By Emilie Ng
A TRIP to East Timor to visit a Catholic parish moved Burleigh Heads parish priest Fr Ken Howell so much he almost considered throwing away his computer and mobile phone.
During Easter week, Fr Howell and parishioners Sue and Bren Milsom travelled to Ossu, in Baucau diocese, East Timor.
For several years, Burleigh parishioners have helped financially support the Catholic parish in Ossu, raising money to fund projects such as repairing the leaking roof at one of the parish’s schools, St Tereshina’s junior high.
But Mr and Mrs Milsom, who visited Ossu last year to establish the relationship, felt their parish priest needed to see first-hand the country his parishioners were helping.
After meeting with the Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau and parish priest Fr Evaristo do Costa, Fr Howell and Mr and Mrs Milsom had an “overwhelming” welcome in Ossu.
More than 200 people were waiting to greet the Burleigh Heads guests with song and dancing.
Locals tied robes in the official East Timorese flag colours around Fr Howell to signify the “binding together of the two parishes”.
Fr Howell said his three days in Ossu were an “eye-opening experience” where he found “extra faith and life” among the poor.
“It’s an extraordinary place,” he said.
“We can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters of other parts of the world.
“It’s important for us to realise we’re not the centre of the universe.”
A surprising part of the trip was a journey to a “remarkable” event in Dili for the canonisations of St John XXIII and St John Paul II.
Mass was prepared for an estimated 30,000 Catholics on Divine Mercy Sunday, on the same ground where John Paul II had celebrated Mass when he visited Dili in 1989.
Organisers realised the Mass attendants far exceeded 30,000 when that same number of Communion hosts “ran out”.
Fr Howell concelebrated Mass with the Timorese priest, and said it would remain a “significant memory”.
Mrs Milsom first visited East Timor in 2011 as part of a South Coast Deanery immersion, and returned this year for her third trip.
“You just can’t help but be moved by these people,” Mrs Milsom said.
First priority for the Burleigh Heads parish is raising at least $100,000 to waterproof St Tereshina’s junior high school over the next two years.
Students and teachers have been unable to stay inside their classroom during wet seasons because of the leaking roof.
Students are also faced with the challenge of having to walk to school during rainy seasons.
Mrs Milsom, a former Catholic school teacher, was “shocked” when she saw the learning conditions at St Tereshina’s.
While she was hopeful the Burleigh Heads parish could help the parish community in Ossu, she said the connection went deeper than just providing financial aid.
“Yes, people need our help, but we gain so much from being part of their life,” Mrs Milsom said.