07/16/2015, 00.00
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Religious and lay Filipino missionaries in the world are “Christ first witnesses"

The Filipino Church calls on "all the faithful to engage in missionary outreach in the family, at work, in the parishes." In a report, the Bishops’ Conference stresses the country’s role in “exporting” missionaries. Yet, many foreigners have also studied and trained in the Philippines since the 1960s.

Manila (AsiaNews) – "Lay Filipinos play the leading role in teachings the values of the Christian faith”. Hence, “We always tell them to engage in missionary outreach every day,” said Fr Gregory D. Gaston Ramon, rector of the Pontifical Filipino College in Rome, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the high number of this compatriots, lay and clergy, who bear witness to the Christian vocation abroad.

"Priests and nuns belong to religious congregations. There is nothing extraordinary if they engage in missionary activities in other countries,” Fr Ramon explained. “What we must stress though is the fundamental contribution of lay people in spreading Christ’s teachings.”

"In fact, our two Filipino saints, Saint Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila and Saint Pedro Calungsod, were lay men. The first one was a missionary in Japan with the Dominicans. The second was a catechist on the island of Guam with the Jesuits. So the first saints were already missionaries."

With a Christian tradition that goes back almost 500 years, the Philippines has not only sent a large number of missionaries abroad, especially in Europe, but has also become a training centre for hundreds of priests, seminarians and nuns from all over the world.

At the 111th Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which was held this week in Manila, the Episcopal Commission on Mutual Relations (ECMR) presented a study on Filipino religious abroad and foreigners who come to the country to learn the teachings of the Christian religion.

According to Sister Joy Carmel L. Jumawan, member of the Order of the Carmelite Sisters of Our Lady and executive secretary of the ECMR, about 449 men religious and 1,115 Filipino nuns were sent to do missionary work around the world between August 2014 and July 2015.

During that same period, 343 men and 652 women came to the Philippines from Vietnam, China, Indonesia and South Korea, to study at local colleges and universities.

In all, Filipino and foreign missionaries belong to 193 congregations. Most Filipino prelates belong to the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), whilst the nuns belong to the Order of the Reparatrix Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

"We must also add to these figures the large number of lay faithful who bear witness to the world of the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Christian life in the communities in which they live,” Fr Gregory said.

“If they work as domestic workers and bring the children to the park, they always stop in church and pray in front of Our Lady. They organise volunteer work in parishes, teach catechism, train choirs and help readers. During the week, they bring the Gospel to the workplace and homes."

"In America,” he explained, “many Filipino missionaries are professionals, doctors or engineers. In the Middle East, many work in the oil industry. In any case, they all feel missionaries.”

Missionaries who now train in the Philippines do not come from the same countries as they once did.

In the 1960s, Redemptorists from New Zealand and Australia attended the country’s colleges and universities. The same was true for US SVD missions that ran Christian schools in various provinces. Belgians from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary operated instead in the northern Philippines.

In recent years, Filipino SVD missionaries and Don Bosco Salesians have been sent to East Timor (Timor-Leste), whilst nuns from the Sisters of the Virgin Mary have been deployed in Kupang in Indonesia, in western Timor.

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