Dear Friends of St Canice’s and Railaco Mission,
Fr Phillip Heng SJ, a Singaporean Jesuit, has recently arrived in Timor from Singapore to join the Jesuit Mission. Further down in the post, Fr Philip writes an enlightening description of his experience of celebrating Mass at Christmas in one of the Railaco villages. His writing talks to the heart of our own faith.
You may not have had the privilege of visiting Railaco, but Fr Philip’s experience identifies with those of us who have visited these villages in the remote Railaco parish communities. It is from villages such as this that the students who benefit from your generous donations come.
The story illustrates how important our sister parish relationship is in helping these people to obtain an education that will enable them to improve the quality of their life and improve the living standard of their nation.
Your donations make this possible.
Michael – Railaco Ambassador
I have been here in Timor-Leste for the past five months, and my first Christmas and New Year celebrations have, so far, been the “best” in my life. Among other occasions, I was blessed to be able to preside at the evening and day Masses (in “Tetum,” the commonly spoken language), in several rural chapels during this festive season.
Many of the Timorese (with their infants, young children, and elderly) in the rural areas, have to walk some one to two hours to get to church. They have to brave the unpredictable and harsh weather conditions of rain, which is almost a daily occurrence in December. Moreover, the mountainous paths and roads are rough, muddy, and slippery. In some remote areas, it is necessary to cross rivers which become inaccessible when the rains are heavy and prolonged. Thank God, I have so far been spared from this. Also, it is not infrequent for huge trees to fall across roads as the topsoil is shallow (due to soil erosion) and the ground is rocky. In addition to these uncertainties and challenges, the people also had to walk in pitch darkness to and from the Christmas and New Year night Masses!
It is “unfair and unjust” to think that these poor people are “used” to such harsh living conditions. Every person possesses precious dignity, as one created in the image and likeness of God, and deserves to live a dignified human life, with better conditions, necessities, and securities in life. We cannot therefore say that “they are used to such a way of life” and imply that it’s okay to “suffer”. It is NOT okay! Not to have improved standard of living is distressingly sad. The Timorese are people of great dignity and faith. For Mass, they put on their best clothing and very commonly, dress in their elegant cultural clothing of “Tais” material. Like everyone, they have their fair share, if not more, of the pains, trials and tribulations in life. However, what touches my heart deeply is their capacity, with God’s grace, to transcend such realities.
After every Mass, I am invited by the catechist and/or the leader of the community to have coffee (locally grown) or a meal. The hospitality offered is clearly the “best” that they can offer… “the widow’s mite”. The collection at a Mass of several hundred people is around $20, with others offering corn, fruits, live chicken from their farms.
For the New Year celebration after Mass, the community gathered in the compound and we danced the “Dahur”, a Timorese traditional cultural dance. The rest would stand around to watch with joy.
The Timorese have so little material wealth, but they exude a joy that is spontaneously shared in their smiles, laughter, great gift of music, cultural dances. That, to me, can only come from a heart that has a child-like faith and trust in God. It is good for us to ponder: “Is it because they do not have the ‘glitter, gold, and glamour’ of the secular and material trappings of life to ‘distract them’ that God is more able to permeate their hearts?”
As a foreigner from Singapore, a new missionary priest to their country, I am so warmly welcomed and accepted with deep gratitude by the community. Everyone who approaches me, warms my heart. The Christmas and New Year celebrations have truly been deep experiences of God’s Joy.
I now experience more deeply Jesus’ Preferential Love for the poor and the marginalized of society. Is it any wonder that the Good News of the Birth of Jesus, the Messiah, was first announced by the Angels to the shepherds, the poorest of the poor in Judea? And why God chose to be born with dignity and in the humility of a stable?
There is much to ponder. “Is God inviting us to live this New Year 2022 with greater simplicity and humility, and be assured of His Peace and Joy, that the world cannot give?”
Fr Philip Heng SJ is a Singaporean Jesuit. He served as the Vicar General for Administration, Ecumenical and Interreligious relations, of the Archdiocese of Singapore for seven years, and concurrently as the Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd for five years, and Rector of St Joseph Church on Victoria Street for three years. In 2021, he began his new mission posting in Timor-Leste.