ASIA/EAST TIMOR - On mission in remote villages or with a commitment to education: Jesuit service for the growth of the nation

Monday, 2 October 2023 mission   missionaries   jesuits   education   poverty  


Dili (Agenzia Fides) - He is the grandson of Josè Abad Santos, an intrepid commander, celebrated as a Filipino hero of World War II, who gave his life for the nation and was executed in 1942 by the Japanese invaders; but for Father Martin Antonio Abad Santos, doctor and Jesuit religious, virtues such as courage or the choice to offer one's life took another turn: that of the Gospel, that of the poor and the marginalized, to whom he gives some love and intimacy, in the name of Jesus. This is how Father Martin left on a mission to East Timor from the Philippines, 20 years ago, as the country gained independence from Indonesia, becoming the youngest nation in Asia. This separation was not easy: in addition to the process marked by violence, East Timor had to build the state, its apparatus, its structures, its bureaucracy and its essential services from scratch. Since 2002, United Nations assistance has been crucial, supporting the construction from scratch of the State and its complex institutional and social organization. In this long process, an important presence has also been that of the Catholic Church, which - in a nation with a large majority of Catholic believers, a legacy of Portuguese colonization - has made its contribution to social, cultural, moral and spiritual development, in particular by observing new generations and engaging with them. At the beginning of October, which the universal Church celebrates as "mission month", the father recounts his missionary experience. Arriving on the island with another confrere, Filipino Jesuit Samiel Dizon SJ, Father Martin established a mission in Railaco, about 27 kilometers from Dili, where there was a thriving Catholic community in need of priests. The mission of the two Jesuits began at different levels: through his medical profession, Father Abad Santos began helping communities in remote mountain villages, while Father Dizon participated in the construction of the parish church and from a small adjacent school, where both served as priests and teachers. When Father Dizon returned to the Philippines for health and old age reasons, Father Martin remained and still is in Railaco, where pastoral services, children's education, medical assistance in a mobile clinic and, where there is need, food aid for families in need are now permanently organized. One of the needs still present is to support malnourished children in remote villages in the Railaco territory. With the help of a few volunteers, the Jesuit continues to carry out medical and humanitarian assistance missions. For his unconditional service for 20 years, the cleric received the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Human Rights Prize in 2020 "for his silent but powerful efforts to improve the well-being of a significant part of the community". "We provide them with the care and attention that allows them to feel that they are not forgotten. Communities pushed to the margins of society often feel the pain of abandonment. They often feel disenfranchised and simply forgotten by everyone and everything. The feeding program serves to tell these people that they are precious, that they have value, that it is worth preparing food and visiting them, because they are sons and daughters of God and the Lord does not forget them". Malnutrition is a widespread phenomenon in East Timor and is a consequence of wider problems such as lack of infrastructure, agriculture, government neglect and lack of opportunities. "A single meal does not solve the problem, but it is given in the name of brotherly love and care. It is a meal prepared, distributed and consumed in the name of Christ. Although a single meal cannot eradicate malnutrition, it is a concrete reminder of the attention given to others. An act of charity, however small, does not go unnoticed because, says Jesus, "you did it for me “This is part of our mission of consolation and attention,” he explains. Another aspect of the Catholic mission in East Timor is commitment in the field of education: a few kilometers from Dili is the Collegio de Santo Ignacio de Loiola, a highly appreciated institution in the country. Faced with social emergencies, the Society of Jesus wanted to make a concrete commitment in the field of education for young people by founding the College. Father Isaias Caldas SJ helped found the institute ten years ago and traveled to neighboring villages to announce the opening of a Catholic school a few kilometers away. After a few years of running-in, the college became one of the most important in East Timor, not only in terms of infrastructure and equipment, but also for the quality of education. The campus today includes six buildings, laboratories, large faculty rooms, offices, an administrative wing, an indoor space that can accommodate 1,000 people, and a chapel. From around thirty students the first year, it has grown to around 800 students today. "Looking back at the early years, we can truly see the hand of God at work. God sent us friends to help us, we are grateful for the support of many benefactors", says Fr. Caldas, starting with the Conference Jesuits from Asia-Pacific and other religious provinces scattered around the world. Currently, up to 30% of the College's students are on a partial or full scholarship: "We do this to make sure it's a school for everyone, rich or poor, to give everyone a chance," he explains. The objective is "to support students in their studies and their growth and to make them good Christians, men and women who do not live for themselves but for others, with the spirit of giving ", he notes. "The goal is to make them see education as a gift, but also as a responsibility to help others, to help the country develop. We hope that our school can produce the hope that our country needs. Our hope is our students: the hope is that they will be a shining presence in East Timorese society". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 2/10/2023)