An Easter that is ever so different!

Fr EJ Gerilla SJ

Fr E J Gerilla, Parish Priest of our sister parish at Railaco Jesuit Mission writes to bring us more up to date with the recent flooding in Timor-Leste. He believe that the words that a religious sister in Timor posted on her Facebook best sums up the situation: “An Easter that is ever so different!”

I think it captures the downtrodden spirit of the country and perhaps the local church as well.

The majority of the Timorese people had to deal with great difficulties brought about by the Covid pandemic and the heavy downpour on Easter Sunday (4th of April, 2021) resulting to massive flooding in capital Dili and death toll of 27, as of the last count.  in Railaco there are a number of moderate landslides and falling trees blocking the roads. Our director of NOSSEF, Fr Hyoe Murayama SJ, ventured out into the storm to celebrate the East Vigil Mass for the villagers at one of our distant chapel communities in the mountains, and returned back to the parish house only two days later.

Floods and Covid-19 Lockdowns

Racing against hope, we have to deal with the challenges head-on for the meantime.  When the government first detected local transmission of Covid-19 in December last year, some clustered areas in Covalima were put into sanitary confinement otherwise known as lockdown.

But it turned out that the mass testing was administered too late and the virus had spread so fast to Dili, to Baucau and to Viqueque.  These are major municipalities of the country with dense populations.

At present there are 766 accounted cases in the country, 298 recoveries and 472 active cases (data as of 5th April 2021).  Just this morning of the 6th of April the crisis management team of the country announced that one COVID-19 patient has died, the first in the country.


Last major flooding 50 years ago

There were accounts that the last major flooding in the country was in 1972 when Dili is just a small and quiet capital of the country with fewer settlers under the Portuguese regime.  There was flooding in Dili every now and then especially during monsoon rains but never had a recent memory of this scale of damage to infrastructures, and cost to human lives.

Just after the Easter Vigil on Saturday, the heavy downpour started and never stopped the whole night and the whole Easter Sunday. The water from the highlands flowing through river channels flowed with mud and debris.  The rivers in Dili were particularly congested because of urbanization and growing number of settlers by the riverbanks.   Water gushing forth have caused some landslides and widening of rivers and that’s how flood water managed to find its way to residential and commercial areas.

Residents near the rivers and the coastlines have evacuated. Like in the times of civil unrests in the past, the usual destination are the religious houses and parishes.  There is no organized monitoring of records of number of families and individuals in temporary shelters.  Disaster response in this country is still a work-in-progress.

Covid remains a threat with Social distancing a challenge

Government agencies are trying their best despite the concerns on Covid pandemic response and the political turmoil we are still in.  Families seeking refuge in temporary shelters are there to survive from disaster, hence, covid-19 prevention protocols become the least of their concern.  Their masks were awashed, no more physical distancing and washing of hands, understandably, becomes a luxury.  Covid-19 remains a great threat.  The impact of this natural disaster is increasing the risks of further transmission of the virus.

Friends, they need our help.  It is indeed an Easter ever so different but we can together give this people the ‘passover’ they deserve as our brothers and sisters.  Just as God in His might delivered Israel from bondage, so is God to the beloved people of Timor if we are there to support them in this time of great need.