It Would Break Your Heart
By Sr. Priscilla Jaurigue, FdCC
Off to Italy
Sometime ago the Canossian Province in the Philippines sent ten sisters to the missions. I was one of them. My place of mission was Como, northern Italy, and my mandate: to work [especially] with our Filipino migrant workers. When I reached the generalate in Rome, the only information I got was “there’s an organized group of migrant workers gathering in our convent in Como every Sunday”, no more less! I was puzzled, what shall I do then? I asked myself.
Como On The Lake
Como is a small town famous for its fabulous panoramic view and surrounded by the magnificent lake. It is the provincial capital, an industrial and commercial center with a highly developed textile industry, mainly silk. My new community was composed of thirty-five sisters, the majority of whom are older than me. As days went by, I found myself challenged by strong structures, the cold and rigid Comascan mentality, as t hey call it.
Where are the People?
I had the chance to attend two Sunday Masses in the evening celebrated by the migrant workers in our convent. The Mass was in Italian. What a surprise to see just a handful of people in the Church – a few Filipinos and some people from El Salvador. I was expecting to see the “organized group” mentioned to me while still in Rome. Nevertheless, I was happy and enthusiastic to know them.
From then onward, the news that there was a Canossian Filipino sister who would take charge of the migrant workers spread like wildfire among our people as well as the Italian families. It turned out that there where were about three hundred plus Filipinos here in Como. A big number of them popped up unexpectedly in our convent. They were products of illegal agencies and false recruiters. The majority were high school graduates, some not even that. The main reason they come to our convent is to look for jobs.
I thought of the best way to help them get employed. Knowing how to speak Italian, I was practically doing everything for them, I acted as their interpreter, accompanied them to the house of the employer, bought bus ticket, and made the phone calls when necessary. I also listened to their breathtaking experiences and hazardous journeys as they crossed the border to enter Italy. It was also surprising to hear about their accumulated debts in the Philippines.
However, eventually I realized that some were merely using me as a “jumping board” for finding a job. Once they were settled (accepted well by the family and with a high salary) they did not come back anymore to the convent. At times, they lacked maturity and education, and they were sent away by their employer due to irresponsibility and immoral living. Helping them to find jobs has got me into trouble too. It was the “negotio” for some old timers here to deduct a certain amount for the monthly salary of those domestics as a compensation for having found a job for them. These people now saw me a threat to their “negotio” and fabricated lots of stories and false accusations against me, so that straight away I might be removed from Como.
The Inside Story
I welcomed everyone to the convent and I later started visiting them in their apartments. Through the people I came in contact with, I got the following information: A big group used to gather in our convent in the beginning. The first Filipinos who arrived in Como had asked to stay during Sunday afternoon in our convent for they had nowhere to go especially during the winter season. The group was sailing along smoothly during their first three years in our convent. They used to celebrate some occasional programs (Christmas, Valentine’s). Then they decided to put up leaders, but these failed to lead the group to unity. Notwithstanding the existing division among them, they still gather themselves when occasions arise. However, it’s gathering which does not foster harmonious relationships. The events in themselves evoke competition and ‘palabas’ instead of making them mindful of one another. Mass is simply a matter of formality, after all they don’t understand the language. They attend the program not because they are interested but because they are forced to pay the contribution, otherwise they are threatened that they will be reported to the police as illegal workers! Naturally, what follows after is heated quarrels and gossiping, and almost the cause is money!
Vice Enters In
After a couple of years, some got permanent resident papers because they were directly hired by their employers. This gave them the chance to rent an apartment and so they no longer join the group in our convent. During days off, their apartment is full of friends and relatives. The spirit of regionalism is very strong, I see the reality of migrant life from the inside when I do some house to house visitation. An apartment for two or three persons now holds about 20 people. The small apartment is changed into an eatery or becomes a gambling den and a drinking place -- women and men playing cards the whole night, money lending and whatever.
My greatest difficulty here is my being alone in this area of work. The number of Filipino migrant workers is growing speedily. The vast majority quickly adopt the lifestyle of the Europeans, influenced by a materialistic and sophisticated world. They subscribe to the idea of “being free”, able to do what whatever they like. Even if it’s immoral, because they are far from home. Our young women drink in the media of having a child without getting married.
Legion of Mary
Meanwhile I don’t get tangible and concrete support from the local church here. I organized the Legion of Mary and through them work to reach the others. By God’s providence, I met Father Ernesto Rusconi, CRS who is giving me a helping hand, I thought of producing a newsletter in collaboration with him. At present there are about forty people who joined Legion of Mary. Fr. Ernesto and I are working hard so that our people will be integrated into the local church. The old leaders (the former ones who left the group because nobody obeys them) are still furious with me. Somehow their unjust practices were exposed and they are now controlled in there so-called “business.” So much so that before my Silver Jubilee I got several phone calls containing litanies of “bad words” in Tagalog!
School of the Cross
I have just completed my second year and in this span of time I have learned in the school of the cross. Which I believe has added more maintaining to my life as a missionary. During these two years that I have been away from home I feel I have grown and became more deeply aware of the reality: God loves me and never a moment in my life have I felt abandoned by Him. For all His gratitudes, love and kindness showered continuously in my life, may I remain faithful to Him in my service to the Church.