09/25/2023, 12.15
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Manila, Migrants' Day in the dioceses of departure

by Santosh Digal

According to Philippine government estimates, by 2023 the number of migrants working abroad will reach 2 million. The Church remembers their sacrifices and envisages the creation of a personal prelature for their pastoral care in the world. Along with them - on the same Day - attention is also paid to seafarers, whose work for long periods at sea is often forgotten by all.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Philippine Church on Sunday 24 September also celebrated the 28th National Seafarers' Day at the same time as the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, paying homage to all those who contribute to building the nation through their remittances and sacrifices. "Free to choose whether to migrate or remain" - the theme indicated by Pope Francis for this year's Day - challenges a country like the Philippines in a particular way.

With the pandemic, the number of Filipino migrant workers had decreased slightly, but according to official government estimates in 2023 their total number should probably return to reach 2 million (compared to 1.77 in 2020 and 2.3 million in 2018 ).

According to the most updated official data in the month of May 2023 alone, personal remittances from Filipinos living abroad reached .78 billion. This is an increase of 2.9% compared to the .70 billion recorded in the same month of the previous year.

Despite the wealth they produce for the country, however, the social cost of migration is high, as are the risks they run in the workplace. Some suffer mistreatment, injustice or even a brutal death, as in the case of Jullebee Ranara, a Filipino domestic worker who was murdered in Kuwait and whose body was dismembered and hidden in the desert.

"But the long time that married couples spend separated is also a big problem for Filipino workers abroad, with the risk of the family breaking up", comments Divine Word Missionary, Fr. Bel San Luis.

“When you see these difficulties, you wonder if the money earned abroad is worth it. What is the use of a man if he gains the whole world but loses his family?”. “We are very grateful to our workers for everything they do for our country" - concludes Fr.Bel San Luis.  "But we pray forcefully that God will help them solve the moral and family problems they are facing on their path to a better life."

For a couple of years the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has been discussing the possibility of establishing a personal prelature for Filipino migrants around the world.

Precisely in the message released on the occasion of the Day, Msgr. Narciso Abellana, bishop of Romblon, hoped that this proposal would materialize. “This ecclesiastical structure – he explains – could be very useful for reaching Filipino emigrants, especially those who live in territories without Catholic chaplaincies”.

On his part, the bishop of Cubao, Msgr. Honesto F. Ongtioco reiterated that migrants and seafarers are the country's unsung modern heroes. The Church thanks them for their sacrifice and their contribution to the nation. We also pray for their service of testimony of faith wherever they are."

Another important face of migrant work in the Philippines is that of seafarers and for this reason, for 28 years in the Philippines, particular attention towards them has been promoted by Stella Maris of Manila, a Catholic charitable institution that helps fishermen and their families in the country.

In the Philippines there are 1.3 million national fishermen, in addition to approximately 25 thousand Filipino fishermen employed as crews in international waters.

“We love to eat fish, but sometimes we forget that without fishermen there is no fish. Perhaps we are not aware of the fact that many fishermen live and work in their boats in conditions that can be cramped and congested", recalls Father Paulo Prigol, a Scalabrinian missionary.

Difficulties may include long periods of absence from home and exhausting working hours, difficulty accessing adequate food and drinking water, and the absence of recreational facilities when fishermen are not on duty. Fishermen sacrifice themselves to bring tasty fish to people's tables.

“Perhaps we take the hard-working reality of fishermen for granted – comments Fr. Prigol -. For many they belong to the forgotten category. For the Church, however, they are a special category that needs specific attention."

Photo: a moment of brotherhood between the families of Filipino migrants in the diocese of Imus on the occasion of the World Day celebrated yesterday

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