visited, many of my compatriots flocked to the church; some even tagged along their Japanese husband and their family members.

In one occasion, I was quite surprised when I heard Mass celebrated in Filipino for the first time here in Japan. Later did I understand that because of the big Filipino Catholic communities in Japan, Filipino Masses are regularly celebrated in many churches of Japan. Moreover, another interesting thing I noticed was that in most, if not all Masses celebrated by Filipino communities, lively and soulful Filipino liturgical music are sung that animate the whole congregation which make the gatherings truly celebrations. Indeed even in a foreign land, Filipinos become one through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Assessment and Reflection

Having spent some time working with the migrants, particularly to my compatriots here in Japan, I see a better perspective of their situation. I had the glimpse of why, even with the adverse effect of migration, not just to them but also to their families, they continue to remain and work in this foreign land. I was also able to hear their cries and concerns, as well as their joys and laughter, hopes and aspirations, silent longings and needs. For me, being with them was already worth an experience.

In this modern time, the migrants can be considered as the poor that needs to be heard of their cries. They could be the “least, last and lost” in a foreign environment which they are not familiar with. They long for home, yet they have to stay and struggle to make a home back in their own country. Although this might not be obvious, nor true with the migrants in Japan, some SBC delegates during our meeting considered migrants as the “modern-day slaves.” Having been forced by many different circumstances in life, they have no choice but suffer the different challenges of being migrants.

But their situation is not a hopeless case. Generous and benevolent hearts can ease their situation, just like what CTIC and the SJ social apostolate do.  By ministering and helping them in their needs, they can find a home away from home, and blossom where they are planted. In fact they can be a source of inspiration and good influence to the community they are living with. For instance, I was touched with some migrant communities here in Japan – in their unity and sense of service to one another. I think their camaraderie builds a Christian community that is based on love and concern for the other; and inspire even non-believers to do the same.

It dawned on me, once again, our group’s reflection in the SBC meeting, wherein we saw the migrants as a Eucharistic people. Like the bread of life, they are broken and crushed by the situation and circumstance they are in. But through sharing of themselves, by their act of faith and kindness to others despite their condition, they nourish and enliven the others.
As a Jesuit scholastic in formation therefore, I have this sense that dealing with the migrants and ministering to them could be an effective way of evangelization. Take the instance here in Japan, it is through the devout Catholic migrant wives that Japanese husbands and families and converted. Moreover, I guess, many non-believers are fascinated by the unity and joy of the faithful migrant communities.

In a way, as a religious, I can see myself playing a supporting role in the work of evangelization – the migrants, being the forefront in the enterprise of spreading the faith; while I remain a humble servant of nourishing and sustaining them – the main players. In whatever way, this is all for His greater honor and glory.

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