Fr Alan Hilliard, Director, Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, address to the European chaplains and pastoral workers for Filipino migrants
28th August 2007
7th Regional Consultation Meeting for the Filipino Ministry in Europe Marianella Pastoral Centre, at No 75 Orwell Road, Dublin
Filipinos and their families, contributors to European church and society
Keynote address to the European chaplains and pastoral workers for Filipino migrants – Fr Alan Hilliard, Director, Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants
May I open my address by stating that it is an honour to be asked to be present at this gathering on behalf of Archbishop Seán Brady, President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Bishop Séamus Hegarty, Chairman of the Irish Bishops’ Commission for Emigrants (IECE).
The IECE is undergoing a reconstitution to embrace the new and welcome challenges of migration patterns in Ireland. I wish to welcome all the delegates to this gathering. In particular I acknowledge the presence of Bishop Precioso Cantillas, Bishop of Massin. Bishop Cantillas, we cannot overstate the importance of your presence here.
Firstly for your own people in Ireland, your presence speaks volumes; it is a joyful reminder that even though they are a migrant people they are not a forgotten people. Secondly, your presence at this conference offers you the opportunity to listen to your people’s needs so that you can continue to advocate on their behalf. The call of the Second Vatican Council ‘to listen to the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel’ is as real today as when Gaudium et Spes was first promulgated in 1965. Thirdly, the migrant heart delights when a committed and caring presence from their home land takes time to visit. The migrant journey can be one of difficulty and loss. No matter how successful one is in the work place, no matter how large the bank balance is; there is always the moment when the heart beats for home. Fourthly, the Irish Church rejoices that you are present to minister to your people. The recent document Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi (EMCC) states that it is unthinkable that host and sending Churches do not work together in the service of people on the move.
So many migrants, and indeed migrant communities, can think and work in isolation. However as local Churches working together we realise that there are similarities in the stories of migrant groups and individuals world wide. The same stories of heart break and exploitation are to be seen and heard in most of the 190 countries of the world where Filipino migrants work. This gathering will heal isolation because it will allow stories be told and shared. Hopefully by listening to these stories and in attempting to unite their themes, we will find ways to address the needs of migrants in Europe today.
This challenge will benefit those we serve if the host and sending Churches can work closely and move towards a more strategic response to your needs. We are guided by the words of the Prefect of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace Archbishop Agostino Marchetto when he makes reference to the ‘Globalisation of Solidarity’.
I can remember the debate in the 1970’s regarding Ireland’s membership of the then European Economic Community. We eventually voted on the matter and became a member state in 1973. The concept of countries working together to allow freedom of movement of factors of production was referred to as the ‘Common Market’. Terms like capitalism and ‘free enterprise’, which were at the heart of this new concept, were avoided.
I know from my trips to Asia that the market is a place of engagement. As a tourist they are wonderful places where one gains a rich insight into the culture of the town or city that is being visited. The dynamic of trade is executed in a way that engages the senses. Beneath the entertainment value for the tourist the market has a purpose. It provides an opportunity for a provider to sell goods and for the consumer to bargain for the best deal on offer. The role of middle man/woman may be necessary but often may be negligible and at times even unnecessary. The market has connotations of gathering, camaraderie and connection. The local market is really dominated by the consumer. If the goods are not up to standard one can go to the next counter. If the price is not right one can haggle with another provider.
Europe tried to capitalise on the market idea. However the European market is more suited to the producer and the provider of goods and services than the consumer. ‘Reference to the market system as a benign alternative to capitalism is a bland, meaningless disguise of the deeper corporate reality – of producer power extending influence over, even control of , consumer demand.’[i] The author (Galbraith) goes onto say that: ‘Belief in a market economy in which the consumer is sovereign is one of our most pervasive forms of fraud.’[ii]
This is the context in which we now minister. The catchphrase today is: “competitiveness”. It demands of us that we cooperate with a market system that favours the market provider and GDP with less regard for the overall cost to society. This is in the name of maintaining low unemployment rates. None of us want to see unemployment again; it is a scourge of the soul. It destroys societies, homes and individuals. The lack of meaningful and rewarding work degrades the human being. Unemployment and the accompanying lack of economic opportunity is the root cause of emigration. Those who minister in the world of migration hold the belief that people have a right not to migrate; they have a right to meaningful work and a dignified life with their families in the country in which they are born.
Migrants as a socio-economic category are amongst the first to learn that today ‘jobs aren’t enough’. There is a need to provide health care, access to education, pensions and housing. This need is not just one that is focused on selfish desire but is most often motivated by your love for your families. For those who choose to live here and increase the wealth of this society there is a need to provide a social contract. The Christian foundation of Europe crafted this commitment to its people. In the dark ages we attribute the restoration of Europe to the monastic movement. Many of the monasteries held fast to the vow of hospitality. The last century saw Europe decimated by two world wars. After the wars when people returned from the battle fields those in power realised that they needed to commit to the many that gave of themselves, unselfishly, for the land they now stood on. Governments developed a social contract with these returnees. The Governments of Europe and the US through the Marshall plan realised that a job is important; but it is not enough. In order that a society functions well citizens and those who provide services need to be valued and they need security. This is why those that come here to work and who fulfil their obligations as law abiding residents need to have the hope of citizenship or at least the benefits of a social contract before them. I say migrants are the first to discover this because indigenous people are beginning now to realise that ‘jobs are not enough’. We need guarantees of health care, pension rights, access to education, housing and most importantly the right to have our families by our side as we create an environment of hope.
Such guarantees not only the benefit migrants but, as your Conference title points out, they underpin your role, and that of your families, as: ‘contributors to European Church and society’. More and more people – not only migrants – are being offered contracts which may, while leaving them financially better off, they are poorer in terms of security. The employer and the State benefits as they face less costs and less responsibility.
A growing reality in today’s world is the fact that there are thousands of people world wide that have jobs but live in poverty. At the heart of the problem of elderly Irish migrants in the UK was the ‘Lump system’. In some sense it is still in operation but put in a more official and enticing envelope. All of us, migrants and citizens are appreciative of the opportunity to work but none of us can afford be a victim of neglect. The deeper truth is that in the long run society can no longer afford this phenomenon either.
MIGRANTS AND RIGHTS
This is where the mission of the Church is invaluable. To join together the thoughts, the stories of those who are sinking further into insecurity and remind the ‘market’ of the importance of the human being, who is neither solely a producer or a consumer but precisely a human being made with a dignity that the market may not respect. The human being has rights. Many economic institutions squirm when they hear the word ‘rights’ but it is becoming increasingly clear that if human rights are not upheld there is an economic cost. The International Catholic Migration Commission made a recent submission to the UN high level dialogue on International Migration and Development[iii] .They highlighted that the bridge for migration and development is human rights… ‘Rights solve problems’ when rights are ignored problems are created. Problems then have to be solved at a cost to society. The cost of fixing the undocumented issue in the United States proves to be immense. The cost to young couples of increased housing prices in Ireland is immense; how do we now begin to remediate this situation and at the same time give our young hope. ‘There is need of a new realism in the market a recognition not that human rights are the only or even necessarily the primary consideration that …… policy makers must take into account, but that they are entwined in a far more complicated way with matters of safety, trade, health and progress than has ever been acknowledged’[iv]
The migrant is on the front line of economic exploitation. They herald what is ahead for us all if we allow the producer led market dictate. As we have already highlighted the policy that aims to give visas that are focused on short term contracts herald what is ahead for us all; notably increasing insecurity. In this regard all migrants identify the agenda for the future for us all; jobs are not enough; we need to address the social contract that citizens have a right to and reward them for their hard labours and their commitment to the market and more importantly the betterment of civil society.
This point has been made at the UN by Archbishop Marchetto during the Global Forum on Migration and Development, held in Brussels, Belgium from July 9 to 11: “Migrants contribute to their host country’s well-being, and also because of this their human dignity must be respected and their freedoms guaranteed: the right to a dignified life, to fair treatment at work, to have access to education, health and other social benefits, to grow in competence and develop humanly, to freely manifest their culture and practice their religion.” [v]
Your home Church is acutely aware of the issues facing migrants in today’s world. Their efforts to support you are to be acknowledged. In a country that makes emigration part of its economic development strategy the Church needs to highlight the human cost of this policy. Family separation, elderly migrants returning home to nothing, the need to care for the most poor among your community notably those who work on shipping; are issues of growing importance. The Philippines Overseas Agency has identified that 25% of the worlds total maritime population is from the Philippines. The Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) has identified that 40% of all Filipino families are affected by emigration from the Philippines. There is no doubt that migration will continue to be a feature of the Philippines for many years to come. There is no doubt either that the work of this Conference is key to making migration a more positive experience. The challenges before you are immense but your many initiatives should give you confidence as you face future challenges.
The work of the ECMI in the Philippines has to be applauded for its initiatives in educating potential migrants throughout the various regions in the Philippines. Indeed a total of 65 out of a possible 86 dioceses have started migrant programmes as of July 2006. I am sure this number has increased.
COMMITMENT TO OVERSEAS COMMUNITIES
The commitment of the sending Church to its people while they are abroad is evidenced by the desire to have chaplains and pastoral workers journeying with the many (190 approx) migrant communities worldwide The availability of religious services in your own language and a church culture that respects your religious culture and devotions are more than a right. There is an obligation on the host Church to work with you in the provision of such services. When this is initiated with the engagement and support of the sending Church the outreach if far more effective and lasting. This in turn leads to an easier path to integration which is the ultimate goal of the EMCI.
The exchange between those who are away from home and those at home is increasingly important in the task of educating potential migrants.
Firstly, your awareness of the dangers facing the migrant with regard to illegal recruiters, abusive agents or employers needs to be brought to the attention of policy makers and those engaged with the care of migrants in the Philippines.
Secondly, be aware of the hope you give to people at home. Of increasing importance is the role of Diaspora in the future Governance of nation states. It is often the migrants who hold the vision of what the home country can be as it sometimes lost in issues like inner political turmoil, national identity or economic chaos. When the opportunity to develop the home country is available the migrant becomes an important resource as history has proven in various circumstances. Fortunately, your country has decided to develop a relationship with you and maintain contact with you. The fact that you are allowed to vote is an important facility that is sadly not available to all Diasporas, even Ireland[vi].
Thirdly, the commitment of the Phillipino community to the alleviation of poverty in your homeland is to be applauded. The World Bank and your Government are aware of the millions in remittances that you send home to your families. The schemes that the Filipino migrant communities in Ireland have started are a sign of a living Gospel based faith. Your decision to support projects like the building of homes for those who are homeless in the Philippines is an example of this goodness.
Another aspect of migrant care is the one that is least explored and developed namely that of the returnee. You too experience much pain in the issue or return migration. Many have been successful and can return to set up home. Those who left and made the family at home their priority sometimes never had the opportunity to settle as they sent remittances home to parents who invested in the family home, education, farming etc. I asked one man in London recently: ‘how much did you hold onto at the end of the week’, ‘enough to go to the pictures (movies)’ he said. How can a man like this settle? This aspect of migration can be the most difficult to deal with. It raises the ontological question of home and where is home? Where is the place in the world that we do not need permission to cross a threshold? The mantras chanting the economic benefits of migration can often ignore the human pain of the journey.
I appeal to policymakers to provide legislation to scrutinize the activities of employment agencies. Such agencies often promise the highest standard of information and delivery of service to migrants, but then fall short in reality. Regulation and accountability is now required and should be guaranteed at a European level. At all times the interests of the migrant ought to be the priority.
Unless we offer clarity and efficiency in the delivery of these promises all talk of integration is, in the words of Saint Paul: ‘a gong booming, a symbol clashing’. Without such clarity, we will set a foundation for uncertainty, chaos and instability.
As outlined earlier ‘a job is not enough’. If civil society is to function well we need to address the social obligations of the citizen/resident to the State, and conversely the State’s duty and obligations to those who work for the common good. The American sociologist Robert Putnam’s latest findings show that social capital can be built up by conscious effort and good policy. It is in this spirit that we ask that greater attention be paid to the wellbeing of migrant communities whose sustained presence reveals a people committed to the betterment of their host country and their country of origin. The globalisation of the market place need not necessarily undermine or distract from the globalisation of solidarity.
I conclude by acknowledging the outstanding work of those who walk the journey with Filipino migrants in Europe, and pray God’s blessing on your continued work. May I take this opportunity to acknowledge the inspirational care extended by Fr Pat O’Connell, Sr Lucia Vito, Fr Renee Esoy, Fr Donal Bennett and Fr Pat Herlihy.
[i] Galbraith, John Kenneth, The Economics of Innocent Fraud, Houghton Mifflin Boston 2004. pg 7
[ii] Ibid pg 15
[iii] UN General Assembly New York September 14 &15, 2006.
[iv] Schulz, William, In Our Own BeSt Interest; How defending Human Rights benefits Us All.Beacon Press Mass 2001
[v] Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, during the Global Forum on Migration and Development, held in Brussels, Belgium from July 9 to 1.1
[vi] For information on this matter see http://www.comelec.gov.ph/oav/oav_faqs.html#oav_faq04
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