St. Paul’s House of Prayer, in Sheung Shui, Hong Kong served as the venue for the Asia-Oceania Regional Conference (AORC) last 21 to 26 February, 2016. Oblate Provincial Superiors, Delegation Superiors and deputized representatives of Australia, Bangladesh, China, Colombo, India, Indonesia, Jaffna, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, and Rev. Fr. Katongo Kennedy, OMI, Director of the General JPIC (Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation) Service, Rome met to forge a strengthened JPIC Ministry in the region. They deliberated on the long-awaited joint collaboration among the provinces, delegations and missions of Asia-Oceania on missionary work for the migrants particularly the concern on human trafficking.
The AORC body reported and shared their experiences and insights on existing JPIC structures in each unit, the animating activities being undertaken, and challenges encountered. Discussions followed after each report which was facilitated by the Chair, Rev. Fr. Rohan Silva, OMI, Provincial Superior of Colombo. Some of the reports given below highlight the ministry related to Filipino overseas workers and resourceful Oblate response despite limited personnel.
In the Province of Australia, lay volunteers actively participate in the ROSIES mission. Young people in Melbourne numbering 100 volunteers are rostered to serve tea and coffee on the street to impoverished persons. The far more developed Brisbane branch with 16 centers and over 900 volunteers provide support to those in jail and the law court system.
Filipino Oblates in Hongkong are very much involved in the Migrant Workers Ministry. They are members of different Diocesan Committees on Filipino Migrant Workers. They celebrate Masses for the workers and assist them with their needs. As of November, 2015, there are, in Hong Kong: 182,062 Filipino Migrant Workers; 150,649 Indonesians; 2,573 Thailanders; and 5,719 Migrant Workers belonging to other nationalities. For many years Oblates are serving as Prison Chaplains in Hong Kong. At present Fr. John Wotherspoon, OMI is a full-time Chaplain assisted by Fr. Jun Jacobe, OMI.
Sister Felicitas Nisperos, RGS, Directress of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos in Hongkong gave a comprehensive background and report on the missionary work with migrant workers in Hong Kong. The Centre started as a Committee formed by Cardinal John Baptist Wu, then Bishop of Hong Kong in 1986 to minister to Filipino migrant workers, mostly domestic helpers who greatly grew in number in the ‘70s through the ‘80s.
Originally catering to Filipinos it now extends its services to all migrant workers regardless of race and religion rendering the name of the center a misnomer. The programs and services provided to migrant workers are shelter care and crisis intervention; legal/para-legal assistance; spiritual and psycho-social development such as bible study, pilgrimages, catechetical instructions, telephone counselling and individual counselling; education on labor law, immigration policies, Chinese culture, etc.; networking and linkages with consulates and other organizations; and, outreach services – hospital, prison and parish visits. The minimum wage earned by a Filipino Domestic Helper is 4,210HKD or P25,536.00 an amount that entails a lot of sacrifice and hard work among OFWs.
Fr. Doroteo Reyes, OMI, Coordinator for Anti-human Trafficking, Southeast Asia Sub-region of Caritas Asia reported on Oblate community and religious life, and missionary work of Oblates in Thailand. Social concerns related to migrants, refugees and human trafficking are being undertaken with the generous assistance of Caritas Asia, Thailand. Unlike other units wherein linkages could be made with government agencies, the Oblates in Thailand face the challenge of unsympathetic treatment of migrants since Thailand is not a signatory to the UNHCR, “the UN refugee agency’s” convention.
Oblate JPIC work in the different AORC units differed in contexts. In some units, the predicaments of human trafficking and migrant workers are not present while in other units, ministry to migrant workers is a great need. However, the varied work of the Oblates in the Asia-Oceania Region respond to the needs of the poor who need care in the streets and prisons of Melbourne and Brisbane; the Indigenous People of Bangladesh who struggle for their human rights (similar to the Philippine Province); refugees in Korea who are generally afflicted with multi-resistant tuberculosis; care for the environment through land reclamation and preservation of indigenous trees and flora in Indonesia; multi-religious groups who require peace, harmony and reconciliation through education and formation in India; and migrant workers who become unemployed, resort to petty and major crimes, then become addicted to drugs, are imprisoned and consequently suffer physical and psychological damage.
Thus, the AORC meeting deepened the Oblate resolve to pursue collaborative JPIC work which is being done through offshore volunteers as undertaken by the Province of Australia and China Delegation, and sharing of expertise. Plans have not been finalized however the internationality and communal spirit to serve the poorest of the poor remains paramount towards a collaborative JPIC in the AORC region.