Catholic and Protestant church leaders mark the observance of National Migrants' Sunday with a gathering on Feb. 18. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
The Philippine Catholic bishops' work for migrant workers should focus on families who are "paying the great price" of separation, a leading prelate says.
"If there's one thing that the Catholic Church should do for migrants, it is to strengthen its support mechanism to shield them," said Bishop Buenaventura Famadico of San Pablo.
The prelate who hosted this year's observance of National Migrants' Sunday said the steady increase in the number of Filipinos leaving to work abroad comes as a challenge to the church.
He said the family is directly affected by the consequences of the need to work abroad.
The prelate expressed his optimism that the church can be "a beacon of courage" for workers who face the "social cost" of migration.
Every year, at least a million Filipinos leave to work abroad, or about 4,500 Filipinos every day, according to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
It estimates 12.5 million Filipinos currently work or reside abroad, sending home in 2017 about US$32.8 billion, a 4.5 percent increase on 2016.
The Philippines is the third biggest remittance-receiving country in the world, after India ($65.4 billion) and China ($62.9 billion), according to the World Bank.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People said like Lent "there is sadness and pain every time [migrants] leave the country."
The prelate stressed the importance of collaboration with government agencies and other groups in promoting the welfare of migrant workers.
Bishop Santos cited the role being played by the group Couples for Christ in its "mission of evangelization in migration."
The lay organization has already deployed ministers to at least 140 countries "to empower migrants through moral values reorientation" and help them become "modern day missionaries of Christ."