HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (CNS) — Church officials from Vietnam and Japan are working to collaborate on how to best provide pastoral care and social benefits to the increasing number of migrant workers and diaspora in both countries.

Jesuit Father Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in Vietnam, told ucanews.com that Catholic officials in both countries agreed to establish a joint working group, including priests and women religious.

The group will offer professional advice and pastoral programs to Vietnamese workers in Japan and alternatively to Japanese workers in Vietnam, Father Vu said.

The priest accompanied Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Do Manh Hung of Ho Chi Minh City, commission head, during a meeting with officials from the Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move Sept. 23-28.

The priest said church representatives from both countries planned to establish pastoral centers for Vietnamese migrant workers in the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Osaka.

Father Vu said about 200,000 Vietnamese migrant workers live in Japan and that many of them suffer economic exploitation, oppression and abuse.

Dealing with the daily needs and challenges to faith life among Vietnamese migrants is a major undertaking, said Father Vu, who also is the vicar for pastoral care of foreigners in the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

Father Vu said that despite a lack of personnel, the Japanese church in Japan attempts to offer Vietnamese migrants faith education, pastoral work and legal advice. The church also helps Vietnamese migrants integrate into local communities and tries to protect them from exploitation.

There are about 450,000 Catholics in Japan in a population of about 120 million. They are served by 1,800 priests, among them 519 foreign priests.

The prelate said the commission planned to establish an office in Japan where local priests, women religious, social workers, legal advisers can be present to help Vietnamese workers.

“When they need advice and directions, this is one trusted address for them,” Bishop Hung said.

“We also need professional and financial support to build an office in Vietnam where we can help those who will be going to Japan to have proper training and to be better prepared,” he added. “At the same time, we need someone from Japan to help us to train our staff in this field.”

Bishop Hung explained that about 100,000 Japanese migrants work in Vietnam. Since Easter, about 50 Japanese Catholics attended Mass once a month at the Pastoral Center in Ho Chi Minh City.

As part of long-standing cooperation among church officials, Father Vu said the Vietnamese church has sent 170 women religious and 41 priests to study and work in Japan in recent years to support the church there.