FR RENATO PARAS golden jubilee celebration was celebrated with a mass held at the St. Aidan’s Rooty Hill on Sunday, 26 Nov. 2017.
His legacy to Filipino-Australians is no doubt massive so much so that in the lead-up to his 50th anniversary sacerdotal ordination of Rev Fr Renato Paras, it is but proper and fitting that we contemplate his legacy and offer congratulations and thanks to him for a life of witnessing and service to Filipino Chaplaincy.
The Australian legacy of Fr Renato Paras began with his arrival in Sydney in November 1980, having been assigned by the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) missionaries here for pastoral work among the growing population of Filipinos in New South Wales. A momentous event was the holding of the first ever Filipino mass in Australia on 1 January 1981 at St. Andrew’s Parish Church in Marayong. Fr Renato Paras thus marked his assignment as the first Filipino Chaplain in the history of Filipino migration in Australia. The Filipino Chaplaincy in Sydney was officially established in February 1981 when Cardinal James Freeman, then Archbishop of Sydney, certified Fr Renato Paras SVD as Chaplain of the Filipino community in New South Wales. The continued migration of Filipinos to Australia saw growing communities not just in Blacktown but also other areas in Western Sydney, in Sydney and in NSW.
The early history of the Filipino Chaplaincy is closely intertwined with that of the Filipino Catholic Organization of Sydney or FILCOS as it came to be popularly known. In early 1981, FILCOS was formed, largely due to the initiative of Fr Paras, who had a vision of a Filipino organisation that will promote strong Christian values and spiritual uplift among Filipino migrants in Sydney. He gathered a group of Filipinos from different areas and spelt out his vision. This meeting resulted in the election of the first set of FILCOS officers with Ampy Natividad elected as its first president. Four were designated vice-presidents representing the areas where they lived, namely Reming Biala (Blacktown), Roger Angara (Fairfield), Manny Villon (Kirribilli) and Tony Chiapoco (Marrickville). They in effect were the presidents of their respective chapters. The other officers were Mely Siasat, Secretary; Boy Suarez, Treasurer; Vivian Martinez, Auditor; and Oscar Landicho, P.R.O. Fr Paras was spiritual adviser. FILCOS chapters in Bankstown, Blacktown, Fairfield, North Shore area and Parramatta were established and continued to flourish during the 80s and 90s. In Blacktown, the establishment and growth of FILCOS occurred in relation to the Family Rosary Crusade led mainly by the late Bro. Joe “Tatang” Gonzales where the image of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to Filipino households in rotation for the recitation of the Holy Rosary starting in 1981. A brainstorming session held by Fr Paras, Bro. Joe and Bob Mendoza saw the need for a structure that would promote spiritual and social interaction among Filipino Christian families who were mostly new arrivals in this country within the framework of the Family Rosary Crusade.
FILCOS was the backbone for the administration and operation of the Filipino Chaplaincy until it came under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Parramatta. Filipino Multi-Purpose Centre Now Philippine-Australian Cultural Centre The Filipino Catholic Organisations of Sydney initiated the idea of a Multi-Purpose Centre for the Filipino community and Fr Renato Paras has to get a lot of credit for that vision. The vision and the plan were born and nurtured over the years from as early as 1981 when FILCOS and its original chapters were established. The Philippine - Australian Community Foundation, Inc. was formed as trustee for the MPC in 1990 with Fr Renato Paras as settlor. April 9th 1994 The Multipurpose Centre on Duke Street, Rooty Hill became a reality when Stage 1 was completed in time for its blessing to be held during the FILCOS Blacktown fiesta on 26th March 1995. In 2008 MPC Rooty Hill was subsequently sold and a much larger property in Schofields purchased. Renamed the Philippine-Australian Cultural Centre, this was sold in 2015 paving the way for the purchase of a fully-paid property at 50 Forge Street, Blacktown. Fr Renato remains a staunch supporter of the cultural centre project, proud of his role in its establishment and continuing history. He is still spiritual adviser of the Philippine-Australian Community Foundation Inc. Diocese of Parramatta Fr Renato had been the spiritual adviser, the guiding hand, the father of the community, until a career change in 1993 saw him resign from the Filipino Chaplaincy to be incardinated into the Diocese of Parramatta.
His first appointment as a Diocesan priest was as assistant parish priest in Christ the King Parish in North Rocks. In 1996, Fr Renato was appointed parish priest of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Springwood and then in 1998 as parish priest of St Aidan’s Parish in Rooty Hill where he served for two terms or 13 years. During this time, Fr Renato established a Eucharistic Youth group with the aim of bringing young people closer to God through seminars and retreats. He offered scholarships in piano, guitar and drums to parishioners as well as non-parishioners. He also worked to improve the commitment of volunteers teaching catechism in state schools. In his busy work of providing pastoral care for a huge parish,
Fr Renato’s crowning achievement was the construction of the MacKillop Hall to serve the parish need for meeting, workshop and social space. In October 2011 Fr Renato retired as parish priest of St Aidan’s Parish. Fr Renato’s 30 years of providing pastoral care in Sydney was celebrated by the Filipino community through a theatrical presentation entitled Para Sayo, Amax created by Bob and Belen Mendoza as well as a number of mass celebrations and farewell parties. Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, then Bishop of Parramatta said that Fr Renato should be acknowledged for his ministry not only to the Filipino community but also to the parishes he had served in the Diocese. On 30 October 2011 Bishop Fisher presided at a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The legacy of Fr Renato was recently recognised when he along with 19 individuals and two organisations were honoured during the celebration of Philippine Australia Friendship Day and National Heritage Month in May 2017 at the Philippine Embassy in Canberra, ACT. The 70th Anniversary Awards were presented to individuals who have contributed to the enhancement of bilateral relations between the Philippines and Australia.
Fr Renato was cited for his contribution in community service through his pioneering role in the Filipino Chaplaincy. Fr Renato’s legacy will be ingrained in the minds and hearts of Filipinos in Sydney for a long time. Fr Renato wishes to be remembered for his legacy of service and witnessing. Service to him is service to the Lord through service to people. Witnessing is living his life in union with Jesus Christ proclaiming God’s word and leading people to believe that God is real.
Thank you Fr Renato, you have brought hope, joy and healing into the lives of so many people and in return may you be blessed with deep happiness and a sense of peace in the years to come.