Sunday, December 29, 2013

Migrant workers, refugees and locals gather for Christmas

By CCTV correspondent Rian Maelzer

Christmas Day mass at the Catholic cathedral in Malaysia’s capital has brought together an unusual cross-section of worshippers from different classes, countries and cultures. For some people living far from home, the welcome comradeship of celebrating this day with those around them is mixed with the heartache of being far from their families.

There was an overflow crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s St. John’s cathedral, as local Catholics mingled with migrant workers, refugees and expatriates to hear mass. Year round, this is the favourite gathering point for the city’s migrant workers from the Philippines, most of them employed as maids. It’s a chance to meet friends and enjoy the tastes of home -- all the more poignant on Christmas Day.

“I have two children. I’m very sad but of course, I have no choice. Then enjoy, even though very far away.” said Anna V. De Villa, Filipina Migrant Worker.

“Without my family, it’s like they are all my family here. Sorry (starts to cry). I really miss my family, actually. I been eight years in Malaysia. I have never seen them for a while. I miss them.” said Elvira L. Torion, Filipina Migrant Worker.

“While Malaysia is a mostly Muslim country, about one in 10 Malaysians is Christian. And along with the major Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu festivals, Christmas is also celebrated as a national holiday here.” said Rian Maelzer, Kuala Lumpur.

About two thirds of Malaysia’s Christians are indigenous people in the states on the island of Borneo. Most Christians here in the peninsula are ethnic Chinese and Indians.

In a hall behind the Cathedral, another group of Catholics gather to give confession and hear mass in their own language. They are Christian refugees from minority ethnic groups in Myanmar.

“They run for their lives, you can say that. So we come to Malaysia, they work in the workplace all year, so Christmas they want to enjoy, they want to receive God. They want to meet with their friends. So Christmas is very important for us.” said Joseph Cha Ru, Myanmar Christian Refugee.

And like the Filipinos working here for so many years, the refugees say they too pray for the day when they may once again celebrate Christmas with their families in their homelands.