Whom Shall I Send?
I the Lord of sea and sky?
I have heard my people cry?
...Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?”
Waiting for Refugee Status
I left my country Cameroon on December 12, 2019 in fear and confusion, traumatized by a war I had never experienced. I was hunted and had no choice but to escape. I came to Japan and was trying to adjust to the new environment when the frightful news of a killer virus filled every television and radio in the world. Fear, confusion, trauma set in again. I thought of my family back home. I prayed for the pandemic to end soon. My only source of comfort was the Sunday English Mass but like other Masses it was not open to us. My situation kept getting worse. I remained indoors for weeks and my thought was, if I die what will become of my family? Please God, help me! There were many days I did not have food and only water sustained me. But the fear of being infected was more than that of hunger. Then I learned my country started to have cases of the virus, including my region and so my stress doubled. How will my family manage in this situation without the father of the house at home? My wife called and we were both crying! I have gone through hard times since the outbreak of this virus but the worst situation in life is when a war pushes a comfortable family head to live in fear in another country and sometimes is forced to beg.
Especially on Sundays, I see him standing still for hours, holding a magazine for sale, either in front of Yotsuya station or at the corner intersection near the church. Only the eyes move, alert, hoping for a prospective buyer. From the sale of one magazine, 150 yen goes to him as commission. I wonder how many magazines he sells in a day to sustain his basic needs?
One day he asked me, “When is the church opening?” Obviously, most of his buyers are parishioners. Our conversation continued to, “Have you tried to apply for the 100,000 yen government subsidy?” He replied with a wry smile, “Mou, akiramemashita! (Already, we have given up!) Our leader said, it is impossible! We have no permanent address.” That day, I gave him a bottle of water and my sandwich. Since then, I have never seen him again.
A Dream Kept Hanging
Because of the Syrian war, we separated as friends in 2014. I left with my family for Lebanon as refugees (after a cousin died because of bombing), while he traveled to Germany after paying a ransom for his life. For four years I did not have any news about him. Then I left my family to study in Japan. A year later, our friends in Syria created the WhatsApp group and we got reconnected. After a long-distance relationship, he eventually became my fiancé
It is a funny but sad story. After the proposal online we planned to meet in Japan in May, but due to the coronavirus his flight was canceled and so we have postponed our wedding ceremony in St. Ignatius church many times since then. I never thought I will get married like this, that is, not having a “live engagement” and getting married to a man I will not see in person before the marriage ceremony. Religious marriage is very important to us, to our community and society in Syria. We do not accept mere civil marriage. We want the blessing of God. Furthermore, my flight to visit my mother and sisters has been canceled. I wanted to see them and buy a wedding dress for myself. Instead it was my sister who bought one for me and sent it to me.
My fiancé has been waiting the last months for any update from the Japanese embassy in Germany. And when he saw a little change, he hoped to get a Visit visa. I sent him a recommendation letter from Father Bony, who will be the priest for our ceremony. The Japanese consul said that it is better to get married first in Japan then get a spouse visa to travel. So I went to the Ward Office to apply for the Marriage Certificate, but it was their first Syrian case and they wanted to study the application –for many months. I never thought the coronavirus could complicate my dreams so much.
Since the news of the coronavirus, I got a feeling that it will take time and so we could not go home to the Philippines. I got worried because I had promised my mother that I would see her soon. She was turning 84 on April 1 and she was looking forward to all of us being there for the celebration. Sad to say, many things changed. International flights were cancelled, the Philippines was in lockdown and everyone was forced to stay home. Since then, when I would “chat” with her and the family, I could feel sadness in their voices. My brothers and sisters could not easily visit my ageing parents. My father, at 87, tried hard to cope with the situation but eventually he got weaker, sick and after a few weeks we lost him. I was so shocked and hurt. I could not do anything! I missed him terribly and felt sorry I could not see him for the last time. I felt the pain of the whole family.
My mother managed to be strong and asked us all to entrust everything to God. She has been sick the past 8 years and she showed courage and faith. During the wake, which I saw via Messenger, I saw my brothers and sisters lifting her from the wheelchair to see my father for the last time. She cried and in a soft voice began singing love songs, their favorite songs. Then she said, “Soon I will be the next.” I could not console my mother. I could not be by her side. All I could do was cry and pray.
Early one morning, my cellphone kept on ringing and I felt something strange. It was my sister telling me that they had rushed my mother to the hospital and she was in very critical condition. I felt as if a basket full of ice cubes doused my entire body. After a few minutes, they told me she was gone! My parents passed away the same month, May 2020.
A Migrant’s Family
To be with people and to help people is what matters most to me. I have a daughter living with me, and she took care of the rent and other needs. I looked after the children who were taking online classes while their parents worked. I cooked for them and even taught them to bake, make native desserts, and prepare simple dishes. Both parents and children are happy with their new culinary skills. Now the children are back at school, but I still cook for them and clean their house two or three times a week.
The pandemic has affected a lot the poor in the Philippines, my native country. I am thankful to God for providing me with several jobs. Through my salary, I have been able to help my sibling’s children continue with their studies. Sending them the little money I earn brings so much joy to them.
The above accounts are but few examples of concrete faces of parishioners in St Ignatius affected by the pandemic. Their number is multiplied by hundreds and thousands if we think of the world situation. This month of October is Mission Month. Pope Francis in his message this year (cf. page 1) said, “The COVID pandemic is an opportunity for mission and service to others.”
“Whom shall I send?” As the lyrics of the above familiar song go, “I will go, Lord, if you lead me…” The Catholic Church has outlined the how very clearly. There are the Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, the imprisoned, ransom the captive, bury the dead; and the Spiritual Works of Mercy: instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear patiently those who wrong us, forgive offenses, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead. Have we forgotten?
By Sr. Flor Florece, F.I.