Priests Visit for the Summer: Filipino Pastor Ministers to Sick Parishioners in Astoria

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

Driving around Astoria is something Father Allan Basilio and Benita Herrera do often during the summer.

They’re bringing communion to the sick and homebound parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria, Queens. It’s a job that’s given Herrera, a Eucharistic minister and volunteer at the church, a sense of purpose. 

“He makes me feel like I’m important to him and the church,” Herrera said. “I always think that I am not worthy and I can’t do things and Father Allan trusted me.”

It might not look like it, but Father Basilio is on vacation. It’s the same trip he’s taken every summer for two decades. It’s the type of rest and change of pace that feeds his soul.

“Actually this is my vacation time,” Father Basilio said. “Vacation for me is different people, different environment, different culture. I would like to sometimes go away from my regular routine in the parish, so this is a challenge and opportunity for me.” 

But Father Basilio is only visiting. 

Back home in the Philippines, he’s the Vicar General for the Diocese of Virac, the moderator of the Curia, a teacher and a pastor of St. John the Baptist church. 

Here at Immaculate Conception he just gets to be a priest of the people.

“I have a soft spot for this parish,” Father Basilio said. “I love the parishioners, I love the priests of course. I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary in November and half of my priestly life has been spent here. I consider this place and my second home, my second family away from home.” 

Herrera became one of those people early on.

“It’s like I saw him yesterday like he never went, he’s always here in our lives, I think he’s praying for us over there that’s why we feel that way.” 

For Herrera, Father Basilio is a spiritual advisor, confidant and friend.

“If she has a problem she will approach me and ask for counseling,” Father Basilio said. “She will always look forward to me coming to this place.”

“He helps me pray for my kids,” Herrera said. “I have three boys and not everything is perfect as I wish it could be but Father Allan helps me pray for them always and I know God hears his prayers.” 

Father Jim Huges, the Associate Pastor at Immaculate Conception, said in the two summers he’s seen Father Basilio in action, he can understand why people are drawn to him.

“The priesthood is an action,” Father Huges said. “It’s what’s in your heart, whether you’re on vacation or in the office, it’s ‘how do you share that with everybody’ and I think he has a gift for that. His style of priesthood I think it’s amazing.”

Father Huges said having visiting priests like Father Basilio is invaluable for priests and parishioners. 

“We learn from them as much as they learn from us,” Father Huges said. “For the people it gives them a sense of this is church. “It’s totally inclusive and I think it can help them dream [that] I can be part of this. I don’t have to be an observer, I can be part of this.” 

Over the last 20 years Father Basilio says he’s seen the parish and community change.

“There are a lot of new buildings here, who passed away, who’s moving out, who’s moving into the parish,” Father Basilio said. “I see the growth of the faith community and I’m so lucky because I journey with them.”