A Stranger No More

3 July 2007 Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle
Ephesians 2, 19-22

The first reading from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians reminds me of my experiences abroad. I have been to three countries in Asia, not on vacation, but on an errand: Taipei, for communications exposure; Palau, for Holy Week services to Overseas Filipino Workers; and Brunei, for Philippine Independence Day celebrations. In all of these countries, I felt like a stranger. I was not a citizen; I do not enjoy the privileges of the natives; and the language unsettled me… especially in Taiwan where everything was in Chinese, and only a few people could speak English. The whole milieu drives the truth at your face: this is not your home!

Paul’s letter speaks to so many Filipinos abroad. They may enjoy some of the amenities in other countries where life can be more comfortable, but there hearts yearn for home. Aside from Wowowee and the Filipino Channel that connects them to the Philippines, it is our faith and music that brings home to them, even in a foreign country. In Taiwan, Filipinos flock to the Church of St. Christopher for mass. There is, in fact, a Filipino mass. And when you enter the compound, you feel you are in Quiapo, with magazines and tabloids and rosaries being sold by vendors. In Brunei, Filipinos enjoy chicken arroz caldo sold at the Catholic Church’s premises after the 7 AM mass. In Palau, the Holy Week celebrations are done the Filipino way — with the drama and creativity that mark Filipino Catholicism.

Indeed, when one becomes a member of the faith, we find a home. Paul said, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.”

But there is one more thing in that experience of mine. Even those who are not Filipinos, but are fellow Catholics, find the mass not alienating, but accepting. It is a place where we all belong. It is a place where one does not feel alienated. When I attended a Chinese mass in Taipei, I could not decipher a word. Except I knew what part of the mass I was, and when we all sang after the chalice and paten were elevated, I knew it was the “Our Father”. I hummed the melody of the song (I could follow), and I was genuinely one with them. I guess, this is indeed an experience of the universality of our faith. We all share the same tradition of the apostles and the prophets, but more so, we share the same love and faith in Christ. It is Christ, who holds us together, who makes us one.

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