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A Reflection: Journeying with migrants
and refugees

Submitted by: regina
On: 28/11/2010

The God of the Tent  vs.  The God of the Empire

By Sr. Maureen Catabian RGS

(A Reflection on my experiences as part of the Ecumenical Church Delegation attending the Conference on “Churches Witnessing with Migrants” and the Third International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR3) in Mexico from  November 6 -12, 2010. The Ecumenical Church Delegation was organized by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) in partnership with Migrante International.)

It was my longest journey so far. Manila. Doha. Madrid. Mexico.  And vice versa.  Twenty-eight hours of travel by plane and crossing borders of three continents-   Asia, Europe, the Americas.  In transit in Qatar and Spain, I experienced being an undocumented migrant for at least 8 hours in Madrid. In my desire to be in solidarity with the struggles and hopes of migrants and refugees, I opted to become a migrant myself  crossing borders , in transit and undocumented .

Unity Statement:
Churches Witnessing with Migrants
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Philippines and Mexico share a common heart and history.  Our countries were colonized by Spain et. al. We have celebrated and are celebrating the Centennial of Revolution against our colonizers- 1998 in Philippines (1898) and 2010 in Mexico (1910).   We are two of the biggest sending countries of migrant workers in the world (3rd and 4th  to China and India). We are populated by majority of devout Catholics and venerate with great love and devotion the Our Lady of Guadalupe , our Patroness.   Both have recently become hosts to the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) 2008 and 2010 respectively.

In Mexico, while  in solidarity with the migrants and refugees from various parts of the globe, I met the God of the Tent.  A tent is a collapsible shelter of material stretched and supported by poles. It connotes movement. A journey in transition. Temporary and open to unforeseen events and changes.  Resilient and flexible.  It is a refuge of welcome and rest in a perilous and uncertain journey.

I listened with the God of the Tent as I opened my heart, my eyes and ears and  heard the stories and cries  of migrants and refugees being discriminated upon, exploited, made invisible and abused in host countries, often “disappeared” and massacred in borders.

I mourned and rejoiced with the God of the Tent as I encountered and embraced Honduran mothers seeking and finding lost sons and daughters of 20 years ago- who have disappeared in the borders of Mexico- migrating in search of a more livable life and a better future.

I protested with the God of the Tent as I marched the streets of Mexico City converging at the Benito Juarez Monument in front of the Department of International Relations to denounce the illegitimate GFMD  as it claims to represent the voices of migrants – without the migrants  but instead represented by big corporations and financial institutions benefitting from remittances.

I questioned the God of the Tent as we united our demands with protesting teachers and academics clamoring for an increase in budget for education from the Mexican government.

I was awed with the God of the Tent as I witnessed the enduring spirit of the “ex-Braceros” who in their old age marched in solidarity with us to bring to the consciousness of the Mexican government their demand for justice from the slavery and torture they went through when they were exported  to work for US masters during World War II and onwards , claiming  just compensation for the toil and  to demand benefits for themselves and their kin.

I was nourished by the God of the Tent as I shared meals with migrants and refugees , slept in their home,  listened to their prophetic voices  and  dreams  and celebrated their songs of hope and struggle.

I gained wisdom with the God of the Tent as we engaged in conversation, in  dialogue with each others’ cultures and socio-political histories, learning from the struggles and experiences of other migrant peoples from other continents of the world.

I witnessed compassion with the God of the Tent as I became one with the migrants’ experience of loneliness and being uprooted,  in isolation and suffering from cultural alienation in a foreign land where they had hoped and dreamt of  building  a better life.

I loved the God of the Tent.

I also met  the god of the Empire.

Propped by mammon  and corporate greed.  It connotes a Fortress.  Symbolizing  grandeur and entrenchment.

With tightly guarded borders controlled and secured by armed military because of the need to protect “property”. It doublespeaks about welfare and rights and alleging concern for the well-being of exploited migrant labor in the global community.  But in real would only want to maximize (manage) workers’ remittances which amount to billions of dollars for profit and personal gain.  It actually exploits “migration” as a tool for development

I have seen the god of the Empire from a distance.  It glitters in elegance but refuses to allow people to come near it lest its security be jeopardized.

The god of the Empire  is  deaf and mute to the protests and clamors for justice by migrants, immigrants and refugees and not keen authentic in reducing or even  addressing the social costs of migration.

I denounce the gods of the Empire.  I reject  the gods of neoliberal globalization. 

United and never defeated -migrants and refugees from around the world  speak  out – “For many years, they have talked about us, but now we shall speak for ourselves!” “While they discuss how to exploit us, they silence us and they shut us out. We say to them: as long as the GFMD exists we will come back year after year to continue our fight for migrant rights.”

I proclaim the God of the Tent as it announces  “ liberation of the oppressed and criticizing cultic observance without social justice”.  It demands “to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of yoke, to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke,  to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the person you see naked and not turn from your kin” (Isaiah58).

Jesus said: “Break down this temple of stone and I will raise it up in three days”.  The Pharisees were angered because their ancestors have built this temple for thousands of years.  And for this – they crucified him.

In Mexico,  in solidarity with migrants and refugees,  we denounced the gods of the Empire and reject the gods of imperialist globalization.   We  witness and proclaim the God of the Tent , the God of modern day prophets, the God of the migrants and refugees!


Written by: Sr. Maureen Catabian, RGS- Philippines

Good Shepherd Asia-Pacific Justice and Peace Network
(GS APJP Network)                            
November 23, 2010