Filipino Priests Flock to U.S.

Likewise, in any given year, several hundreds more come to the U.S. as “visiting priests.” They are joined by many Filipino missionaries who leave their congregations in Africa, Latin America and other regions and come to the U.S. to be incarnated for a new mission.

Many Filipino priests have been appointed pastors, while Filipino laypersons have been chosen Catholic school principals or assigned to diocesan chanceries. Many of them lead Filipino ministries where large numbers of their compatriots are found such as in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Maryland. A big percentage of the priests eventually become U.S. citizens.

The U.S. church readily takes in Asian and Pacific priests for yet another reason. Supposedly, they embody the values that Catholicism or the church organization claims to represent today, among them protecting the family, youth education, campaign against human or sex trafficking and giving sanctuary to immigrants and the homeless.

“Brain drain”

As the U.S. Catholic Church opens its doors to Filipino priests, this situation causes a “brain drain” of sorts in the Philippines. Aside from priests, Filipino seminarians are also enticed to come with U.S. churches promising to work on their immigration papers and air fare as well as scholarships in American universities where they can finish their theology courses. But the whole package also includes other perks – housing, allowances and a car, to name a few. Some U.S. Catholic churches send representatives to the Philippines for direct recruitment.

One of the “push” factors, according to a Bulatlat source, is that the Catholic Church in the Philippines has no retirement plan for old priests. Without any savings at all after dutifully ministering to their flock for decades, retiring priests are embraced back by their relatives until they die.

Recently though, in light of the 9/11 incident, some restrictions to priests coming to the U.S. have been put in place. The new rules include an official invitation by a U.S. bishop, among others.

Priests and seminarians from the Philippines – as well as from Vietnam (those who are largely born to Vietnamese expatriates in the U.S.), Taiwan and South Korea – tend to address the shortage of parish priests here. But this exodus leaves a shortfall of Catholic priests in these countries as well. For instance, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) estimates that there is a shortage of 25,000 priests. (

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