(ZENIT News – FIDES / Manila, 09.13.2023).- The idea of establishing a “personal Prelature” for Filipino migrants would allow the Church to carry out its pastoral care and missionary work effectively, says Bishop Narciso Abellana, chairman of the Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines , in a message released ahead of World Migrant and Refugee Day, celebrated by the Catholic Church on September 24, which has a very special resonance and significance in the Philippines.
In fact, the Philippines holds the world record with over 13 million migrants, called “Overseas Filipino Workers” (OFW), who are more than 10% of the national population residing abroad. Migration has been promoted by the government since the 1970s, primarily as a support for the national economy: with their remittances, OFWs are a crucial support for the Gross Domestic Product and for thousands of families.
With such a large population composed primarily of Filipino citizens of the Catholic faith, “the establishment of a prelature could be particularly useful to accompany Filipino workers abroad, especially those living in areas without Catholic chaplaincies”, such as Saudi Arabia. “The task and responsibility of the Prelature would be to provide spiritual and pastoral assistance to these migrants,” noted Bishop Abellana about the possible benefits.
The debate within the Philippine Bishops’ Conference over the proposal to establish a personal prelature for Filipino migrants has been going on for at least three years. The Bishops’ Conference, meanwhile, has set up a special commission to carry out further studies and assessments on the proposal before submitting the matter to the Holy See and making a formal request.
Consultations are currently underway with the bishops’ conferences of the countries where Filipino migrants live, in which all legal and pastoral implications are discussed and assessed, possible logistical modalities are developed, special training courses are prepared for priests and the protection of migrants and support in cases of abuse and to ensure their personal, human, social and spiritual well-being, with special attention also being paid to raising the awareness of Filipino Catholics as missionaries.
In many contexts, especially in Western countries where there is secularization and decline in religious practice, the overseas communities of Filipino Christian migrants are fervent communities of faith that keep hope alive. In the Netherlands, for example, Catholic churches are filled with Filipino migrants and their families on Saturdays and Sundays. Among them are some Filipino missionary priests who have come to Europe to accompany the migrants and the European communities.
Also in Australia, the Filipino Jesuit Father Nono Alfonso in Melbourne promotes the importance of Filipinos in cultivating the faith in the context of Australian society and emphasizes the importance of their role as missionaries. He calls them “Migrants of the Gospel”, people who, animated by the missionary spirit rooted in the Catholic faith, courageously take on hardships, difficulties and sacrifices, and whose deep faith gives them the strength to overcome them. On the occasion of the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, celebrated on Sunday, September 24, 2023, Pope Francis released a message entitled “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”.
The legal form of “personal prelature” was introduced by the Second Vatican Council. The Council Decree “Presbyterorum Ordinis” (1965) provides that “for special pastoral tasks among different social classes to be carried out in a particular area or nation or in any part of the world,” among other institutions, “special dioceses or Personal prelatures” can be created” Personal prelatures are led by a priest appointed by the Pope.