Fr Benny reflects on 10 years of priesthood after opening his life to God’s plan
Midland Parish Priest Father Benny Calanza recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as a priest on 6 August 2020. Photo: Matthew Lau.
By Eric Martin
As a small boy growing up in the Philippines, Father Benny Calanza wanted to be a pilot or a dentist, little knowing the amazing adventure that the Lord had planned for his life.
This week, in celebration of his recent 10-year anniversary as a priest, The eRecord caught up with the current Midland Parish Priest to discover more about the initial journey of faith that led him here to Perth and the personal appeal of his calling.
“For me, the greatest joy of being a priest [is] when you're able to offer your life to someone – especially someone who you know cannot repay you for what you do for them. For example: the sick and the dying or people in confession, people struggling with difficulties and you are there to be a sign of God's love,” Fr Calanza said.
“This is not about trying to make the biggest and best parish or becoming well-known as someone who’s always supporting or doing things, but I always find that it’s at the grassroots where it's more fulfilling – and that's when you're somewhere that people can still interact with and share your life with them.”
In 1994, during his early-20s, Fr Calanza moved away from the Philippine province where he was born and raised to stay with his aunt in Manila, following in the footsteps of many other young Filipinos looking for work.
“There was no opportunity in the province – the only opportunity there was when you knew someone from politics, a local politician,” Fr Calanza recalled.
“It was really strange, because I had all the qualifications: I passed the government exams, I passed the licensure exam for teachers; I have three degrees and yet I could not find a job in my chosen profession.”
Initially, Fr Calanza found himself with nothing to do and nowhere to hang out, except the shopping centre and the local Church.
“Being from the province, when I arrived in Manila, I didn't know anyone – my only place to go was to the Church. I had nothing to do because I didn’t have any friends yet!
“I remember thinking that [life in Manila] is a bit boring, so I'd like to go and listen. No-one invited me, but I still found this part of the plan of God and when I arrived there, the message of the Good News was so strong that I continued to listen and finished the catechesis and eventually joined the community.”
The Neocatechumenal Way community was a means where he was able to think seriously about the baptism he received as a baby and to rediscover its value, which leads to deepening of his faith through experiencing in concrete ways the Love of God and the impact that God’s love had on his life and could have on others.
“I wanted to be in that hungry place for God, because as a young person, you always want to muck around but God is always pulling me back, all the time – he gave me that sense of responsibility and meaning of life.
“Because before, what I wanted was just to work and get rich and enjoy life,” he laughed.
“We discussed the vocation and they said: ‘Look, it doesn't mean that you will become a priest, it's about responding to how you feel now if you think God has done great things for you and you want to try to respond in gratitude. It doesn't necessarily mean that you really want to be a priest.
“Incidentally, that's also why I believe that the vocation is always our vocation; it's not the ‘what’ that you like, but rather it's how God is calling you to do something,” Fr Calanza added.
“That sense of mission, that sense of ‘Yes, I want to be there’. Because as we always say: when you receive something from the Lord, it's always difficult to keep it to yourself.”
Fr Benny Calanza, accompanied by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, cuts the cake at the 50th anniversary celebrations for St Brigid’s Church, Midland Parish, on 10 November 2019. Photo: Matthew Lau.
The standout moment that clarified his decision to pursue the vocation to the priesthood was when he joined the youth of his parish community for a pilgrimage to Israel for the Jubilee Year of 2000.
“It was life-changing because for me, to go outside the Philippines, this seemed like it was just the most impossible thing.”
The young man was struck by the words of St John Paul II, who addressed the youth of the Neocatechumenal Way meeting of the Jubilee with the simple message: “Do not be afraid to enter the boat”.
“He said: ‘Do not be afraid to enter an adventure with the Lord – if he's calling you, He will be faithful’,” Fr Calanza shared.
“So, I said: ‘Okay, that's it, I'll give it a try. But no promises’.”
The next big challenge was the need to quit his job in order to enter the seminary full-time, abandoning the one source of security that had led him to originally leave home in the first place.
“My mum was not happy, but I said: ‘Well, if I sacrificed everything for the Lord, I think he will give me another job if it's not for me – that's fine. So, she says: ‘Okay, just try it – but I'm sure you will not survive one month!”
Fr Calanza then thrived in his new environment at Redemportoris Mater Seminary Manila. In 2003, his name was literally drawn out of a hat, selected and tasked with a mission from God to minister to the faithful of the Perth Archdiocese in the following year.
“I’d heard of Sydney of course,” laughed Fr Calanza. “But no-one knew anything about Perth. But I said: ‘Well, if God wants me there, then I will go’.”
Fr Benny Calanza was Ordained to the Priesthood on 6 August 2010 as one of the first ordinations at the newly-renovated St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth.