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Migrant Ministry During Covid-19

By Fr. Gonzalo German Borquez Diaz

As a humanity we thought that we had reached a point of development or a point that we could control all situations with economics or the power of our governments. However, this year something that is still out of our control happened. Its a thing that we cannot see or touch but is there bringing to us a lot of uncertainty or destabilizing our lifestyles, That thing has a name, Covid-19. This small virus is causing events that not even the most expert economist in the world could have predicted. The reason why I have started this article with these lines is because the ones who will suffer the most when we overcome this crisis are the poor and the oppressed, which are a priority in our church. In addition, the global phenomenon of poverty and oppression is tightly related to another phenomenon that we are all aware, and we somehow all talk about it, and is called migration.


Fr. Borquez at a home Mass
Fr. Borquez celebrates Mass in a home.


Every year thousands of people around the globe are forced to leave family, friends, house, dreams and almost everything behind in order to find dignity and a better way of living. I do not want to make predictions; I do not think I am a prophet; and, I do not  intend to be one. I am just a simple priest from Chile that belongs to the society of St. Columban, who is working as a missionary priest in a little city in the south of the peninsula of South Korea called Suncheon.  But I somehow have clarity of what is going to happen when we as a humanity overcome this crisis. The poor countries now are even poorer and the migration to the most developed countries will be even bigger.

I still remember it was about April of 2019 when I was working with the youth in a small university in another city called Mokpo, when without expectations I received a phone called from an phone number that I did not recognize, So, I thought it was a call center calling me to offer a loan of money that I could not take, because I am  not  Korean, so I did not even bother to answer. I received a call from that same number an hour later and I did not answer it thinking it was the same person who wants to earn money by making these phone calls/ When a call came a third time, I answered it, and received a big surprise. A a nice and a peaceful voice from the other side was asking for father Gonzalo, and he introduced himself as Fr. Anselmo,  a priest from Gwangju dioceses, who is assigned to work with the migrants in that city. He asked me if I would be willing to help him with the migrants on Sundays, because he was struggling to communicate with them. Even though he could read English, people were not able to understand him. I founded him so honest and humble that I said yes Fr. Anselmo I will give you a hand on Sundays.


Bible Study


I did not know at that moment what that "yes" would mean for my life at that point. It was the start of something new in my heart. The next Sunday I went to the Catholic Migrant Center to celebrate the Mass in English and I was shocked to see the amount of people from different nationalities. I really thought it was the Holly spirit that brought me to that place. That's how I started being involved in the migrant ministry. After a few months I realized that I would love to be more involved in that ministry, so I ask my director and his council if it would be possible to be appointed to that. Before I went for vacation, they told me that they agree with me and that I would be appointed to the migrant ministry after my vacation. As soon as I came back, I started the process to be appointed by the Columbans and Gwangju diocese.

Of course it was not easy. Another priest was appointed to the Mokpo migrant center so that place was not available for me at the moment. However, the Bishop told us there is no priest doing migrant ministry in the Suncheon area - a place that there has not been a Columban priest in 60 years, After a few days of thinking and consulting, I decided to take the offer and that's how I came to be here. At the beginning, before Covid-19 I was visiting people that came from Vietnam and helping the pregnant Vietnamese wives get medical attention. I was doing that with a Korean Nun. Actually it was a great time, especially when these two beautiful and angelic looking kids were born. I prayed about that experience for a long time, and since I was driving the migrant center van, I felt we were helping Mary and Joseph to get Jesus born again. These people are the poor of the poor here in Korea. It's very difficult to get people to help them when they are going to hospital. They immediately loose their job because their boss does not want to have problems with the migration office.

Fr. Borquez
Fr. Borquez gives a "thumbs-up"

Another part of my ministry here is to celebrate the Mass and prepare the sons and daughters of the migrants for the sacraments. The largest number of migrants in this area are from the Philippines, followed by Vietnam and East Timor. There are also a few people from United States, England,  Ireland, eastern Europe and South Africa. I have meet a good number of them for different reasons. Since the Covid-19 virus interrupted life, I have had to change the way I do he ministry. I was not able to go to the hospital anymore and not able to celebrate public Masses up to today. I was able to meet in small groups to share biblical reflections and to do Masses in homes or blessing their houses. I am also able to listened their problems and their worries, especially at this time. Because of this experience, I have realize that our societies and our lifestyles are not going to be the same, and we as a church need to go with the times.

It is true that our faith is based in the sacrament of communion, and the real presence of Christ. However, in order to make that presence something more visible, we have to live and seek that and signified presence. I truly believe that the spirit is pushing us to go to the peripheries, not only physical but also the existential ones and to follow the example of Christ who expended most of his time at the peripheries. I believe that by being with these people, sharing a bit of their food, listening. and sharing God´s Gospel and the presence of Jesus in our daily lives is in our hands. When we celebrate the sacraments in the church, this presence means not only that we are in a nice building called church, but means life, love, compassion, mercy, understanding patience, and presence.