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New chaplain ready to serve Filipino community

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In fulfilling the mission of his congregation to ‘work with migrants’, recently appointed Filipino chaplain Fr Franco Lacanaria CS ironically finds himself in the same situation of having to navigate his way around a new country.

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Born and raised in the coastal town of Guiuan in East Samar, Philippines, and having spent the past decade in Taiwan, Fr Franco arrived in Adelaide mid-August to serve the needs of the local Filipino community, as well as fulfilling duties as assistant priest at Mater Christi Church, Seaton.

Getting used to driving on the ‘other’ side of the road and dealing with the cold winter weather that greeted him were initially a challenge, however Fr Franco said he was settling in well and was grateful to be living so close to the sea.

“I come from a family with a long history as fishermen, so it’s nice to have the ocean nearby,” he said.

Fr Franco said he was looking forward to serving the local Filipino Catholic community – the second largest multicultural group (behind the Vietnamese) in the Archdiocese – in line with the charism of the Pious Society of St Charles – Scalabrinians: to ‘proclaim the Good News to migrants and defend their rights’.

“My immediate plan is to communicate first with parishes where there are Filipinos in the community and my objective then is to go and visit them wherever they are in the Archdiocese.

“In the first two months I have seen a lot of differences in the culture of being a Filipino Catholic in Australia. Some want to be absorbed into the community as they have no plan to go back to the Philippines and their children have been born here, while others want their children to understand and observe the culture of the Philippines.”

Fr Franco said some of the important religious traditions of his home country included the “lengthy” celebration of Christmas, which starts in earnest in September.

“From September 1 you’ll hear Christmas songs on the radio and in the malls there will be Christmas decorations,” he laughed.

The country also “stops” for ‘Simbang-Gabi’, which is a series of nine dawn Masses starting on December 16 and ending at on December 24 with a Midnight Mass.

Fr Franco said faith was important to the lives of his countrymen and women, no matter where they lived in the world.

“The local leaders of the Philippine Catholic Church always remind those who are departing to work abroad or those who will settle permanently to bring and practice the faith wherever they are,” he said.

“Praised as the ‘modern hero’ by the Philippine government for their huge contribution in the country’s economic aspect, the Philippine Catholic Church also tasks Filipinos abroad as the ‘new agent’ of evangelisation in their way of living and witnessing.”

Admitting that he sometimes avoided going to Mass when he was a teenager, Fr Franco said his faith grew when he attended university where he completed a civil engineering degree.

“When I was in elementary and high school we would go to Mass as a family but if there were other options, I preferred not to go to the church. But when I went to university, my religious commitment and love for the faith started to grow,” he explained.

“It was in my second year in the university when I met the vocations promoter of the congregation and I started having communication with him and he invited me to take the exam and attend an interview. I finished my (engineering) course in March, in April I went to the seminary to live-in and by the end of May I was starting my seminary formation.”

Ordained in 2004, Fr Franco has served as director of the Scalabrini Centre for people on the move in Manila, at the seminary in Ruteng, Indonesia, and as a chaplain to migrant workers and then parish priest in Taiwan.

He joins Fr Roger Manalo CS and Fr Luigi Sabbadin CS, also from the congregation of Scalabrinian Missionary Fathers, who are located at Seaton.

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