Timor-Leste

This year, we are journeying to Timor-Leste to meet with extraordinary missionaries who are dedicated to creating a more just world.

Languages spoken are Tetum and Portuguese
population
1.1m
Percentage of Population that is Catholic
98%
Economy: Agriculture, hospitality and tourism services

“Everywhere we can make something, small things but we can do what God wants from us. So this is my message. We here. You in Australia. Everywhere. But together we can reach a Kingdom of God.”

Sr Alma, Timor-Leste missionary

World Mission Sunday Message

To celebrate missionaries and their work, Pope Francis has published a message for the 2023 World Mission Sunday. His message encourages people around the world to renew their commitment to spreading the Good News and to support missionary work.

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Sr Alma

Sr Alma Castagna is the Provincial of the Salesian Sisters in Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Growing up in Italy, Sr Alma studied medicine to become a doctor. Guided by her faith, she decided to join the Mission and dedicate her life to serving others, as an act of selflessness.

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Sr Carolina

Sr Carolina Maria Correia is a Salesian Sister. Originally from a small village an hour away from Venilale, she knew her calling at the age of seventeen when she discovered the life and Mission of the Salesian Sisters.

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Timor-Leste is a small island nation located in Southeast Asia, 730 km north-west of Darwin, with its closest neighbour being Indonesia. After decades of violent conflict with Indonesia and the massacres of tens of thousands of Timorese, the country secured its independence from Indonesia in 1999. However, the road to independence came at a high cost for the local communities and harshly impacted rural economic development.

Now, Timor-Leste is facing socio-economic challenges which significantly affect its development.

As the Timorese people continue their journey to building a better future for themselves, Catholic Mission has traveled to meet with them to discover more about their daily life and the challenges they face. This journey, both physical and spiritual, has led to beautiful encounters with people. This year, we will share their stories and their voices, so that they may be heard around the world.

Timor health

Missionaries in action: Providing healthcare to the Venilale community

Situated 150 km from the east of Dili, Venilale is a town of 16,000 inhabitants. Following decades of unrest, Venilale has limited access to resources and infrastructure, and faces a range of challenges, including the lack of access to healthcare professionals.

The Salesian Sisters, who first came to Venilale to support the education of young children, discovered a great need for medical assistance. In 1995, driven by their commitment to God’s Mission and hand-in-hand with the local community, they created the Maria Auxiliadora Clinic, a place dedicated to healing and health education.

Through decades of service, the Sisters have established a strong bond with the community, with each new generation trusting the Sisters to care for them.

In providing people with physical and psychological care, the Clinic takes a holistic approach by sharing healthy lifestyle skills and habits. Through health promotion, the community is empowered to have autonomy over their well-being.

“The people are welcome. The people feel at home. They can stay, they can talk about their own problems, not just sickness, and enter a deeper conversation.

We spend time with them to explain things. In this way, the people feel important,” says Sr Alma.

One key work of the Sisters focuses on promoting nutrition. Targeting schools, this program ensures that children are developing healthy nutrition habits for themselves and their families.

This year, the Sisters are looking to implement this program in 24 schools in Venilale and in the surrounding communities.

Currently, 51 children in 1000 under the age of five are dying prematurely, with malnutrition as one of the main contributing factors. Teaching healthy habits enables this new generation to make informed choices about their health and to pass on vital knowledge to their families and future children.

While there is important progress, many challenges remain in keeping the Venilale Clinic running. Doctors are difficult to find and retain, and the cost of maintaining the Clinic continues to rise.The support of Catholic Mission’s friends and supporters remain an important factor in carrying this life-giving work.

Timor vocationalschool

Vocational School in Venilale: hope for the younger generation

Unemployment and lack of qualified employees are prominent challenges in rural areas of Timor-Leste, especially for younger girls. In communities like Venilale, there is a lack of opportunity for the younger generation to grow the specific skills that will be key to their employability.

To empower younger generations, in 1994 the Salesian Sisters set themselves in action and created the St Mary Mazzarello Vocational School in Venilale. The School provides a safe learning environment for young girls and boys. It gives them the opportunity to learn vital employable skills. Focusing on hospitality, students learn how to cook and to manage tasks in kitchens and restaurants.

Sadly, the School was reduced to ashes in 2001 due to the violence during Indonesia’s rule. Ninety per cent of the School was destroyed, which led to a journey to rebuild. Happily, the School is now fully operational and supports 214 students.

As well as giving them basic tools to support themselves, the Sisters are working with the younger generation of Venilale to help them create a better future for the local community.

Upon graduation, students have access to a range of employment opportunities in the cities.

This gives them hope for the future and a sense of empowerment, knowing that they have the skills to financially support themselves and their families.

Sr Carolina says,

"We want to educate and train youth with good values, to promote their capacity and professional autonomy, therefore they are able to contribute.”

However, running the School and updating the facilities to match the current health standards represents a significant cost. This cannot be covered by the low fees paid by the students, as most of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thanks to the devotion of the missionaries and the support of Catholic Mission’s friends and supporters, the School is looking forward to make the necessary updates and keep welcoming students.

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