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Filipinos help renew parish life in South East

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They are a long way from their country of birth and the culture that has shaped their lives, but for 20 Catholic Filipino families they are now proud to call the small country town of Bordertown ‘home’.

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The families have been welcomed into the Bordertown Catholic parish in recent years, most arriving in the town on 457 visas to work in the local abattoir run by JBS Australia.

During the episcopal visitation in August, members of the Filipino community met with the Archbishop and were happy to share their stories of being warmly welcomed into the local Catholic parish, in particular the support received from pastoral director Sister Elizabeth Morris rsj.

With their Catholic faith a guiding light in their life, they spoke of their involvement in parish life through the choir/music ministry, running the children’s liturgy, as readers, Eucharistic ministers, Couples for Christ and even helping as cleaners.

They also told of how they often suffered from homesickness, missing their elderly parents and siblings. In some situations families have left their youngest child in the Philippines to be cared for by other family members, because both parents needed to work.

In a presentation during the visitation, Neo Obenza spoke of his dream to come to Australia to build a better life for his wife and family and for two years worked an office job during the day while training as a slaughterman in the evening.

“Life was not easy,” he said.

“But one day great news spread out that an Australian employer was coming to select skilled butchers. I practised my skill and prayed so hard for this – this was the time we had been waiting for.”

After four trade tests and an English language proficiency exam he was one of the 20 selected to join the Australian company.

Neo arrived in Bordertown in 2013 and was immediately struck by the quiet and peacefulness of the small country town which was in complete contrast to the busy, noisy city where he had lived in the Philippines.

“Almost everything was strange; the new environment, new people, new journey, new job. Together with my Filipino colleagues we slowly adapted and began to build our dreams here in Bordertown.

“St Mary’s parish was our avenue to continue/cultivate our Christian faith since I was a Catholic since birth. We were very much overwhelmed by how some parishioners welcomed us. We found family, our home away from home.”

After a year he was able to bring his wife and son to Australia, making the dream complete.

He said the Church had always been important in their life.

“In the Philippines we used to attend Children’s Mass in the cathedral every Sunday and then dine in our favourite fast food or restaurant after. Sundays are for families.

“We were so happy when the families of the other Filipino butchers came to Bordertown – more wives and children… it’s getting noisy again!

“St Mary’s parish is our meeting place, our gathering ground during Mass time. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ we survived each day of trials and longingness.

“We still miss the very own Filipino foods, even though we have plenty here… playing with fire crackers during Christmas time and New Year’s… the wonderful traditions and culture. No amount of phone and video calls can cure the homesickness and separation anxiety, especially during special occasions.”

Like Neo, Jemmy Saraosos joined the abattoirs as a slaughterman in 2013. Together with wife Mah Leah and children Adrian and Ashleigh they are actively involved in the Church, with the children both altar servers.

He said language had been the biggest obstacle in assimilating and although they too were sometimes homesick, they looked forward to the future with great optimism. The Church had played a huge part in feeling part of the community.

“The Church is our special place and we all get together for Mass.

“Sr Liz has offered tremendous pastoral care for all the Filipino community and connected us with the wider community, and has been a great advocate for the migrants,” Jemmy said.

He also praised other parishioners for being “welcoming, generous and kind”.

Sr Liz said the parish had been enriched by the Filipino community.

“Their faith is very strong and they love to express their faith. Their singing is beautiful and they have been very welcoming to me to their celebrations and into their homes, which always comes with wonderful food,” she said.

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