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Rural priests in lockdown find garden of opportunity in Emerald


Garden of Emerald: Fr Truc Quoc Phan (left) and Fr Firminus (Yon) Wiryono in the garden they established at the Emerald presbytery during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

THE coronavirus pandemic kept Emerald’s new priests away from their flock for a while but not from their garden.

Divine Word Missionaries Fr Truc Quoc Phan and Fr Firminus (Yon) Wiryono are new to Emerald, in the Central Highlands of Queensland, and to Rockhampton diocese

Fr Truc, who is parish priest, arrived on March 14, just before the pandemic lockdown and Fr Yon joined a few weeks later, in the middle of it.

When the lockdown was declared, Fr Truc, a handyman, decided he wasn’t going to allow himself to get bored.

“I decided I’d use the time to renovate the house, and I bought a secondhand saw at the op shop and (was) just fixing things around the house,” he said.

“When Fr Yon came we borrowed a chainsaw and cut some trees down.

“We made (the area around the presbytery) into a garden, so we have a lot of vegetables now, and the parishioners can come and share our vegetables now.

“And we planted fruit trees …

“By doing that I find myself closer to nature, closer to the people and therefore closer to God.”

Some of the fruit trees they planted included pawpaw, orange, mandarin, avocado and lemon trees.

“The fruit trees and the vegetables are growing very well, very, very well,” Fr Truc said.

“For a few months we haven’t been buying any vegetables at all.

“This morning some of the parishioners came and I cut some vegetables for them.

“We share everything.”

As well as serving Emerald, the two priests are also ministering to Springsure, Blackwater, Dingo and Duaringa, and Woorabinda.

“We’re working here as a team and we enjoy ourselves here. We collaborate well and also collaborate well with the people,” Fr Truc said.

“The people are very supportive … and we can feel the sense of belonging already.”

Fr Truc, who is Vietnamese, was ordained in Melbourne in 2006 and Fr Yon, from Flores in Indonesia, was ordained there five years ago.

Fr Yon said he was enjoying his first experience ministering in a country area.

“I enjoy driving for, like, up to 600km at the weekend to have three to four Masses in the small communities around,” he said.

 “It is a really huge, huge area.”

Even though in the smaller communities there may be only 10 to 15 people attending Mass, Fr Yon said the positive side of that was having a better chance to get to know the parishioners.

“Many of the parishioners are farmers and I don’t hesitate to reach out to them. They are really very nice people,” he said.

“And they’re very welcoming, and very excited to see us.”

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