Thursday, April 05, 2007

Feet… Pilgrims, Workers, Saints…

Feet, small, big, smooth, silky, callous, leathery, white as porcelain, brown as earth…Feet, female feet, special feet of women who have journeyed far away to find work. Pilgrim feet, working feet, loving feet. These were the feet that I contemplated on as I celebrated the liturgy of the washing of the feet last Holy Thursday, April 5, 2007 at St. Joseph’s Church, in Choi Hung.

It was my first Holy Week in Hong Kong. It was different from my Holy Week in China last year. Holy week like Christmas week was a typical working week in China. I taught and behaved as if those days were no different from other days. A strange inner guilt gripped me as I behaved casually on days considered special days of intense prayer and fasting. I would try to make up for the lack of external religiosity by taking off and hitting the road. My running feet would engage the earth in a rhythmic dialogue of energies. As I ran, gradually and progressively approaching my destination, I hear the strides of my feet mix with the sounds of a river just a few feet away, the variety of activities enlivening its banks from farmers washing freshly harvested vegetables, fishing hobbyists exchanging banter, the hypnotic sounds of various engines powering vehicles speeding by on a nearby highway. I try to concentrate on my feet and listen to their prayerful gait. At the end of a run that lasted between one and a half or two hours, I would head home and thank the feet which to this moment have given me the life of pilgrimage, service and mystery. In China I have gotten used to the inner dialogue between my feet and the rest of me…between feet and mind, heart and soul.

Tonight, I encountered rather different feet, OFWs’ feet that seemed to speak and cry out their stories. As I held those feet, poured water, applied soap and washed them, I heard sobs and then saw tears. I did not exactly understand those tears, but as I listened and watched, a certain tenderness began to spread within me. I realize that I was washing the feet of those whose hands, minds, hearts and even souls have been enduring wounds inflicted by both persons and situations as well. These were the feet of my “kababayan,” fellow countrywomen who have become overseas workers and a good number modern day slaves in another country.

I saw feet not comely but glowing with existential eloquence, feet that spoke, cried, denounced, protested, groaned, and throbbed with untold burden and anguish. As I washed the workers’ feet, I began a silent dialogue with them. I listened to them and spoke to them as well. Then I realized how these feet like mine have journeyed far and labored hard. I begin to see not only their feet but mine and those of millions walking and running in search of peace, truth, justice and freedom. Now these feet, theirs and mine are together here in Hong Kong. Why? The feet need not speak. The callouses, scars, varicose veins, stains of every kind tell quite a story, the story of the Overseas Filipino Workers in Hong Kong and the rest of the world.

Before I concluded the Eucharist, I requested some of those whose feet I washed and were washed by fellow migrants to share. All without exception expressed the same sentiment, “habang hinuhugasan ang aking paa, naramdaman ko si Kristo…at gumaang nang husto ang aking loob, mapayapa…” While my feet were being washed I felt Christ and I felt light, I felt peace….” One even emphasized how she felt a melting feeling spreading tenderness and peace from her feet to her heart.

The Fillipina workers’ testimonies were but the surface of an explosive narrative of migrancy with its complex economic, social, psychological, moral dimensions and consequences often manifested as wounds. It was a narrative of pilgrim workers in search of depth, meaning, healing, indeed, in search of God.

The story of Filipina workers’ feet this Maundy Thursday has left a silent but deep impact on me. This story makes me ask and contemplate even more… if feet are not just feet and workers are not only workers, then what more?

Deep beneath, behind and within the surface of those neglected, ignored and quite often abused are souls athirst for healing and fullness of life, a state, a condition which workers almost always equate with God. Those feet were eloquent because they said much without even uttering a word, except one word that struck deep chords within… holy ( both the state and more importantly the process leading to it).

There is much more crying out to be done but we can begin here, looking at and washing the feet of pilgrims…workers… saints.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
April 5, 2007
Holy Thursday


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