Shepherds in foreign lands

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday. In today's gospel (Jn 10:27–30) we heard Jesus say, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Those of us who have not only listened to Jesus' voice but have also accepted His teachings should also be good shepherds to others.

We all know that shortly after the Resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father. He then sent down His Spirit to continue His work of Shepherding — to enable the sheep to continue hearing Jesus' voice so as to follow Him.

In the early days of the Church, the Holy Spirit, as He still does today, worked through people, principally through the apostles. In the first reading (Acts 13: 14, 43–52) we see Paul and Barnabas going out to the known world to proclaim the gospel under the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit. They first went to the Jews. Because of their preaching, many began to believe in Jesus. But some leaders of the Jews were filled with jealousy and spoke derisively against them. They even incited the people to persecute them. In desperation and as Acts records, “Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, 'It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:46). Then they left and went to another city to continue their work. Unknown to the two, this was how the Holy Spirit wanted them to bring about the spread of the Word of God to the then known world.

About a decade ago, Flor Contemplacion, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) working as a domestic in Singapore was sentenced to death for murder. After hearing the stories of other Filipinos close to her including witnesses, the Filipino people concluded that she was framed up. This resulted in protests actions throughout the country against the government of Singapore. The government was also urged to take up her case before the Singapore authorities. To no avail. She was executed. Thereafter, she was named Martyr of OFWs, in effect personifying their neglect by government which has named them “modern–day heroes” for bringing in dollars to help the country's floundering economy. What happened to Contemplacion is one of the negative aspects of our government's policy to send out workers to other countries.

But there is a positive side to our workers' going overseas. In recent years, instead of continuing to send out more professionals and skilled workers, the government began to export millions of laborers and even domestic workers — to somewhat ease our massive unemployment problem.

Some time ago, I came across an article about a pregnant woman who asked the Pope as to when she should start preparing to take care of her child. The Pope reportedly said, “You should have started preparing to raise your child twenty years ago.” What the Pope implied was that everything we acquire over the years — specially knowledge and values — are to be passed down to our children. It is for this reason that parents should be the ones to raise their children and not pass the responsibility to their maids.

In foreign countries — Middle East, Asia, the US and Europe, etc. — our domestic workers working overseas (generally female and well educated) are usually made to take care of their employers' babies and little children as they go out to work. This means being with the child the whole day. She talks with him and teaches him things. Teaches what? Only what she herself had learned — among them, her Christian faith — if not its doctrine then at least its values by the way she talks and acts. Unknown to them, it may be part of God's plan to bring about the spread of the gospel in today's world through them.

Not only that, as Catholics, they practice their faith among the people of their host countries. They go to Church on Sundays and they do good works like helping their fellow Filipinos in need. Seeing these, their hosts may not only be impressed but also influenced by the way they live out their faith.

It is in this sense that many of our Christian overseas workers may be no different to Paul and Barabbas who went out to other countries to proclaim the “Good News” of salvation. It is in this sense, too, that our Christian overseas workers have become “shepherds” in foreign lands as they indirectly bring the gospel to those sheep who are “not yet in the fold.”

Let us pray for our OFWs so that only good things will come their way as they do God's work in foreign lands under the inspiration and guidance of the Good Shepherd's Spirit.