Many Journeys, One Family: Its Pains and Glory

Taipei, Taiwan, February 26, 2018 – Nothing is impossible when you are challenged and you believe that it can be done because God will make a way when you trust Him do his ways.

Migrants Workers’ Concern Desk, better known as MWCD is located at St. Christopher’s Church which is the heart and center of activities for migrants of different nationalities. These migrants come here to pray, meet friends, for shopping, remittances and entertainments. MWCD which is under the supervision of the Taipei Archdiocese is headed by Rev. Fr. Franco Lacanaria, CS- as Parish Priest and Director, Rev. Fr. Tran Van Thiet, CS and Rev. Fr. Alexmar Bula, CS as Deputies and Assistant Parish Priests. This office caters to the needs of migrants by case assistance, counseling, information, bonding, training courses and others.

From among these cases that we received and assisted the fishermen’s sharing their stories and experiences were the ones that creates lumps in our throat, tears in our eyes and pain in our heart. In an interview by a CNA correspondence William Lee; we mentioned that our migrant fisherman were the most vulnerable group of workers to abuses, harassment, inhumane treatment and mostly the dangers and risk they meet at work at sea. If you will listen to their unending stories which will angered you and question yourself what can I do to help them, to assure them that we believe them, that we somehow can be their window for support in their flight for the betterment of their working and living condition.

Rev. Tran Van Thiet, CS deputy Director of MWCD after attending AOS International conference in Kaohsiung last October of 2017, with his awakening became interested in knowing the actual status of these migrant fishermen in Taiwan and said “let’s do some work”, that same day we took the car and started rolling to different ports and our first target was Keelung; we have to see them, talk to them and know their problems and how can we help them. We started talking to one Vietnam worker; the next time we came back we met 10 Filipino fishermen then more.  We traveled from Keelung to Yilan and passed to all fishing ports: Sen Ao, Loudong, Yehliu, Patuzho, Su Ao, Nanfang Ao and more to mention, small and big fishing ports where there are migrants.

Thru the help of one Sr. Mary Ruan a Vietnamese (sr. Maria Nguyen Thi Hong Diem, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent), we were able to solicit jackets, blankets, sleeping bags, wool caps and goods came pouring to St. Christopher, all we received we gave right away when we went back to the ports and distributed whatever we received, we then became their friends. Trust was built and coordination started.

We have this dream of gathering them in one big event but according to workers the only time possible is during the celebration of Chinese New Year, a plan that has no concrete structure. A ray of hope came when fishers started planning of having a basketball league, we right away coordinated with them but the answer was still not sure, in spite of that we set a target date and the plan came rolling bigger and bigger. MWCD then organized a tour from Taipei with a purpose of bonding with fishermen, who in connection with Pope Francis share the journey announcement under the theme “Many Journeys, One family”. An interested group of migrants who heard and read of the tour invitation came pilling up until the last day of the event, donations of goods, groceries, jackets were collected and packed individually by our volunteers. Several days before the event I was told members of the group were being sent home in the Philippines some for vacation, some termination. Full of hope and added prayers, we still push through with the plan. Fishers still went to work at sea for days, they went back to port on the 15th which is Chinese New Year’s Eve and we have no idea how many people will be there to attend.

With all the preparations done from gift pack of donations to foods, drinks, mass arraignment and three buses full of people from Taipei here we go to Yehliu, at the same time fishers too were busy preparing the hall, cleaning and arranging chairs. It was a day full of expectations and prayers, which was really answered. The event was a success from the celebration of the Holy Mass by Fr. Toto Bula and Deacon Rico and then proceeded to the Labor seminar by Kabayan Doods of Taipei Labor Bureau, it went smoothly. It was the excitement of finding the missing half of the heart that came roaring, ladies finding their best half and parading to the front showcasing their talent in order to get the prize of NT1,000. The laughter that filled the whole activity center gives joy to the heart, I saw them laughing, enjoying without any fear. The feeling that they are with their own family sharing happiness even for just a day was worth all the preparation and hassles of the previous week. The day was offered for bonding with them and so it was. of course we knew problems will not end there but a day meeting new people and friends are enough to strengthen the spirit and the heart.