Metropolitan Yakob Mar Irenaios calls for govt intervention to tackle issue of migrants

Liju Cherian

# Migrant population needs special attention, pastoral care, counselling
# New avenues and possibilities of mobility have proved to be a catalyst
# Migrants’ have strength to harvest land but cannot influence legislation
# ‘We are all migrants on this earth’ since we come from God and return to Him
# Enlightened and angered public opinion should take up their cause
# No country today on earth is totally free from the presence of migrants

SEOUL, South Korea — Asian theologians met at Seoul for the Seventh Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS VII) from July 1-5, 2012. They deliberated on the theme “Embracing and Embodying God’s Hospitality Today.”

Rev Dr Henriette H Lebang, General Secretary of Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), Rev Dr Young Ju Kim, General Secretary of NCCK, Rev Dr Moon Sung Mo, Chairperson of KAATS (Korea Association of Accredited Theological Schools) delivered the inaugural address. The opening worship service was led by Rev Dr Kim Hong Ki, President of Methodist Theological University.

HG Dr Yakob Mar Irenaios, Metropolitan of Kochi Diocese, who represented the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church, chaired a panel discussion on “Household of God-Embracing our Neighbours.”

The presentation was appreciably received by the audience and Dr Mar Irenaios won wide acclaim for his presentation.
Other panelists along with Dr Irenaios were Dr Gemma Cruz and Lian Hang Do with Rev Dr Huang Po Ho as the moderator.
Dr Mar Irenaios in his discussion drew attention to the migrant population which was badly in need of pastoral care and counselling. Even though the churches and missions were doing commendable service among the poor, he felt that since the migrants appears for all practical purposes as orphans; they merit special attention and pastoral care.
He also called for governmental intervention that took care of this segment of the population that contributes a lot to nation building.

Explaining theologically, Mar Irenaios, said that “God has given this earth, to all human beings. It is a gift and we are to use, protect and enjoy the good things from it. God is the actual owner and all of us are a kind of tenants. Therefore the concept of migration takes on a new meaning and significance in the context of the Bible. The earth is bequeathed as a common property for all human beings of all times. It is the ‘Household of God.’ God is the father of all (Malachi 1:6.)

The Metropolitan explained that he first called attention to the definition of neighbour and extended the word to include migrants as well, saying, “We can hardly sideline the widely inclusive interpretation given by Jesus in answer to the seemingly simple and innocent question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’(Luke 10:29).

Here we get the beautiful parable of the compassionate Samaritan. The glow of the story transcends the ideas given to the same concept by various branches of academic learning. The neighbour can be a migrant as well. If we really perceive the meaning of this, he added, it carries the extended sense that we are all, in some sense ‘migrants on this earth’; since we come from God, and return to Him after a brief sojourn!

Citing incidents of migration as seen in the Holy Bible and reasons that necessitated them, Dr Mar Irenaios, said that the first instance of migration happened at the very beginning itself, where the first parents are driven out of their ‘native’ Garden of Eden. Cain the first born of Adam was a fugitive as the divine punishment for the murder. Here the alienation is the result of sin. Genesis chapter 12 introduces Abraham from his native ‘Ur’ in response to the instruction given by God.

“Here migration comes from God himself. The largest migrant population in the Old Testament history is Israelites in Egypt. They continued to be wandering migrants or nomads till their winding journey and reached the Promised Land. The history of Israel bears witness to various instances, where invading kings and armies take people forcefully, as slaves into neighbouring countries like Babylonia. This kind of analysis leads to the catharsis: that Jesus came to collect us from the ‘foreign domination’ of sin, Satan and death and lead us back to Paradise, where he claims us to be His,” the Metropolitan points out.

Giving updates about migrants he explained that no country today on earth is totally free from the presence of migrants or asylum seekers. Hence it is a universal phenomenon, and the new avenues and possibilities of mobility have only proved a catalyst for it.

According to UN estimates more than 200 million people are living permanently or temporarily outside their countries of origin. One out of every 35 people worldwide is currently an international migrant. This large population consists of migrant workers, asylum seekers and immigrants. However it must not be missed that this estimate does not include those of irregular or undocumented status among the migrants.

Describing the various kinds of migrants like external migrants who go out of the country in search of better jobs and better prospects, and internal migrants who moved within the country, also in search of better job opportunities, and also as climate refugees, development refugees, people running away from ethnic and religious conflicts, conflicts and so on and His Grace analysed the drawbacks of this kind of an existence.

External migrants comprising individuals, families or communities moving to another country for better jobs improved their economic status, increased educational opportunities, enhanced the standards of living, and also contributed to the development of state economy, they had to cope with dual cultures, long separations and money, strain on family life, psychological and moral problems, children going astray, alienation and others.

Internal migration or movement within the same country mainly involves urban-rural, rural-urban, rural-rural, created linguistic, cultural, housing and other problems. Internal and international migrants are generally denied the rights of the natives, leading to situations of less financial and life security. The UN Convention on the Protection and Rights of all Migrant Workers has been ratified by 20 countries, all of which are exporters of cheap labour.

Article 14 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. Theoretically this is an ideal situation; however, even where migration is permitted, it is typically selective.

In general, in several countries, migrants have less legal rights than others. This is not something new; a leaf from the New Testament reveals that Roman citizens enjoyed certain fundamental rights, which non-citizens living in the empire never enjoyed. (Acts 22:25-29); and St Paul was a beneficiary of it. Discrimination, disparity, ill-treatment, exploitation, low living standards, health issues, high prevalence of HIV, cultural, linguistic and educational variations are the problems that they often have to cope with.

On migration, Dr Mar Irenaios, appealed for action saying that Jesus came to call the voiceless, the neglected, the despised, the sick and the powerless. “God created human beings, we create slaves and orderlies! One day we are also to get migrated to another state of life, where the question shall be asked “What did you do for the migrants? Are they not human beings with not only flesh and blood, but hopes and dreams, cares and worries?,” he pointed out.
Quoting from Edward R Murrow’s documentary Harvest of Shame (1960) about a new migrant labour force, he says that ‘we used to own slaves, now we just rent them. …. only an enlightened and perhaps an angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The migrant labour working in the field has the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetable, they do not have the strength to influence legislation.

On the sidelines of CATS VII, the organisers also held a Women’s Forum for theologians and pastors.
The Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS) is a bi-tri-annual conference of theologians throughout Asia, founded in 1997 by Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), South Asia Theological Research Institute of the Board of Theological Education of Senate of Serampore College (SATHRI BTE-SSC), Association of Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA), and the Programme for Theologies and Cultures in Asia (PTCA). It was later joined by some others, most notably by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).

Liju Cherian