Bernardo M. Villegas
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St. Joseph Patron of OFWs

          Filipino workers abroad have once again saved the day for the Philippine economy during the ongoing pandemic.  As they did during the Great Recession of 2008 to 2012, they are softening the blow of the world-wide depression caused by COVID-19 by continuing to send a good portion of their earnings to their loved ones in the Philippines.  Already in September and October 2020, the remittances they sent home had started to climb despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of them were forced to return home as they were laid off from work, especially in the Middle East.  Thanks to the land-based OFWs who have kept their jobs, their extra generosity during these hard times is limiting the decline of remittances to less than one percent decline on a year to year basis.   In fact, they may still surprise us during the months of November and December since as Christmas approached, their generosity could even prevent an actual decline of remittances for the whole year.  There is no question that without them, the GDP of the Philippines would have suffered worse declines, not only for the entire year of 2020, but even in the first quarter or so of 2021 when second or even third waves of the virus are expected to lead to more economically paralyzing lockdowns.

         Fortunately, Pope Francis has identified another Patron Saint that the OFWs and their families can pray to for continuing help.  That Saint is St. Joseph, who only next to the Child Jesus and His Mother Mary, is a key figure in our celebration of the Season of Christmas.  Providentially, Pope Francis proclaimed the “Year of St. Joseph” through the Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (“With a Father’s Heart) to mark the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.  The Year of St. Joseph will be celebrated from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021.  Alluding in the Apostolic Letter to the flight to Egypt that obliged St. Joseph to bring Jesus and Mary out of Palestine to reside in a foreign land unknown to them because of the persecution of innocent babies by Herod, the Pope declares that St. Joseph is “the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty.”  As regards Filipinos who seek work abroad, the main motivation is to rise from poverty.  St. Joseph can also be considered the Patron for OFWs because of the fact that these fellow citizens of ours go abroad principally to work for a living, to support themselves and their families. 

         The Pope describes St. Joseph as a worker “who earned an honest living to provide for his family.”  St. Joseph also teaches us “the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor.”   This aspect of Joseph’s personality inspired the Pope to launch an appeal in favor of work, which has become a “burning social issue” even in countries with a certain level of well-being.  The Pope asserted that there is a renewed need to appreciate the importance of dignified work, of which St. Joseph is an exemplary patron.  Reiterating the points raised by St. John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work),  Pope Francis says that work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. Those who work cooperate with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us.  The Roman Pontiff encourages everyone to rediscover the value, the importance and the necessity of work for bringing about a new normal from which no one is excluded.  Especially in light of rising unemployment and underemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic (it is estimated that some 5 million Filipinos are now unemployed), the Pope urges us to review our priorities and to express our firm conviction that no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work.  In our case, rather than being overly concerned about how much GDP would fall now and in the coming months, the focus of our concern should be how to keep as many people employed, especially in the countryside where 75 percent of the poor reside.

         The Pope also had some inspiring words that can help especially those fathers who are forced to leave their families behind in order to work for a living abroad.  Even if only through the help of digital devices and services, absentee fathers can still try their best to keep track of how their children are being brought up by the elders who are left behind.  “Fathers are not born, but made,” says Pope Francis.  “A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child.”  Children need fathers who will not try to dominate them, but instead raise them to be capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities.  Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom.  He never made himself the center of things.  He did not think of himself but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

         Obviously, the words of advice to fathers given by the Pope are primarily for those who are fortunate enough not to be forced to go abroad to work for a living.  Still absentee fathers can benefit from the insights into what an ideal father should be according to the Pope, as inspired by the example of St. Joseph.  True fathers “should refuse to live the lives of their children for them,” and instead respect their freedom.  In this sense, Pope Francis asserts, a father realizes that “he is most a father and an educator at the point when he becomes ‘useless,’ when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied.”  Being a father, the Pope emphasises, “has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a sign pointing to a greater fatherhood:  that of the Heavenly Father.  Fathers who are separated from their families because of economic necessity have, therefore, a third reason to consider St. Joseph as a Patron.  They can pray especially to him to help them to be good fathers to their children despite their being physically separate from them.  We can, therefore, conclude that OFWs who are fathers can treat St. Joseph as their Patron for three reasons.  They are simultaneously migrants, workers and fathers.  OFWs who are mothers have even a more powerful Patroness, the Blessed Virgin herself since she was a migrant herself in Egypt, a tireless worker taking care of the daily necessities of Jesus and Joseph and the Mother of God.  OFWs who are fathers can say the prayer that the Pope has been saying every day for over forty years:  “My beloved father, all my trust is in you.  Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power.”  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.