Philippine priests appeal to runaway pilgrims

2nd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Philippine Catholic priests are appealing to over 100 pilgrims who attended last month's World Youth Day in Spain to come home, fearing they used the festival as a ruse to live abroad illegally.

Pope Benedict XVI brought the event in Madrid to a close on August 21, but fewer than 300 of the 427 Filipino delegates have returned, said Father Noel Osial, head of Manila's Don Bosco Catholic congregation.

"There are really some who are using this World Youth Day as an avenue (for illegal immigration) because they have relatives there already," the rector told AFP.

"It is immoral because that is not what we intended."

Osial said that a number of Filipino pilgrims had also used the World Youth Day festivals in Germany in 2005 and Canada in 2002 to trick the Catholic church into helping them get visas abroad and then stay overseas illegally.

Desperate citizens in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation have been known to use a wide array of tricks to flee deep poverty at home and find higher paying jobs overseas.

Among them were six women dressed as nuns who tried but failed to fly out of Manila airport in January to work as illegal domestic helpers in Lebanon.

Another group posed as members of the Philippines' national volleyball teams at the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games in Japan.

About nine million Filipinos -- a tenth of the population -- work legally or illegally abroad.

Father Conegondo Garganta, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' Episcopal Commission on Youth that helped the pilgrims secure visas, made a televised appeal for them to come home.

"They should spread the message to those who took part in this pilgrimage to respect our agreement," Garganta said in an interview aired over GMA television.

The church held out some hope that a major embarrassment would be avoided, because the visas the priests helped them obtain for Europe for World Youth Day did not expire for another fortnight.

© 2011 AFP

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