SINGAPORE – "There are about 170,000 maids working in Singapore. Even if only 170 of them run away [from their place of employment], where do they go?" asked Father Paul Staes. The Immaculate Heart of Mary missioner is the local Justice and Peace officer for the Scheut Missions in Singapore.
Father Staes regularly celebrates Mass for the shelter provided by the Filipino embassy which he described as a "house" shared by about 40 domestic workers. "The number approached 80 when I visited near Christmas-time last year," he told CatholicNews.
When asked why the church in Singapore does not have a shelter for migrants, Father Staes responded, "I think it’s a very large insensitivity on the part of the church. We are so parochial in our interests, and that is not high on the list of priorities in parishes."
That’s not to say the church in Singapore has done nothing for the migrants. The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) is the largest non-governmental organization in Singapore that caters to migrants.
Its activities are concentrated around feeding programmes for the newly arrived migrants, and training programmes that enable migrants to upgrade themselves.
"The style of ACMI is generally low-key, with not much advocacy. We do things but we don’t usually let others know what we are doing," said Father Staes.
"The church should speak more strongly to change the mindset of the people. It is not ordinary that people entrust the care of the elderly and children to someone else, and it is not ordinary that people must leave their own children and family to go to another country to take care of someone else’s children," he said.
The Good Shepherd Sisters have a shelter for battered women in Singapore, but it is catered more for locals, although it does take in migrants at times.
When asked what ordinary Catholics in Singapore can do to make migrants more welcome here, Father Staes replied, "The ‘Day Off’ campaign is long overdue. It’s ‘criminal’ to think that a day off a week is a luxury for migrants when we ourselves have a five-day week. A day off doesn’t necessarily mean a day to go out. Our maid can very well stay at home to rest. It’s an ‘amazing’ attitude that we have towards another human being."
Father Staes also encouraged Catholics to have a change in our mentality, which can be brought about by getting involved in civic organizations such as Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and H.O.M.E.. You can begin by visiting the "Day Off" campaign website at www.dayoff.sg/index.shtml.