Sister Lourdes – Mana Lou Part Three


East Timor is a free country now. However, she is not yet free from the struggle against poverty. Sister Lourdes, Mana Lou, leads in the fight against poverty just as she led her people in the quest for Independence. She applied liberation theology, which evolved in Latin America, to the situation in Timor Leste. (During her studies she wrote a dissertation on this.) The majority of people supported armed resistance yet she worked with the militia, the refugees and the resistance.

Sister Lourdes invoked criticism from many for reaching out to those who were hostile towards the East Timorese people. Often quoting Jesus, who said, “Love your enemy”, Sister Lourdes shared the Gospel with the militia who had committed treacherous crimes. Although they tried to intimidate her she gave them love and faith. She attempted to orchestrate reconciliation by engaging the Indonesian troops camped in Dare. She treated them with love, and neighbourly concern. She looked on them as young men, lonely and away from home. She celebrated their birthdays with them, included them in daily life, and they got to know her and respect her. She risked her life countless times travelling all over Timor to visit refugee camps often in remote and dangerous areas. She visited the militia camps in West Timor to assist the refugees and to try and convince them to return to their villages. As leaders fled after massacres she would continue through road blocks with provision for those left behind. She has an uncanny ability to communicate and often won over the militia with prayers and laughter. She always kept a spiritual element in her speech and confronted them with faith.

Second from left, front row

Sister Lourdes tells of miracles that occur on an almost daily basis. One barrel of rice lasted for three weeks whilst she fed thousands of hungry refugees. It ran out the day the United Nations arrived. She credits God with placing people in her path, the right people, to help her in her effort to win the battle against poverty and oppression.


Her tremendous influence and the respect she invokes belies the small size of her organization, Brothers and Sisters in Christ. She aims to demonstrate the Gospel by working alongside the poor. The institute serves the community, both with urgently needed humanitarian assistance, and with longer term projects to fight poverty and revive and preserve East Timorese culture. Her next project is to train her candidates to deal with the mental health issues that are rife in the villages. Post traumatic stress disorder is a common legacy of battles such as East Timor’s. There would not be a family in Timor Leste unaffected by loss and violence. Sister Lourdes plans to send educated mental health workers out to the villages not just to assist the needy but also to train others in dealing with these issues.


Often described as a “Living Saint” Mana Lou has overcome countless obstacles, from the Church, from her people, from the militia and from the Indonesians. Her faith in God and what He has called her to do gives her strength.


This courageous woman is an example to us all of forgiveness, love, understanding and trust and of what one person with a vision can achieve.


Tetum word of the week


Mass     Misa


Timor Leste Facts


Post Traumatic stress disorder (nightmares, poor sleep, poor concentration and memory, irritability, tension) is present in Timor-Leste because of the history of

violence, and displacement.


Many have experienced violence, torture and persecution, the death or disappearance of family members and friends as well as the loss of home and property.


A population-wide survey undertaken in 2000 found a prevalence rate of 34% for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


The restoration of peace and security and the capacity to engage in work and other meaningful activities will lead to natural resolution of grief, stress and other reactions caused by conflict for most people.  However, in a minority, stress reactions will continue and in some cases can become disabling.


The age structure of Timor Leste also impacts on mental health. 52% of the population is under 15 years. The major mental disorders commonly have their onset in late


(Taken from: National Mental Health Strategy in Timor-Leste – January 2005)