A Survey of Current Institutions & Jurisdictional Structures
for the Pastoral Care of Filipino Migrant Workers.
Even Church documents recognize that today’s migration makes up the vastest movement of people of all times. “In these last decades—the latest major document affirms—the phenomenon, now involving about two hundred million individuals worldwide, has turned into a structural reality of contemporary society. It is becoming an increasingly complex problem from the social, cultural, political, religious, economic and pastoral points of view.”
The Philippine Culture of Migration and the Ecclesial Response.
Closer to our topic, since the 1970s the Philippines has supplied all kinds of skilled and low-skilled workers to the world's more developed regions. As of December 2004, an estimated 8.1 million Filipinos—nearly 10 % of the country's 85 million people—were working and/or residing in close to 200 countries and territories. As one expert on Filipino migration would affirm: “In the last 30 years, a culture of migration has emerged, with millions of Filipinos eager to work abroad, despite the risks and vulnerabilities they are likely to face.”
On one hand, this same expert continues, “the development of a culture of migration in the Philippines has been greatly aided by migration's institutionalization. The government facilitates migration, regulates the operations of the recruitment agencies, and looks out for the rights of its migrant workers. More importantly, the remittances workers send homes have become a pillar of the country's economy.”
On the other hand, the phenomenon of Filipino migrant workers—more commonly referred to as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)—does not seem to be something temporary. On the contrary, if at all it seems to be a phenomenon which is on the rise and destined to become more significant in the near and middle-term future. As such, it is something that the Philippine hierarchy cannot fail to attend to, especially since majority of the OFWs, as is the Philippine population at large, are faithful of the Catholic Church.
The ecclesial dimension of this phenomenon is a veritable challenge to the Philippine hierarchy. In effect, while the positive economic effects of the millions of OFWs— religiously remitting their hard-earned foreign currency to their families at home—are undeniable, it is equally undeniable that many of these souls are oftentimes in quite precarious situations. While the Philippine Government has taken important steps towards institutionalizing Philippine labor migration—to the point that the Philippines has been cited as an international model for best practices in migration policy—the ecclesiastical response to the OFW phenomenon leaves much to be desired. Many OFWs, especially in those countries of Catholic minority or where there is no Catholic hierarchy, are literally like sheep without shepherds, relying solely on the isolated missionaries or chaplains who may succeed in accompanying them in their place of oversees employment.
In this article, I would like to focus on the possible solutions to the pastoral problems posed by the aforementioned phenomenon of Philippine labor migration. In the process, I hope to go beyond simply solving the problem posed by the Filipino migrant workers, and—following the lines of the familiar SWOT analysis in management—to look at how to convert an erstwhile weakness into a veritable opportunity, an ecclesial problem into a factor for evangelization.
In short, making a sneak preview of the conclusion of this article, and very much in line with this year’s 2000th Anniversary of St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, I would like to explore the possibilities offered by Canon Law to squarely face the challenge of adequately shepherding the itinerant flock of OFWs, so as to convert them into effective agents of evangelization—in much the same way that St Paul and the early Christians, forced into the diaspora by the persecution of the Jews in Palestine, became the intrepid sowers of the seeds of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
Limiting the Discussion
Before proceeding further, I would like to limit the scope of the discussion not only to a more manageable level, but to what in my mind is the more relevant aspect as far as the OFWs are concerned.
In effect, Church documents on the subject of the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people have always made a distinction between the Church of origin (ecclesia a qua) and the host Church (ecclesia ad quam). Insofar as the Philippines is basically a labor exporting country, rather than a host country for migrants (whether workers or otherwise), the canonico-pastoral criteria and norms regarding host countries are of limited application.
Thus, the canonico-pastoral issue connected with the OFWs can be conveniently pared down to two: (1) the care of the Filipino migrant workers themselves in their respective countries of deployment; (2) the care of the families that the Filipino migrant workers leave behind in the Philippines. With respect to the latter, I am of the opinion that their pastoral needs do not really present any significant complications as to warrant a separate canonico-pastoral treatment—i.e., distinct from the cura ordinaria animarum provided by the particular Churches through the territorial parishes in the Philippines. Thus, I would like to limit this discussion to the care of the OFWs themselves in their respective countries of deployment.
Finally, the canonico-pastoral orientations and norms applicable to the case of OFWs in their countries of deployment can be divided into two kinds: (1) those addressed to the host Church (ad quam) if and where such ecclesiastical hierarchy exists; (2) those addressed to the Church of origin (a qua)—i.e., the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Now then, since—realistically and practically speaking—there is little we can really do as regards the Churches ad quam, I would like to focus this discussion on what the Church Hierarchy in the Philippines—either as individual dioceses or as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines collectively—can do in order to better take care of the OFWs.
A final distinction is in order. On the one hand are those Overseas Filipinos (OFs) who are stably migrated—i.e., mostly with resident visas or even dual citizenships, presently numbering around 3.7 million—and are therefore already incorporated to the particular Churches (host Churches) where they are. On the other hand are the so-called overseas contract workers (OCWs)—presently numbering 4.1 million—usually on two-year contracts, albeit renewable but also rescindable at a moment’s notice for a host of reasons, including the unstable political situation in their areas of deployment. Given that the latest official records place the number of Overseas Filipinos at 8.7 million, the unaccounted balance of 900 thousand would have to be comprised of what have been referred to as illegals. It is this group of 4.1 million OCWs and 0.9 million illegals who I would henceforth refer as OFWs, since one and the other are all Filipinos, overseas and working one way or another. These are the 5 million unstably migrated Filipinos, who are in dire need of pastoral care.
I. A Brief Historial Review of the Ecclesial Response
to the Phenomenon of Human Mobility
A. Early Attempts at Pastoral Care of Migrants: Pius XII’s Exsul Familia (1952)
The efforts of the Church to take care of the spiritual needs of Catholic migrants in the past 150 years have been concretized in various initiatives on the part of the common faithful, of religious institutes and of the Hierarchy itself. Initially, members of the clergy had accompanied groups setting off abroad to colonize new lands, but from the middle of the 19th Century onwards, the pastoral care of migrants was entrusted more frequently to missionary Congregations.
More at the hierarchical-jurisdictional level, the first initiatives addressed immediate needs. For instance, in 1914 Pope Pius X erected a seminary for the formation of priests destined for the pastoral care of Italian immigrants, although it was not inaugurated until 1920 due to the outbreak of World War I. This same year, a proper Prelate was constituted for the Italian immigrants. Meanwhile in 1918, a sole Ordinary had also been constituted for the Catholic refugees (mostly from eastern Europe) in Italy.
At the normative level, the growing concern of the Holy See was concretized in 1914 when the Consistorial Congregation (later to become the Congregation for Bishops) issued the decree Etnographica studia, which laid down the praxis to be followed by the clergy dedicated to the pastoral care of immigrants and underscored the responsibility of the host Church (ecclesia ad quam) of providing pastoral care to the faithful from other nations.
The Pontificate of Pius XII witnessed an upsurge in human migration, occasioned by World War II and its aftermath, and consequently also a marked development in the pastoral care of migrants. A landmark document was the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia, of 1.VIII.1952, generally regarded as the Magna Carta for the pastoral activity of the Church in favor of people on the move. It was the first document of the Holy See to delineate the pastoral care of migrants globally and systematically, from both the historical and canonical points of view. In that document, Pius XII tried to mitigate the territorial principle rigidly in place in the Pio-Benedictine Code, by giving a series of competencies to the Consistorial Congregation and establishing a series of offices—both at the national and local levels—thus laying the groundwork for a pastoral organization—still partially in force today—to provide people on the move the spiritual care more fitting to their circumstances. For example, in 1952 he established the Higher Council for Emigration within the aforementioned Sacred Congregation. In the same year, the Apostolatus Maris was established on behalf of seafarers in the same dicastery. Finally, in 1958 he gave the same dicastery the responsibility for providing spiritual assistance to the faithful with specific duties and activities on board planes as well as to passengers travelling by air, establishing what was called the Apostolatus Coeli or Aëris.
B. The Era of Vatican II: Paul VI’s Erga migratorum cura and the Instruction Nemo est (1969)
The Second Vatican Council brought great innovations as regards the pastoral principles in favor of migrants: (1) by explicitly declaring the responsibility of the pastors towards those faithful who may have difficulty in receiving the ordinary pastoral care provided by the local churches; (2) by introducing new criteria for ecclesiastical organization, other than the strictly territorial one; and (3) by offering a new vision of the People of God and the constitutional situation of its members, more specifically the so-called fundamental rights and duties of the faithful. We shall deal more at length with this matter further on.
In 1969, Pope Paul VI issued the Motu Proprio Pastoralis migratorum cura and authorized the subsequent Instruction De pastorali migratorum cura (sometimes cited by its opening words Nemo est), aimed at adapting the dispositions of the Pius XII’s Exsul Familia to the new ecclesiological principles of Vatican II.
On 19 March 1970, with the Motu Proprio Apostolicae Caritatis, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, with the task of studying and providing pastoral care to “people on the move” such as: migrants, exiles, refugees, displaced people, fishermen and seafarers, air travellers, road transport workers, nomads, circus people, fairground workers, pilgrims and tourists, as well as those categories of people who, for various reasons, are involved in human mobility, such as students abroad, and operators and technicians engaged in large projects or scientific research at the international level who are obliged to move from one country to another.
C. Pastoral Care of Migrants in the Third Millennium: The Instruction Erga migrantes (2004)
Such concern grew during the pontificate of John Paul II, as shown by the creation of a separate dicastery for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people , the Pope’s discourses in the World Day of Migrants, the new regulation for the apostolate of the sea and other documents.
Taking into consideration the new migration flows and their characteristics, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People issued on 3.V.2004 the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi, which aimed to update the ecclesiastical doctrine and praxis regarding the pastoral care of migration, thirty-five years after the publication of Pope Paul VI’s Motu Proprio Pastoralis migratorum cura and the Congregation for Bishops’ related Instruction De pastorali migratorum cura (Nemo est). It can very well be considered as the new magna carta for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people in the Third Millennium.