Railaco – Our Sister Parish in East Timor

Railaco – Our Sister Parish in East Timor2019-01-26T08:16:22+10:00


Status of our Railaco Program as at July 2018



While the wider Jesuit community is ‘nation-building’, we at St Canice’s have been making what is seen by the people in Railaco as a monumental commitment to their welfare, healthcare, nutrition, and educational needs of their children since 2004, and we are committed to continue.

We would like you, our St Canice’s Community, to better understand the activities in Railaco that are supported by your generosity.


A very special relationship has existed between Australia and Portuguese Timor since World War II when brave Timorese protected, provided food, and saved the lives of the remaining six hundred and seventy Australian soldiers of the ‘Sparrow Force’ as the Japanese invaded their country in World War II.

This generosity of spirit of the Timorese people was not lost on a group of Australians from St Canice’s Jesuit parish in Kings Cross Sydney when they visited East Timor sixty years later, shortly after Independence was granted. This small party of Australians was looking to see ways in which they could stand in solidarity and contribute to the life of the now impoverished people; gentle people so afflicted by centuries of colonisation, by brutal invasion and occupation by Japan and Japanese reprisals for aiding our Australian troops, by their own civil war, and having endured the Indonesian occupation.

Motherly instincts ignited Sydney company director and grandmother Sue Crabbe’s passion for doing something about the dreadful malnutrition and undersized babies she saw running around in the villages. Sue said,

“It’s incomprehensible seeing goats that aren’t being milked and chickens producing eggs, such great sources of protein, that aren’t being used to feed the children. It’s so confronting meeting women who don’t have the basic knowledge that might keep their child alive”.

The opportunity to provide education of a most basic nature, coupled with finding a way to provide a nutritious meal for these children could not be ignored. The St Canice support group joined in solidarity with Filipino Jesuit and medical doctor Fr Martin Bong at the Railaco Jesuit Mission in the mountains outside Dili. They committed to provide funding to establish a Children’s Feeding Program and a Mobile Medical Clinic.  A second-hand 4WD sourced from the Australian Defence Forces was purchased, and very shortly thereafter children were being fed, and people in remote mountain villages had the services of a doctor, and medicine for the first time.

Another strong suggestion from another enthusiastic Jesuit parish priest and engineer was the need for a school. The support group returned to Sydney emboldened by Fr Hermes claim that with $10,000 he could build two classrooms. Months later, the new Railaco school was open! The man was an enabler. The Canice’s group – ‘do-ers’!

An open shed, with rusty corrugated iron roof and crooked posts that housed the first elementary school is long dismantled. Children would walk for up to two hours a day to come to school and didn’t bring any food or drink with them for the day. Sister Rita, a Good Samaritan nun, using her experience as a principal in large secondary schools in Australia joined to contribute her expertise and care. Only two months ago, a canteen to provide students, who have walked long distances, can now provide these two hundred children with a nutritious daily meal.

Another of the support group from St Canice’s, Michael Musgrave, writes about his recent experiences bouncing along ungraded rocky ridges and stony river beds with Fr Bong’s mobile medical clinic He says,

”Arriving at the first community, I see a long line of mothers with children on well-suckled breasts; many still in their teens. Others, including the elderly with rough-hewn walking poles for support, have walked for up to an hour across tough terrain to see the doctor”.

Fr Bong consults; Luzia dispenses medicines from the back of the 4WD, and Joanna keeps the medical records for all the patients, before packing up and driving to the next village. Michael goes on to say:

“The annual funding of the Children’s Feeding Program, the Mobile Medical Clinic and the support we provide to the Secondary School is approximately $70,000.  In the ten years since inception of the special East Timor relationship, the St Canice community has raised in excess of half a million dollars towards these programs”. (Now, in 2018, the amount raised has reached $800,000.)


Whilst we will continue with fundraising in the Canice community, your one-off donation will ensure that the amazing work done by all of those at Railaco to aid the East Timorese people can continue to be carried on in the future.

 All contributions are tax deductible and are deposited in the Australian Jesuit Mission Overseas Aid Fund. The money is sent to the Bursar of Jesuit Mission in Dili, who ensures that your donations are spent on the programs outlined here.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a regular donor and how the money is used in Railaco – please email Michael Musgrave at [email protected].









First Letter from Michael -cover to report


St Canice’s KingsCross Sydney has enjoyed a sister parish relationship with Railaco Mission in East Timor for the past thirteen years.

As we nourish our parish, we colour Timor’s future!” Our accompaniment allows Railaco’s marginalised families to grow in community, opportunity and hope. Our impact extends far beyond a simple nutritious meal, a medical check-up, and a class in school; we are allowing Railaco villagers to lead better lives now and for generations in the future.
Our ongoing involvement keeps us aware; it reminds us of our privilege; and gives us the opportunity to gain in a spiritual way. Our life is enriched by the work that is done there!

Parishioner Michael Musgrave, our lead Ambassador to Railaco, recently made his third visit to Timor. He was looking for answers to other questions that impact Australians attitudes towards East Timor today to better inform himself, and in turn to share with fellow Canice parishioners.

Michael says, “When chatting with potential donors, I’m often asked ‘Why East Timor? Don’t we have enough needy people here at home to worry about?’; and ‘What is life really like up there in the villages?’
While living day-to-day with the Jesuits for ten days, answers to these and other questions evolved. My goal for the trip was primarily to gather new information about the kids, the school, and the mothers whom we help, and then to make a video to share with you.

As the days rolled on, I became conscious of a burning inner desire to share more of what I was learning.
I was hoping that with a little more awareness, more of us here at St Canice’s might be motivated to ‘climb on board’, to become ‘sowers of seed’, and become actively involved in raising funds to enable those on the front lines, to continue with their service to the poor.

It may be a little ‘tongue in cheek’, but I labeled my report: ‘The First Letter of Michael to the Caniceians’.”

The actual report can be read on the parish webpage. PLEASE CLICK HERE




Jesuit Mission in Railaco – Road to the future from Jesuit Mission on Vimeo.

‘Thank You St Canice’s’ from Railaco

Mobile Medical Clinic – 28th February 2018

The mobile medical clinic is a healthcare program run by Jesuit mission in Timor-Leste, and supported by St Canice’s Jesuit parish in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. It covers eleven areas in the districts of Ermera and Liquica. It’s primarily managed by Filipino Jesuit Father Antonio Martins Abad-Santos. Every year it offers medical care to more than 5000 people.

Read this article from UCANEWS.

View 3-minute illuminating video:



History in Blog posts over the years up until the present

The story of the Jesuit Mission in Railaco can be tracked in the series of “Letters from Railaco” and other posts in our Railaco blog.
Click here to read.



Older posts


The genesis of our Railaco relationship

Watch this video from 2010 to better understand the genesis of the relationship between St Canice’s and Railaco Jesuit Mission. It explains earlier days of our outreach to the people of East Timor; showing how the people of the Jesuit Mission are working in conjunction with the locals; helping them to find solutions; and creating them as ‘agents of change’.


2009 – The Railaco ‘Feeding Program’ and ‘Mobile Medical Clinic’

On our first morning in Railaco, we take off with Cristina and Judith to deliver a nutritious meal to children in the mountain villages of Cocoa and Cattarehei. I’m tantalised all the way over the rough roads by the smell of what’s swilling in the large pots. Bamboo and bananas give a touch of the tropics in what is very much a dry, Australian-type mountain landscape covered in Eucalyptus trees.

The warmth and welcome we receive on arrival at the little gathering place on the edge of a green playing area in Cattarehei is difficult to convey in words. Children in wide-eyed innocence and even wider smiles nod their head, bow and kiss the back of my hand as a sign of respect for their ‘elder’. The children’s ages range from eight months to nine years and they’ve come to rely on this food program three times a week. Children come with clean plates and spoons which Bong and others have taught them is better than using their hands.

Before dishing out the rice and chicken with beans, choko, carrots and potato in a soy liquid, the children sing for us. A worn-out mother of nine, but nonetheless impassioned, expresses her thanks for all that St Canice’s is doing for her children and for others who are there who do not have parents. The usual shyness seems to evaporate suddenly and all the children sing and clap for us!

Photo Album: Jesuit Mission Feeding Program

Mobile Feeding Program for Children

Mobile Feeding Program for Children

The Feeding Program IMG_5127

The sight of so many happy and well behaved kids of all ages lining up with tin plates in hand is very moving. They obviously love the meal served to them from the back of the 4WD. It is so touching to see some, as young as five, already with the responsibility for looking after a younger sibling, carrying and feeding the younger. Brother Dino was the hero when he showed them the new soccer ball and frisbee we brought along with us. Steve and Duncan gave the demonstration of throwing this weird-looking plastic disc and running all over the grass trying to catch it. The kids soon showed ‘em how.

Next stop was further along the mountain ridge to the village of Cocoa. Driving up a steep hill with the church perched on top and horn tooting to announce our arrival, children with their tin plates, plastic bowls and spoons come running from all directions. Father Sami explained yesterday that these Timorese people are ‘Austranesian’, a mix of people from Portugal, Macau, India and China, many with black kinky hair.

In this village, knowing that Father Steve was coming to pay a visit, savvy senior members of the local community come to meet him. Like a ‘Town Hall’ meeting they raise some very basic needs. ‘No water’ is the main issue. Here we have a village that is is so clean and tidy – but a bush fire has melted the PVC water line from further up the hill. They can articulate very well and know exactly where they would take water, and where they would locate a single tank for all to use. How can you refuse?


Water supply for essential use is still a challenge that is not being met by government up here in some villages in the mountains. Also, closer to home, our Health Clinic and Secondary school at Railaco still have need for a piped, ‘continuous’ running water supply. Our water is piped from a stream higher up and held in a tank. When Sister Rita tells me there are times that she can’t allow the 200 students to come to school because there is no water for the toilets. God help us!

The Railaco ‘Feeding Program’ for 80 children is produced at a cost of just $400 a month. Amateurs like Duncan and I can’t see why funding can’t be found to make this a daily meal, and also to improve it with better quality ingredients and perhaps more nutrition.

Our special thanks has to go to the untiring workers who make the food and deliver it across such rough terrain. Their smiles are nearly as big as the kids receiving the meals. In turn, they are very grateful to the parishioners of St Canice’s. Let’s keep it up.

‘Mobile Medical Clinic’

Mild-mannered Father Bong was educated in a Jesuit High School in the Philippines but followed a friend into the Dominican Medical University. On graduating, his need ‘for service’ saw him join the Jesuits again and become a priest.

Mobile clinic 37
Bong has been running the Jesuit Railaco Mission since 2004 and in addition to his pastoral duties, he serves nine remote areas in the mountains with a mobile medical clinic. The average family has 8-10 children and the rate of infant mortality and morbidity is high. During the Indonesian oppression, the church was their only refuge. Such a strong bond and trust remains.

2009 – The Railaco Secondary School

In Railaco itself, St Canice’s supports a secondary school of 200 students. This number is growing. Children walk up to 2 hours each day, morning and night to attend school. Some students who are in their 20’s are taking the opportunity to finish their interrupted education.

Photo Album: A Visit to the Secondary School

IMG_4956 (1)

Sister Rita, an AFL and Cricket-mad Australian is a retired secondary school principal from the Order of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She runs the school with a staff of local Timorese teachers. Recently, Brother Dino, a 7th year Jesuit in training has been appointed for two years to run the English language Club and to teach Religion. We visited on the last day of the Public exams for 60 final year students and were royally welcomed with procession and singing.

On the following day, Sister Rita devoted the full day to interviewing 77 graduating students from the surrounding areas who wanted to lodge applications for university scholarships. Regretably, funding and places are limited. So many will move to Dili to seek improvement but they risk becoming impatient, frustrated and even angry. There are so few jobs let alone places in University. The young people are also aware that the country is sitting on massive oil reserves, none of which appears to be filtering down to the benefit of the people. This is a potential trigger for trouble.

Sister Rita and Father Steve

Sister Rita and Father Steve

Many graduates aspire to office jobs because they see that as ‘status’ (The Portuguese colonisers were all sitting in an office!) A greater awareness of trades and other jobs would alleviate the issue. In many countries, the tourism industry is a major employer, but wider range tourism remains a long way off in Timor-Leste until essential infrastructure – hotels, transportation, roads, toilets at beaches etc improve.





Please click link below to read the ABC News story of bravery by Timorese Villagers

Remembering Australia’s first commandos- The men who stopped the Japanese in Timor – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting


Thankfully, Jesuits working on the frontiers are trustworthy and use every dollar caringly. Thank you for your ongoing generosity.



Newsletters from the Jesuits in East Timor

“Lia–Tatoli” means:
Before Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, he “entrusted the message ” (lia-tatoli) to mankind in order to bring it into the worship and comfort of peoples. “You go to convey My word”. The Jesuits Region in Timor- Leste calls us all to channel the responsibility and give each other a close look at Jesus. “The message entrusted to us” (lia-tatoli) wants to connect all of us who are friends on the journey of Jesus and who share the mission of Jesus Christ. ‘Lia-tatoli’ now becomes the official Newsletter of the East Timor Region.

Food and Nutrition Security in Railaco

Timor – Leste is one of the developing countries that is still food insecure. Many people in the rural areas of Timor are still living in poverty and around seventy percent of the population rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.

Please click on this link to read the Newsletter: