“SHE is like our mother and she was beloved mother to us, the people in East Timor,” Timorese Canossian Sister Odete Moreira said of the patron of a new Marian shrine in Brisbane archdiocese.
Many Australians may not have heard of Our Lady of Aitara; the history of the Marian apparition, commemorated each year on October 16, lived on in an oral tradition preserved in Tetum for more than 100 years.
Sr Moreira said the Timorese people were devoted to her and saw her as their mother “who supported us through war, strife, suffering, invasion and illnesses”.
And now, her devoted people have brought her story to Marian Valley, Canungra.
About 120 friends and members of the Timorese Catholic Community gathered for the blessing and opening of a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Aitara on January 11.
Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell led the festivities, blessing the shrine and celebrating Mass for those gathered.
Sr Moreira said the event was “beautiful”.
She said the whole community was proud to see the shrine finished.
Each year, people in East Timor pilgrimage to the Aitara Hill shrine for the October feast and Sr Moreira said she hoped to see a local pilgrimage start at Marian Valley too.
She said the presence of Our Lady of Aitara in Australia was to remind the Timorese people that she was there to embrace and protect everyone.
Mary was said to have appeared to a group of women near the banyan tree on Aitara Hill in East Timor on October 16 sometime in the late 19th century, according to oral records.
A shrine was built there soon after.
St Pope John Paul II acknowledged the apparition on the occasion of the Timorese declaration for independence in a message to the country.
The apparition is yet to be officially confirmed by the Holy See.
Brisbane Catholic Joseph Grogan and his family, who connected with the QTC through the St Stephen’s Cathedral YAM and Order of Malta, went to Timor-Leste on an immersion trip and were at the event last weekend.
“During our Timor-Leste immersion experience, we heard heartfelt stories of the inspirational apparition of Our Lady of Aitara, seminal during the courageous fight for Timorese independence,” he said.
“It is heart-warming to share the radiant joy and tears of our Timorese Queensland Community friends, celebrating Bishop Ken’s profound blessing of the new Our Lady of Aitara Shrine in Marian Valley.”