“WE ALL have different gifts. It would be sad, if we [live in a] cookie cutter world. I like to bring the joyfulness that my faith brings – like the joyful presence of my pastor in the Philippines who changed me – to persons that I meet,” Fr. Freddie Chua, 2011.
It was an unlikely way to know God. He was listening to a line from John Denver song Follow Me: “You see I’d like to share my life with you/And show you things I’ve seen/ Places that I’m going to places where I’ve been/To have you there beside me and never be alone/And all the time that you’re with me/We will be at home” occupied his heart, mind and soul.
From then on, since listening to those lyrics with his Religion 101 classmates in college, he was hooked on God. He got more connected and followed God’s way by joining the parish’s choir. He admired his pastor “whose joyful, friendly and welcoming ways brought life to the parish and the parish blossomed.” He added, “I kept this notion to myself and did not discuss it with anyone, but as I got more involved in youth ministry, in apostolic work, I found deep friendship and camaraderie as we did a lot of community services together. It opened up an interest for priesthood for me.”
Singing became one of the things he loved to do. With his choir, he did apostolic work in orphanages such as Tahanan na walang Hagdan, as well as with old people, some of whom were abandoned in the streets by their families. Once or twice a week, he did fundraisers for religious orders. His faith got stronger when he went to college.
He completed a double degree in Commerce and Accounting at De La Salle College in Taft. He is a licensed certified public accountant (CPA) and worked for three companies in the Philippines, prior to coming to the US. It was in the US when he finally got the courage to pursue priesthood.
He was connected to a vocation office and conversations with the spiritual director got him enrolled in St. John’s Seminary which he remembers fondly. “The seminary years were good. I enjoyed the whole experience throughout, aside from the occasional angst and struggle with test and papers,” he said.
“The first year, called pre-candidacy, was the hardest for me, – adjusting and going back to school after six years, taking a number of Philosophy classes all the same time for a whole year, and learning the ropes as a seminarian,” he recalled, adding “The next four years were good. I relished the whole experience. I had my share of spiritual crisis during those years, questioning if I am worthy to be a priest, if I have the necessary qualities of a priest, if I could make it as a priest,” he said.
“I turned and relied heavily on prayers and on my spiritual director, I trusted in the whole seminary process of discernment that it will guide and show me if this is really my vocation,” he also said.
Eventually, Freddie became Fr. Freddie, ordained as a priest on May 30, 1998. His first assignment, off the mint press, was at St. Anthony’s in Long Beach, which he found challenging and exciting. Now, he is part of people’s lives and not just books and lectures. One day, someone sought counseling from him and his first reaction was “wait, let me tell the pastor.” Then he realized he was one of the pastors who can help.
It dawned on him he is no longer dealing with theoretical problems, but is now faced with moments of need and difficulties and is being asked to share in happy moments as well. He credits his pastor, Msgr. Richard Krekelberg for his spiritual development. Another pastor, Msgr. Bernard Laheny, helped in guiding him how to be an inner city pastor to a congregation that spoke Spanish, Filipino and English.
When he was assigned to St. John Louis Fisher in Rancho Palos Verdes, he marveled at their entrepreneurial abilities and generosity of spirit, where folks were conscious of their privileged status in life, and used their business skills in creating a thrift shop where immigrants can shop and the funds were used to help the poor.
To the cynical, it is like handing their hand me downs to the poor, to feel good about their faith. But to those with conscious spirits, it is a great example of how to be generous with one’s entrepreneurial skills with the less fortunate, a practical program of social justice.
His next assignment was at St. Louise de Marillac in Covina, where he learned conflict resolution skills to help calm the community which was going through changes with parish leadership. He learned to be more emotionally present, patient with his listening skills and trusting enough to share his personal insights with the parishioners.
He was then assigned as an administrator at Our Lady of Lourdes in Tujunga for two years, and has been its pastor since 2007. The church is composed of Anglos, Filipinos and Latinos and bridging cultures is a challenge.
“We hold big celebrations and no longer label it as Filipino or Latino, instead it is called Our Lady of Lourdes in Tujunga’s dinner dance or Our Lady of Lourdes’ celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and even select special events for the Latino and Filipino cultures,” he said referring to how he helps bridge the cultural differences.
“This way, the whole congregation can participate and everyone can be more open to God’s workings in their lives. For example, we have the Pasture which is a pantry program for the poor families. We are focused on education, evangelization, preparing for the new English mass, scriptural studies, children’s and youth choirs. This way, we become One Church,” he added.
Fr. Freddie’s insights to Asian Journal readers: “We are all called to be a conduit for God’s grace to flow to the people. We should lose sight of different things, like creating the bell stand, instead, [we should] hold the bell, that is God, and create an environment where joyfulness, which changed me, is what we bring to persons that we meet.”
At the recent Filipino Priests sa America musical, he acted credibly as a pastor who just immigrated, stung by culture shock. He received resounding applause and members of his congregation went to support, as part of over 1,400 audience members who watched. Fr. Freddie’s joy comes from the Holy Spirit’s gift of radiance, which makes his work glide in effectiveness. He is now in his 14th year of priesthood.