Foreign domestic workers attending a baking course run by the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Migrants must be paid fair wages, given adequate food and ample time to rest each day, says Archbishop Nicholas Chia.
Jesus has made it clear that He values the way we treat each other. For the Last Judgement, Jesus will consider acts done “to one of the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45), as having been done to Himself.
In other words, Jesus will look carefully at how we have treated the poor and marginalised during our lives. What we have done to them, we have done to Jesus in His eyes. When we reach that moment, will we be prepared for His judgement on our actions?
Historical events such as the slave trade, the Holocaust and apartheid offer particular insights into the thinking and behaviour of the people in those times. Otherwise “good” people were led to believe that “bad” acts were okay, and in some cases, even participated in carrying out those acts.
Others just looked the other way as if such abominable things did not exist around them.
On the occasion of World Day of Migrants, which is celebrated in our Archdiocese on 30 October this year, I ask all Catholics to open up their hearts and minds to the plight of migrants in Singapore – more than 25 percent of the population.
We must ask ourselves how historians will view our attitudes and behaviours towards migrants years down the road. More importantly, how will Jesus view these actions?
Over the last few years, demand for “foreign matchmaking”, where men pay agents to find a suitable foreign bride, has grown to the point where some consider it commonplace in Singapore.
In most cases, the brides are from very poor, rural families and are only looking for a better life. They speak very limited English, and the “marriage” is often not more than an excuse for using a person for convenience.
Even more commonplace is the belief that domestic helpers should work seven days a week, sometimes even 24/7, with no days off and little or no time for themselves each day.
Some employers do not trust their helpers, feeling that they might “get into trouble” if given some time off. Others feel that they cannot possibly cope without help due to their own need, caring for a child, elderly parent, or someone with a disability.
In his message for the 97th World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2011), Pope Benedict XVI explains that while people may come from different backgrounds and experience different situations during their lives, we are all moving through life together, and we are all “one human family”.
Therefore, “the value of work should be measured by the same standard and not according to the difference in nationality, religion or race” (Laborem Exercens 23).
In other words, migrants must be paid fair wages, given adequate food and ample time to rest each day and have the ability to reunite with their families on a regular basis.
Jesus’ Golden Rule tells us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). As Catholics, we are called to follow this rule by showing respect for one another, most especially those living under our own roof.
For example, if you enjoy having a day off during the week, would it not follow that your domestic helper would also enjoy and appreciate this “luxury”?
Many organisations, including the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI), offer classes on Sundays to help migrants improve their skills. By supporting your domestic helper in enrolling in such classes, you not only enable her to learn new skills and build confidence, but ultimately you help to create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in your household, which will benefit everyone.
Did you know that, in Singapore, one in six families employs a domestic helper, compared to most countries around the world where domestic help is reserved for only the ultra-rich? It is unheard of in most countries to have help in the house, so in a way, we are very fortunate.
However, only 53 percent of domestic helpers receive one day off per month, and only about 12 percent receive one day off per week!
Another disturbing trend is the growing pattern of abuses of foreign wives and trafficking of women and children in Singapore, which has increased dramatically over the last five years. This needs to stop!
When historians look back at the Singapore of today, what will they say? Is it possible that the track we are currently on is not the right track in terms of our treatment of migrants?
What will it take for us to change our ways?
We as Catholics, through our social teachings of loving our neighbour and respecting human dignity, must be examples to others in our attitudes and behaviours towards migrants.
We must live out the “Golden Rule” each day and treat others the way we, ourselves, would want to be treated. We cannot turn a blind eye or think that we cannot make a difference.
Each of us can make a difference with our own actions. We can be the light that others follow. After all, Jesus is in our midst in the most unlikely places!
A word for migrants
I would also like to address our Catholic migrant population directly in saying that you, too, have a calling and responsibility to practise Christian values in your own life, as well as in your service to your employer.
It is hard to uphold the dignity of human labour. To do so, you must be reliable and truthful. You must also show respect, confidentiality and discretion, keeping in mind that in serving others, you are serving the Lord Jesus Himself.
Please remain faithful to your own family back home, and teach them the self-discipline that you have learned, knowing that your hard work and sacrifices will provide a better life for future generations.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on the occasion of World Day of Migrants, let us pray for all migrants in Singapore that they may be given the opportunity to realise their dreams of building a better life for themselves and their families back home.
With the support of the Catholic community, through our own actions towards migrants, may we be the change that lights the way for others. n
Yours in Christ.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia