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Ministry to Children of Migrants

By Fr Alfred Maravilla, SDB

Rome, Italy, 15 June 2016 -- When I was sent to Rome for my Doctorate studies in 2007 I was invited to minister to Filipino migrants in the Parish of Santissimo Redentore at Val Melaina, Rome. Eventually I was called by Fr. Klement to work with him in the Missions Office and since then I continued working with migrants every Sunday. Every Holy Week I also help minister to Filipino Migrants initially in Switzerland and later in Norway.

These years of migrant ministry has helped me to come to two realizations: The importance of fostering initial proclamation among migrants and the urgent ministry to children of migrants.

Like all migrants, these Filipinos bring with them the richness of their faith and cultures as well as the challenges of evangelisation in their home country. In many cases they were nominal Catholics in the Philippines. Yet in a foreign land many return to their religious practices as a way to reaffirm their cultural identity. The Sunday Eucharist not only becomes an important expression of their faith in the Lord. In fact the often ‘traditional’ gathering after Mass not only becomes an opportunity for celebration and social gathering with their countrymen and women but also a way to reaffirm their identity in a foreign land.

Now I am even more convinced that ministry to migrant Filipinos needs to foster initial proclamation to purify certain forms of popular religiosity as opportunities to stir up a renewed interest in the person of Jesus Christ so that their faith may be lived not only as something cultural but an even more convinced personal adhesion in Him. In this way Sunday gatherings becomes more than just an opportunity for celebration and social gathering.

I have seen that abroad the main focus of ministry to migrant Filipinos is on adult migrants, the Overseas Foreign Worker (OFW) who often have to take up double jobs to help his or her extended family in the Philippines. Yet, the needs of children of OFWs born in their new country are often not given due importance. Ministry to children of migrants is a whole new area that, to a great extent, has been abandoned.

Their parents are deeply rooted in their Filipino culture which they seek to transmit fully to them. Yet they were born in this ‘new’ culture. For example, Italian is first language of Filipino children born in Italy. They study in Italian. They speak with their friends in Italian and they practically consider Italy as their own home. Their Italian friends consider them ‘Filipino’ but they cannot fully comprehend Pilipino and they see the Philippines more as a vacation place than as their homeland. They come to Filipino Sunday Mass mainly because their parents bring them. But they do not feel at home in Italian Masses either because their parents never introduced them to celebrate with the Italian speaking Catholic community. Being ‘footloose’ could cause tensions in these young migrants, which, if not recognised in time and managed in their complexity, can multiply the difficulties.

On the other hand their specific condition as youth and migrant, enable them to interact with greater flexibility and creativity with young people of their host country as well as with different other cultures. When accompanied these children of migrants become important bridges of intercultural relation and a force in the re-evangelization not only of the other migrants but especially of their fellow young people in their host country. In fact I have met children of OFWs who have become precisely this. Indeed, they are the real missing protagonists in migrant ministry. Certainly, ministry to children of migrant families is a vast field awaiting the Salesians in all parts of the world!


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