No longer shall they be servants of aliens,
but will serve Yahweh their God . . .(Jer. 30:8-9)
This prophecy was uttered by God through the prophet Jeremiah at a time when the people of Israel were exiled to Babylon. It was then a powerful kingdom which ruled most of the known world controlling not only the political destinies of people, but also became the arbiter of national economies which could mean the rise or fall of any sovereign. There in Babylon the Israelites became slaves of their foreign masters who virtually took control of their lives, their destinies and their hopes. They became like gods for them to whom they offered not fragrant incense or melodious odes but their very will, their freedom and the very sweat of their brow in exchange for their lives and that of their children.
Nothing could have been harsher for these people because for exile and slaves, from whom freedom have been taken away, the will of the dominating lord spells the difference between life and death, prosperity and destitution, hope and desolation. “How could our captors say to us ‘sing for us one of Zions songs . . .’”is one song of anguish in the psalms sang on a foregn soil. It is no wonder then, that whenever God promises, calls and brings his people “home,” whether from Egypt or from Babylon, the given purpose was for them “to worship and serve Yahweh, their God.” Yahweh was their freedom, it is only He whom they serve as master and Lord and only in Him will they find their true “home” - their dignity.
I started this anniversary issue with this particular passage from the bible because of the close affinity of the plight of most of our fellow Filipino’s working abroad, with the sad plight of Israel during their years of exile. And more importantly, I started it thus because it is my wish that they too would identify themselves more closely not so much to the sad plight but to the liberating promise of Yahweh of bringing them one day “home.”
This special issue is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of OCW’s, of Filipino migrants, of those “exiled” because of economic needs, of those who are far away from home. This issue is dedicated to our mother and especially to their mother for they are so special to her as she is special to them, in the same way that all mothers are special to us whenever we experience loneliness, deprivations and helplessness when we are far away from home.
“Being far away from home,” as it is sentimentally called, or migration as it is more technically known, is as old as man himself. We are men and women on the move, and always so either as nomads, exiles, refugees, pilgrims or simply travelers exploring knowledge, pleasure, food or simply escaping the harsh realities of life. The bible provides us two reasons and purposes. First, it is to fulfill the divine mandate of preserving, transforming and unifying all of creation. We need only to recall here the journey of Abraham and the patriarchs by which God constantly reminded Israel that their ancestor was merely “a wandering Aramean” who through His providence claimed the land of Israel as his own. The wanderings of Jesus throughout Israel to proclaim the Kingdom is another example and so are the missionary journeys of Paul and the apostles.
Another reason provided us by the bible for man’s constant mobility is the sin of Eden, the treachery of Cain and the arrogance of Babel which brought about man’s constant dispersion and alienation from self and from homeland. This for me is the main reason why people are forced to migrate today - SIN. Not the sin of the migrants but the sin that pervades the structures of our society today - poverty, the unequal distribution of wealth, unemployment, under-employment, the migration-mentality among our people fed by false hopes of instant riches without considering the cost to life and family, wars and a government economic policy which encourages migration as part of its development plan. All these force people to migrate in search for greener pastures.
Migration is not just dollar remittances and high salaries, however. Sometimes the price in terms of social and human cost is just too high for just a better salary. We have only to think of what happened to Flor Contemplacion and unnamed others who came back in coffins and whose death sometimes remain unknown. We have only to think of those who remain languishing in foreign jails or those unjustly treated by their employers. Most of them could not defend themselves and are left at the hands of consulates who are equally ineffective.
We have also to think of the consequences of those left behind. “Napakasakit Kuya Eddie” was a song that became a hit in the eighties because of its harsh depiction of the reality migrations create among husbands and wives. And so is the song “Nay, Pauli ka na sa Paskwa” because of the vacuum migration produces in the hearts of the young who are separated so early from their parents. Dollar remittances which sustain our economy has its cost, a human cost more harsh than its benefits - the risk of loosing their lives, their dignity and whatever is humanly and spiritually dear to us.
During this issue we dedicate every page of our weekly paper not just to celebrate an anniversary but to honor the Mother of Migrants who herself was a migrant to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Jerusalem and to Ephesus, a victim of circumstances and the sinful structures of her time. To her we pray that she will intercede to her Son for her fellow migrants, her sons and daughters, for Filipinos all over the world and their families, that the promise uttered through Jeremiah may be heard once more in the heart of every Filipino migrant; “no longer shall they be servants of aliens . . .” so that they will worship Yahweh our God with their families and friends, in the land we call our own.