MANILA, Philippines — With the number of Filipinos overseas growing to 10 million, Catholic bishops have to decide whether or not to establish a prelature dedicated specifically to attend to their spiritual needs.
Monsignor Bernardo Pantin, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the bishops are set to meet from July 9 to 11 in Tagaytay City to decide on the two-year study to establish a “personal prelature” for Filipino migrants and overseas workers.
“If the decision is affirmative, the proposal will be sent to Rome for approval,” Pantin was quoted by CBCPNews as saying. “This is unique… if approved it will be a first in the whole Church.”
The Vatican is the competent authority to establish such ecclesiastical territory, but only after consultation with the concerned bishops’ conference.
A personal prelature is a church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. It would have its own bishop and priests who would look after the pastoral care of Filipinos abroad.
As of 2019, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) estimated that there are over 10 million Filipinos overseas, of which three million are temporary migrants or OFWs.
It was in January 2020 when the proposal for the creation of a personal prelature was first raised, when a Filipino priest serving in the Diocese of San Diego in the United States discussed with the CBCP about the necessity of such a prelature.
Fr. Agustin Opalalic said the idea was based on a dissertation, which he wrote during his Canon Law studies in Rome 25 years ago.
To study the proposal further, the CBCP created an ad hoc committee composed of four episcopal commissions: Canon Law, Migrants, Clergy and Seminaries.
“This is really to take care of Filipinos all over the world. The priests will not just go to their places as guests but as their pastors,” Opalalic said.
“If this happens, there will be Filipino priests who will be assigned to their places. This priest will be trained, formed, and oriented so that they can take care of them,” he added.
Prior to meeting on the matter, bishops will be joining about 200 priests and lay representatives for the four-day national synod geared toward analyzing the present state of the Church in the Philippines.
The national synodal process in the Philippines takes place also in Tagayatay City from July 4-7.
Pantin said the process is aimed toward assessing the challenges the Church faces today, and offering an analysis of the current state of the Church in the country.
During the meeting, there would be a presentation of reports from the metropolitan synodal consultations that were held earlier in archdioceses throughout the country.
“And in the end, they will come up with a national synthesis, which will be submitted to the Synod Office in Rome,” Pantin said, noting the deadline set by the Vatican as Aug. 15.
In May 2021, Pope Francis asked that the 2023 Synod of Bishops begin with widespread consultation among laypeople, with the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”
The two-year process has three phases: diocesan, continental and universal.
The monsignor explained that at the diocesan level, people journeyed together about their concerns, hopes, dreams, aspirations and even their frustrations about the Church.
All consultations and discernment are meant to assist participants, mostly bishops, who will meet at the general assembly of the synod in the Vatican in October 2023.
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