Sister Rita Hayes sgm, a Good Samaritan nun, who has worked tirelessly in the in Railaco Mission with the Jesuits in East Timor for the past nine years, inspired the congregations at two of the Sunday Masses at St Canice’s in Elizabeth Bay this morning.

Sister Rita Hayes and Parish Priest Father Chris Jenkins sj and Caroline, Chair of the Parish Pastoral Council with parishioners after the Mass.

Sister Rita Hayes and Parish Priest Father Chris Jenkins sj and Caroline, Chair of the Parish Pastoral Council with parishioners after the Mass.

The Railaco Mission is the East Timorese sister parish of St Canice’s, an integral part of our Mission as Catholics reaching out to those in need.

Sister Rita had the St Canice parishioners in her thrall as she told of the East Timorese people, of “their being poor in a way we can’t conceive. Life up there is about survival”, she said as she thanked us for our ongoing love and support.

Most of the people in the mountains around Railaco are mostly subsistence farmers. Some have coffee crops that bring in more cash. The Parish of Railaco makes a great difference to their lives with outreach activities – a Children’s Feeding Program, a Mobile Medical Clinic, and a Secondary School..

In the Children’s Feeding program, we take a nourishing meal three times a week to pre-school children in mountain villages. Older children hang around hoping they might get something to eat. Stipends for the local women involved in preparation and serving of the cauldron of food, and for the driver of the old Toyota ‘troop-carrier’ come from St Canice’s.

Fr Martin Bong sj, Jesuit priest and medical doctor provides a service of a Mobile Medical Clinic also driving the ‘troop-carrier’ with a pharmacy in the back. This is the only medical care for these people in the mountains, many of whom walk hours for a consultation and some medicine. “The stoicism of the children and the mothers is touching”, Rita says. St Canice’s provide the funds to buy the 4WD and for the people working with Fr Bong.

The Senior Secondary School looks after nearly 200 students in just six basic classrooms. “Children are desperate to learn and improve”, she says. The government pays for twelve full time teachers, but St Canice’s pays the salaries for twelve part-time teachers, and has provided money to expand the buildings. Helping these people to help themselves, the parents pay a nominal few dollars a month towards the education of their children.

Sr Rita spoke glowingly of the ‘Ignatian Men’ with whom she worked. Father Phuong sj, the indefatigable parish priest of Railaco is “a little bit like a sheepdog in Australian terms” is forever busy visiting people in the far-flung reaches of the parish, who need the Sacraments

Fr Bong’s daily routine starts with consultations of the long line of people waiting at the Clinic in Railaco. Then he undertakes the hazardous driving out into the far-flung mountain villages with his helpers in the 4WD. It’s an exhausting time treating people.

Fr Roberto Boholst sj (Fr. Bert) is the Filipino Jesuit educationalist providing professional development for the local teachers, and responsible for running the secondary school.

Rita couldn’t finish her inspirational talk without mentioning the role of brave East Timorese, who assisted two hundred Australian soldiers left behind when all other Aussie forces were evacuated as the Japanese invaded Timor. These Aussie soldiers referred to as ‘the Sparrow Force’ were all allocated an East Timorese man to help them hide, to provide food, and to tell them of the movements of the Japanese. “Every Aussie remained alive thanks to the friendship, courage and loyalty of these East Timorese helpers”, she said.

Sr Rita concluded, “We are all called not only to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but also to repay those brave Timorese”.

CLICK HERE to see the photos from the day.