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Reputed for his humility, the priest says: “It was the best thing anyone ever said of me. I took it as a great compliment.”

Complementing the American priest’s many years of experience serving the migrant community, Father Ponce brings to the work a sense of empathy and compassion drawn from his own background. “[This mission] is so close to my heart because I, too, was a migrant worker,” he says. “I know how it feels to be a migrant, to be away from your family, to be working abroad.”

It was while employed in Japan for seven years as a design engineer for a shipbuilding company that Father Ponce first felt called to the priesthood. The revelation occurred to him while attending Sunday Mass. “There are so many people hungry for spiritual nourishment,” he says. “I realized I wanted to reach out to them. That’s why I became a priest.”

Ordained in 2015, the priest’s first assignment was to the prison ministry in the Philippines.

“In a way, the migrants are like prisoners, they are uprooted from their country and put in a place where they don’t want to be. Once they are here, they are not free,” Father Ponce says.

Among the biggest frustrations for the priests are employers who won’t allow their domestic help a day off to come to Mass on Sundays.

To reach homebound Filipino migrants, Father Ponce hosts a weekly program on Lebanon’s Voice of Charity radio, run by the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries. It airs Sunday evenings and includes that day’s scripture readings and a short homily. With Filipino migrant workers as Father Ponce’s co-hosts, their lively and frank conversation in a mix of Tagalog and English draws on their struggles and triumphs, ultimately connecting both to the Gospel.

The program is prerecorded, but Father Ponce has developed his technological and social media skills, and now also broadcasts it via Facebook. Through such efforts, the ministry has begun to reach beyond Lebanon, with listeners in other countries in the broader region — including Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — in addition to the Voice of Charity’s radio listeners across the Middle East.

A refugee from South Sudan, Adut fled to Lebanon with her husband, Galb. As with most displaced Sudanese, they wait in Lebanon until they can resettle in the West, hoping for a better life. They live suspended between their past and an uncertain future. Returning to Sudan is typically not an option, as it is still dangerous. And so their wait in Lebanon has been long: Adut has no residency or working papers, complicating her attempts to register as a refugee and hampering her ability to find work.

“I’m afraid all the time of being stopped by the police,” Adut says. Still, she ventures out every Sunday to attend Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, the high point of her week.

Her husband, a janitor in a hotel, must work on Sundays and is only able to attend Sunday Mass on Christmas. “[Although] we pray together every night,” she says.

After paying rent for their one-room apartment, about $100 remains for monthly living expenses.

“It’s not easy, but God sees everything. I’m nothing without God,” Adut says softly, with a calm confidence.

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