It’s not every day you speak to a priest like Fr Giovani Presiga Gaviria.
The softly spoken, gentle Colombian is parish priest of Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba.
Ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia, Fr Giovani has been a priest for 28 years.
During his time in Colombia, he held various assistant priest roles and led youth pastoral teams. He has also studied theology in Rome and was previously director of Caritas in his home archdiocese, a position he held for nine years.
His work with Caritas involved aid projects, working with international agencies, supporting displaced people, poverty alleviation and mediation work.
Mediation work between rebel gorillas and paramilitaries who had waged a long running war that plagued Colombia.
“Many, many times I have been involved in kidnap situations,” Fr Giovani explains.
“I have supported the indigenous community in Colombia” which has meant he has been a target. “I had immense pressure in my previous role in Colombia. I was threatened by various sides as well as other priests.”
His high pressure pastoral work with Caritas contrasted with his tranquil upbringing in rural Colombia. Fr Giovani was born in a small town in the Department of Antioquia.
“I have four brothers and one sister. I had a very nice childhood. I grew up in a small town and was raised in a lovely Catholic family” Fr Giovani says.
“My father was a coffee farmer and mother a primary school teacher.
“My parents and both sets of grandparents had the biggest influence on me. They were all very Catholic.
“We would attend weekly Sunday Mass and pray the daily rosary as a family.
“We held Christmas Novenas and prayed to Our Lady of Mt Carmel.”
At the age of 16 he told his parents and siblings he wanted to become a priest. “They were happy, they supported me.”
Also supportive were his grandparents. “They were happy. This was an honour for them.”
Wanting to improve his English and move away from his tiring mediation work, Fr Giovani had intended on moving to the United States.
However, his paperwork to join a diocese in the United States had been held up. This led Fr Giovani to do an internet search where he came across the Diocese of Parramatta through his research.
Contacting the Vicar General, Very Rev Peter G Williams, Fr Giovani had his application to join the Diocese of Parramatta approved.
“Providentially, I am here,” Fr Giovani says.
He arrived in the diocese in 2013 initially for a period of two years. While assisting at the parish of Baulkham Hills, he was appointed parish priest of Luddenham-Warragamba in 2015. “I am happy here. It’s not easy because of the language barrier, but I am happy” Fr Giovanni says.
“I love the area.
“Some parishioners still have farms, the community is very good, a very nice community and they are very kind. They have been supporting me since I came onboard in 2015.
“We have managed to implement a lot of changes and renovations, thanks to this community.
“I love to work with the people, support poor people. Like the message of Pope Francis.
“That is all.”