By Erwin Cabucos
LIKE the journey of Catholics from the Philippines to other countries and into Australia, Fr Teri Nueva’s story is one that his people also endured.
They have been immersed in the life of poverty and contrast, answered to the call of service, and settled and adjusted to the new land with much joy and happiness.
“Anything will do me,” he said when asked if there’s anything the community could give him or help with as the new Brisbane Filipino chaplain.
“Having grown up in the Philippines, mate, I can handle it even without anything.”
Fr Teri has taken up residence at Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Acacia Ridge.
Parishioners have noticed the rising popularity for this down-to-earth, American-accented priest.
“The back pews of the church used to be empty, but now they are hard to find space in,” a grandmother of six said while having a cup of tea after Mass recently.
It wasn’t hard to believe.
At his 9am Mass on the first Sunday of Lent, I found myself standing at the back searching for a vacant seat.
Not until the homily, when Fr Teri asked the people to raise their hands if they had a space in their pews, was I able to walk up and tuck myself into one of the full pews, in between an Ethiopian man and a sister from the Missionaries of Charity community.
The blending of voices – male, female, young and old – filled the church, and accents didn’t matter.
Music erased the differences of this culturally diverse congregation and lifted their similarity into the exhilarating experience of community liturgy.
At the end of Mass, Fr Teri announced that his presbytery telephone number was now connected, the Missionaries of Charity Sisters conduct Sunday school after the Mass, and choirs and prayer groups were forming in the parish.
He also welcomed new members.
People stayed a little longer at the cuppa after the Mass and people were signing up to join the prayer and singing groups.
Long-time parishioners were happy to meet and talk to newcomers.
“I am uplifted by the reception of people at Our Lady of Fatima, particularly that I observed some pews are now filling up,” Fr Teri said.
“I am inspired by that.
“It is probably an expression of people’s long-held desire to be a vibrant and a happy community, as this parish has long since been without a (designated) priest (of its own).”
Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Acacia Ridge, is administered by the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Sunnybank.
“I am here to serve (the people of Acacia Ridge)…,” Fr Teri said.
He sees Acacia Ridge’s multicultural demographic as an opportunity.
“It will be our strength,” Fr Teri said.
“ It will be an opportunity for us to be a lively and a vibrant Catholic community.”
“There will be a diverse sharing of experiences and talents from people.
“And having come from the Philippines I very much look forward to what’s ahead for Our Lady of Fatima Church.
“I am also excited about the future for the Filipino Catholic Chaplaincy.”
Fr Teri grew up, studied and was ordained at the Diocese of Bacolod in Central Philippines in the 1980s.
“I’m not a spring chicken anymore,” he said.
Fr Teri wants to draw his inspiration from the humble backgrounds of the Filipino Catholics.
“I wish to see Filipinos to continue to shine and to take initiatives in their respective parishes: be it in liturgical aspects, in spirituality, in devotions as well as in their personal lives,” he said.
He is pleased to hear some uplifting comments by many parish priests with regards to the active participation of Filipinos in parishes in the areas such as choir, marriage enrichment and devotions to saints.
“Perhaps the last thing we will be doing in the chaplaincy is create our own little enclaves and seclude ourselves from the wider community when we have so much to impart to our new country,” Fr Teri said.
In describing his vision for the Filipino Catholics as chaplain, he referred to himself as the leader who journeys with his people.
“I do not have a finished or concrete plan for us,” he said.
“I will be with the people and their desire to achieve a community of faith in Brisbane, a community which shines in their faith in Jesus with Mary.
“I will journey with you as your pastor.”
Fr Teri recalled a Filipino leader who was apprehensive about the future of the chaplaincy, to which he responded that as long as there were the people, you should not be afraid.
On February 28, Fr Teri invited all Filipino community leaders and stakeholders to attend a forum on the future of Filipino Catholics in Brisbane.
Adopting the mantra of a skilled community builder, Fr Teri regards consultation with the community as a first step in achieving an inclusive and active group.
At the meeting he drew out the community’s vision for the chaplaincy.
One can only attest to the empowering effect of belonging and being valued in the group, particularly when a member’s voice is heard and when their skills are appreciated.
“What I learned about community-building is the power of the individual units that make up the whole, especially when everyone gathers in Jesus’ name,” Fr Teri said.
Erwin Cabucos is a teacher at Brigidine College, Indooroopilly.