“Lord if you want me to become a priest, please save my life”
Fr Carrillo suffered internal haemorrhaging in an attack by a paramilitary group during his seminary years in the Philippines, but recovered after an emergency operation and now celebrates 40 years as a priest. Photo: Josh Low.
By Josh Low
Clarkson Parish Priest Father Robert Carrillo recently celebrated the 40th year since his ordination to the priesthood, along with the 25th anniversary of his ministry in the Archdiocese of Perth.
This week he spoke to The eRecord journalist Josh Low about his fascinating life and journey to the priesthood.
The eldest of six children in a Catholic family that held the sacraments and praying of the rosary daily dear, Fr Carrillo was attracted to the priesthood at a young age.
Growing up in the Philippines, he was attracted to the stories of altar boys at the local parish who shared the joys of entering the seminary and became more active in attending and serving at daily Mass throughout his high school years.
“My desire for priesthood was always in my mind during those high school days and after discernment, I finally decided to take the entrance test before my graduation in 1968,” he said.
The journey to the priesthood and subsequent pastoral care was not easy however, with the country run under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines by martial law in the 70’s and 80’s.
Fr Carrillo says that with Philippines being a Catholic country, the people relied a lot on the guidance of the Church throughout their lives in which they were surrounded by violence and fear.
“In that atmosphere of fear and violence, the Catholic Church influenced social teaching and inspired people to gather as communities in solidarity to help others express and stand up for their rights and human dignity,” he said.
Clarkson Parish Priest Fr Carrillo says being united with the people and constantly close to God in prayer gives the strength to serve the people of God. Photo: Chantal Keane.
Before his Ordination to the Diaconate, Fr Carrillo was given a one-year pastoral placement in parishes and worked closely with those in poverty.
“One of my major activities was ministering to villagers of fisher folk communities (the poorest of the poor) through conducting Bible reflections, catechism and para-liturgies during the night for their families.
“However, the government authorities, military and rich people were against everything we did because it meant giving hope to the poor and an opportunity to express themselves and have a voice,” he said.
One evening in 1975, while still a seminarian awaiting his diaconate ordination, Fr Carrillo and the group he was travelling with, made up of catechists and priests, had their vehicle followed and ambushed by a paramilitary group.
“We were travelling in an open top buggy on the way home when we were bombarded with projectiles by paramilitary men.
“I was sitting on the side of the vehicle and was hit in my side, which resulted in internal haemorrhaging and my collapse on the way to the emergency room at the hospital,” he said.
After regaining a short span of consciousness in the hospital, having been provided oxygen and medical assistance, Fr Carrillo cried out to God before undergoing surgery to address the haemorrhage.
“In that short time I prayed very hard. Before I ran out of consciousness again, my only prayer was ‘Lord if you want me to become a priest, please save my life’.”
After the major surgery that took up to five hours because of its critical nature, Fr Carrillo awoke to see the face of his local bishop, the first person to visit him at the hospital.
“I was still half-conscious and his first words were, ‘Robert, keep strong. I will ordain you’,” he said.
“His visit gave me comfort and confidence in spite of all the fear of everything that had happened and I forgot my pain!”
Fr Robert Carrillo was eventually ordained a priest on 14 May 1977 and continued his ministry throughout the on-going political struggle in the country until the culmination of the Philippine Revolution of 1986.
At the request of a chaplain to serve Filipino migrants for the Archdiocese of Perth by the late Archbishop Foley in the late 1990's, Fr Carrillo became the first Filipino priest in Western Australia.
“It was the first time leaving my country, so everything was new but I was happy,” he said.
Fr Carrillo’s 25 years of serving as a priest in WA has seen appointments at various parishes across the Archdiocese.
He has served for two years at St Mary’s Cathedral as chaplain to Filipino migrants, three years each at Southern Cross Parish and in Northam, 12 years at Canning Vale Parish and is currently Parish Priest at St Andrew’s Catholic Church, Clarkson Parish, where he has been for the last five years.
His move to Australia led to an increase in the number of Filipino priests in WA to serve the migrant community, with Fr Jeffey Casabuena being one such example after being visited at his parish in the Philippines by Fr Carrillo, who encouraged him to enter the seminary.
Fr Carrillo says that even through all the difficulty and struggle, he has found great joy in the priesthood, especially through being of service to others.
“Being one with the people and constantly close to God in prayer gives the strength to serve the people of God,” he concluded.