Rev. Fr. Melvin Castro
Although I am not so much into sports (that’s why I am rather unhealthy), I am so distressed and saddened by this particular friendly football match in Hongkong. Reportedly local fans there derided the Filipino team and their fans by calling them slaves or slave-nation.
If it was true, I can only ask God to forgive them.
I believe there was a certain slave during the time of St. Paul, Onesimus was his name. He ran away from his master, Philemon. St. Paul earlier converted Philemon and later, in imprisonment, converted Onesimus. St. Paul sought to reconcile the two.
I am no foreign affairs scholar, but it pains me, as everyone, to see how the government seemed so uncaring for the Filipinos abroad—some, if not many of them, killed, raped, imprisoned, and even left to fight for their own rights.
Yes, we are slaves. Yes we are domestic helpers. Yes we serve and slave ourselves to foreign masters so that we can send some money back home.
During my seminary days, I did not have any personal rich sponsor. I had a sponsor for my seminary and University studies but for the personal needs I had none.
Every Sunday afternoon, I would attend the Gawain of the El-Shaddai Prayer Group made up mostly of domestic helpers and drivers. It was always a joy to be with them. Knowing that I was financially constrained as a seminarian, they would pitch in money that they could spare and would give it to me so that I could buy books, pay for the bus fare, buy toiletries. They even gave me the money that I needed so I could return home after finishing studies.
Yes they were slaves. Yes they were servants. Yes they were domestic helpers.
After the prayer meeting and Holy Mass, we would eat at a fast food chain. Telling stories, sharing life experiences. Eventually one of them would succumb to cancer after years of hard work, a mother and a servant.
How I would see our women running from one apartment to another so that they could clean more apartments and earn more. How I remember seeing one mother and telling me that she just came from the first apartment that she cleaned and is just eating her lunch in the bus while on her way to the next apartment that she would be tending.
How I would see them so happy on payday and they would line up in remittance centers to send the money to their loved ones. How they are sad when they are told that one of their children is sick back home. How they worry when problems are reported to them. Oh, how problems are magnified when they reach them and, like Mary, they keep all things in their heart. How they are devastated when their spouse betray them. But how happy they are when everything is OK in their homes.
With most churches half empty at best or empty at worst, where these slaves and servants congregate it is filled with joy, singing, sharing, prayers. The smoke of the incense during Holy Mass is perfumed by their sacrifices: untold and known only to God Himself.
I owe my priesthood to these slaves, to these servants, to these domestic helpers. And I consider myself one of them, for we are all after all, in St. Paul’s words, having one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Yes we are slaves and yes we are servants. But none so free as we are.