Italian chaplaincy helps keep faith alive for migrant community

By Debra Vermeer, 4 October 2018
Fr Giulio Ghezzi MI (fourth from the right) with members of the Italian Catholic Community. Image: Supplied.


The Italian Catholic Community Chaplaincy in the Diocese of Parramatta is based at St Anthony of Padua Church, King’s Park – a close-knit group of migrant families with a proud history together, who say the Italian Catholic Chaplaincy helps them keep their faith alive.

Fr Giulio Ghezzi MI, a member of the Ministers of the Infirm religious order (known as the Camillians after their founder, St Camillus), who was born in Bergamo in northern Italy, has been the Italian Chaplain in the Diocese of Parramatta since 2004, after previously serving in the Philippines, India and Kenya.

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He says the chaplaincy provides a connection for people with their Italian heritage and an ongoing sense of community.

“We have Mass every Wednesday and also the vigil on Saturday and then a Sunday morning Mass as well,” he says.

“And there is a prayer group and the people gather together after that for bingo, so there’s a social side too.”

Fr Giulio says it is mostly older people attending the Italian Catholic Community events, as the younger generation, who were born here in Australia, move further from their Italian roots.

“It’s sad that the young ones don’t come, but there are still a good number of people in the community, and it’s good for them to have it,” he says.

Come June, the community will have just the one weekly Mass, on Sunday morning, something they have come to accept as the ageing congregation grows smaller.

But President of the St Anthony of Padua Community Committee, Maria Pedes, says the community remains energetic, committed, and thankful for the chaplaincy that allows them to keep in touch with the language and faith practice of their home country.

“It is very, very important to us, because a lot of people don’t understand English,” she says.

“So what we are trying to do is to keep the faith in the Italian language and for us, that is very important.”

Maria says the community works to maintain the St Anthony of Padua Church, holding fundraisers to help pay for things like insurance, electricity, phone, the upkeep of the grounds, the services of the priest and contributions to the Diocese.

“We’re trying to do the best we can,” she says. “Because this church means so much to us.”

The Church of St Anthony of Padua means so much to the Italian community because it was built by Italian workers of EPT (Electric Power Transmission) when the Italian company brought them to Australia to work in its Blacktown factory, and established the church to provide for the spiritual needs of the workers.

Fr Giulio Ghezzi MI (centre-left) with members of the Italian Catholic Community. Image: Supplied.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage recognises the cultural significance of the church, saying it “reflects the post war migration to Blacktown which characterised the 1950-1960 development of the suburbs”.

Apart from the regular Masses held in the church, the community also has celebrations for the big Italian feast days, such as the feasts of St Anthony of Padua, St (Padre) Pio, St Joseph, and Marian feast days like the Assumption.

“We have a Mass and then a nice barbecue lunch afterwards,” Maria says.

“And we have a prayer group and a tapestry group which meets every Saturday.

“We also raise funds for the Westmead Children’s Hospital and we send money overseas to a Filipino community where the Camillians work, to help blind children.”

Maria says the community members are very appreciative of the Camillian Fathers who care for them.

“They’re very, very nice to us, the Camillians,” she says. “They are very gentle people, and out here, everybody knows them because of their work with the hospitals.

“We know we are mostly an older community now. The young ones go to English Masses in their parish because they were born here, although they do like to come back sometimes.

“But we will keep on going with this Italian community while we can because it means so much to us.”

St Anthony of Padua Church: 14 Bowmans Road, King’s Park, NSW 2148

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