By Dina Mananquil-Delfino
There are many people who come into our lives. Some fade into the background of our memories, while others leave a lasting impression. On the 12th of July 2013, I got a text message that Fr John Allen, a dear friend and our parish priest at Narre Warren for almost 16 years, passed away at about 7.30pm after battling with pancreatic cancer for six months. The overnight trip I had with Boy to celebrate our 29th year anniversary took a quick turn from a joyful mood into a sad evening filled with text messages, as the whole community tried to grapple in disbelief.
At 60, Father John was relatively young and although he had been a priest for 35 years, we felt that there was still much he could accomplish. To us, he was always larger than life. He was LOVE exemplified. To his large family (belonging to 10 siblings) and 49 grandnieces and nephews, he was the devoted son, brother, cousin, uncle whose inspiring fidelity included being there for every family event. To his colleagues, Father John was an unassuming yet learned friend and mentor, gifted with words of encouragement. To the Essendon Bombers, he was the passionate fan, whose homilies included a footy update, embracing a keen interest in human activities. To his flock, he was the good shepherd, anointed by Jesus to continue His work of love, always giving, authentic and blessed with an astounding memory.
He touched many families whether that encounter was a simple blessing of their home, car, pet or a sick family member, celebrating the sacraments, or just plain visiting and dining with them. As families shared their crises he only had one word- LOVE as Jesus loves. As a friend, he showed how much he enjoyed company. We proclaimed him “Karaoke King”, when he scored “100” for Paper Roses, beating Boy’s “99” for Delilah! It was a title he esteemed with much fun. Like St Paul, he was everything to everyone. “Good on ya!”…was his cheer.
The outpouring of losing him had come to us in many ways. The first one occurred when he was transferred- many cried. Then when he died, the pain was profoundly deeper. About 2,000 people showed their affection and respect at his vigil and requiem Masses at Narre Warren and Lakes Entrance, where he is now buried with his mom, dad, and brother-in-law. Two weeks before he passed away, I had a chance to visit him at Cabrini Hospital. Despite feeling unwell, he received us graciously, allowing us the humbling privilege to pray with him, hug him and express our love. He asked only for prayers for a peaceful pilgrimage home and booked my brother-in-law Rey and sister Tes for his music. We persevered praying for a physical miracle and the whole parish continued storming heaven. But the Lord has other plans, often beyond human understanding. Now in total surrender, we can only thank God for giving Father John to us for those many years, a man who showed how it is to live truthfully and how it is to die courageously.
As we were gathered at Narre Warren, I saw a vision of him and my mom (he concelebrated mom’s requiem Mass last year). I notice that more and more pilgrims from our parish are going home. It is comforting to have Father John with them. I realise it would be selfish of me to hold on to him. That same night of our special tribute prayers, I received a call from a friend that her niece, aged 16 years old took her life. My heart broke yet again. All I could do was cry for such tragedy. I am sure that Father John, the good shepherd that he is, will comfort this young girl and take her into his arms as he asks the loving Father for mercy and salvation. Father John’s website when he started to be ill was called “Pilgrim’s Progress”. We know that even if his earthly pilgrimage is over, his heavenly work is just beginning.
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