Tais Cloth

Tais cloth is a form of traditional weaving created by the women of Timor Leste. We have had Tais items for sale here in the parish now and then to raise funds for Soibada. You may have also noticed the brightly woven cloth in some of the photos in the Bulletin or on the Parish website. Tais are an important part of the cultural heritage of East Timorese people. They are an essential part of many of the traditional activities.

Tais weavings are used for ceremonial adornment, decoration, and clothing. In ceremonial use, the tais is usually worn along with feathers, coral, gold and/or silver. The imagery and patterns of tais vary greatly from region to region, their designs represent important stories, records and beliefs. Men and women wear distinctively different tais. Men’s tais, ‘Tais Mane’ are worn like a sarong around the waist. They are usually bright colours and woven in one large piece. The women’s Tais, ‘Tais Feto’ is a tube of fabric either worn as a skirt or a dress. In recent years an addition to these two styles is the selendang, a long slender piece of cloth used for giving tribute by placing ceremoniously around the neck. The members of the group that visited Soibada were presented with these as a sign of friendship. Ambassador Guterres also gave some to the performers at Songs for Soibada as a gift of thanks.

The Catholic Church of East Timor has also adopted the use of tais during its ceremonies.

Weaving of Tais is performed by women and is regarded as an integral part of their duties. It can sometimes be a social activity but more often than not it is another thing to fit in between their routine daily chores. Tais are an important source of cultural sustainability and income for many women. Development of the tais industry has the potential to provide economic improvement to a vulnerable and marginalized section of society and represents an opportunity to preserve or revitalize traditional production methods and motifs.

One of the most common tools for tais weaving is the back-strap loom, which is painful for many women due to the pressure from the strap. Using mostly cotton threads, the cloth is created during the island's dry season, almost entirely by hand. The use of cotton is a legacy of the Portuguese colonial era, when Timor was an important port for the trade in the material. Dyes mixed from plants like taun, kinur, and teka are used to create bright colors in the tais. Other dyes are derived from mango skin, potato leaf, cactus flowers, and turmeric. During the 1999 wave of violence known in East Timor as "Black September", many tais weavers saw their tools and equipment stolen or destroyed.

Since Independence, messages found their way into the tais in English and Portuguese as well as Tetum. A quite remarkable fact, given that most of the weavers are found in rural areas where they have not had the opportunity to learn how to read or write.

I have a reasonable stock of Tais available for purchase and would welcome any volunteers to assist with holding stalls in the future. All funds raised will go directly back to Soibada.


Tetum Words of the Week

Feto                      woman

Feto faluk             widow

Timor Leste Facts

  • 50-60%  of children (and their mothers) are malnourished. This limits both their physical growth and their cognitive development.
  • Research has shown that 60% of families have no food at all in their house at least one day a fortnight.
  • Women in East Timor have endured years of violent oppression, abuse of human rights, displacement and sexual violence.
  • Women-headed households (through abandonment or as widows) are particularly vulnerable with limited economic and material means to survive.
  • It is estimated that at least 10% of households are women-headed.
  • 88% of women have unpaid work on family gardens and farms.
  • Women’s daily workload is much greater than men’s, leading to chronic exhaustion and malnutrition.
  • Weavings called Tais and other handicrafts are an invaluable expression of traditional knowledge and East Timorese culture.


Materially Poor but Spiritually Rich

The people of Timor-Leste might be materially poor, but buoyed by their Catholic faith, they are spiritually rich. The Portuguese initially brought Catholicism to the East Timorese. However, the Catholic faith truly became a central part of their culture and its influence began to strengthen during the Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999. Predominantly Muslim, the Indonesian state required adherence to one of five officially recognised religions and did not recognise traditional animist beliefs. The Church was seen as a safe haven and became a refuge for East Timorese seeking sanctuary from persecution. The Catholic Church remained directly responsible to the Vatican throughout Indonesian rule.


Despite the Timorese peoples growing allegiance to the Catholic Church, there is also a long tradition of animist spiritualism in Timor. Animist beliefs and practices provide the background for the creation of legends and myths passed on from generation to generation. Animist rituals and traditions coexist peacefully with the Catholic Faith, contributing to the Timorese people’s rich cultural palette. Only a minority of local Christians can be considered as having no animist beliefs. Animist religion in Timor-Leste revolves around the spirits of the dead who are both feared and worshipped. These spirits are materialized through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious magical powers that can be either good or evil. In Timor these are called ‘Luliks’, which means sacred and intangible


All over Timor Leste there are beautiful religious statues, shrines and grottos. In almost every village you will find crucifixes marking the Stations of the Cross. These very Catholic monuments are often situated near areas that already had spiritual significance for the Timorese. The most well known is the massive 27 metre tall statue of Christ, the Cristo Rei, just outside of Dili. In an effort to demonstrate religious tolerance and goodwill Indonesia erected the massive statue of Christ as a gift to the East Timorese people. It was built by Indonesian army engineers and officially unveiled by Suharto in 1995.


The statue and the globe on which it rests is high on Cape Fatucama a hill at the eastern tip of Dili Harbor which can be reached by climbing around 600 steps. The walk up to the top of the hill is lined with the 14 Stations of the Cross. It has been noted by some that the statue does not face Catholic Timor Leste, but looks west with open arms in the direction of Jakarta. The statue is one of the main tourist sites in East Timor. The view is spectacular and, once at the top, you can see over Dili and across to Atauro Island. On the way down at one of the designated rest points, you can see way, way down the coast towards Manututo and the jungle covered cliffs that lead to Soibada.


Tetum Words of the Week

Bailoron    dry season

Tempu udan   rainy (monsoon) season

Timor Leste Facts

It is a tropical island 8 degrees south of the Equator.

It consists of the main island, Atauro Island, Jaco Island and the enclave of Oe-Cussi set within West Timor (Indonesia).

The country has two main seasons, the wet and the dry Season.

The average temperature is 32º Celsius although up in the highlands the temperature can drop to very cold at night.


Sister Lourdes, Mana Lou – Part One


Rarely are we privileged enough to meet at true hero, a person whose positive influence is evident in the world and someone who inspires you to take up the challenge of social justice. I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know East Timor’s Sister Lourdes. I first met her in 1999 when she was instrumental in coordinating reconciliation between pro Indonesia militia groups and pro Independence East Timorese. Father George, Kathy Gee and I visited her in Timor last year and were fortunate enough to see her again recently with Mark Ferguson and Jane Mulroney of Pittwater Council. Sister Lourdes is an invaluable source of advice in the development of our relationship with the village of Soibada. Over the next few weeks I will share some of her remarkable story with you.


Sister Lourdes, or Mana Lou as she is affectionately known, is a radical Catholic nun and a hero of East Timor’s revolution. She is a charismatic dynamo who is regularly consulted by the political leadership for advice. She is a highly respected leader of society – a unique position for a woman in traditional Timor. She’s been called the Mother Theresa of East Timor. Yet she has also been likened to Joan of Arc. She did not taken up arms for a military fight but is a leader in a nonviolent struggle to assist the Timorese to regain a sense of their own dignity and identity.


When Sister Lourdes, then known as Maria Lourdes Martins Cruz, was 11 years old the Indonesians invaded East Timor. This was only 9 days after Portugal had given the tiny nation independence. During the next 24 years of military occupation over 200,000 East Timorese, almost a third of the population lost their lives.


One of seven children, four girls and three boys, the young Maria came from a reasonably well off family. Her parents owned a coffee plantation in Dare in the hills outside Dili. It is a beautiful place with magnificent views down to Dili Harbour and Christo Rei. All the children went to school until it was closed by the Indonesians. Maria found refuge in the local church and accompanied the parish priest on his rounds. As a child she walked the mountain paths to local villages. She witnessed the deprivation and poverty experienced by the majority of the East Timorese. She became aware of her own ability to assist, sustain and educate them.


She impressed the local Bishop, and he encouraged her to continue her studies. She became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. However, she felt dislocated from her true calling of assisting the poor whilst living in the convent. Life there was too different from that of ordinary people. She also felt that the Church’s hierarchical structure restricted the potential of women. In 1985 she went to study theology at a Jesuit Institute on Java, Indonesia. On her return home Sister Lourdes established her own religious order which she called “Brothers and Sisters in Christ” and began to act on her ideas. She saw her mission as “preparing the ground for a new Timor”. The purpose of her order is to work alongside the poor, demonstrating that the


On Her family’s coffee estate Sister Lourdes built a training institute to educate girls, two orphanages, boarding houses and a home for the sick. Work is shared equally and the community is completely self sufficient. They raise livestock and grow crops, even flowers to sell at the market. This model of equality and self-sufficiency is what Mana Lou advocates for Timor as a whole. The young people who have joined her community do not wear religious habit and they live in the same simplicity as local people.


In a country still traumatized by the past Sister Lourdes wants people to take control of their own situation. She said, “If we see the roads need to be fixed we can’t just stand there and look at it and expect others to fix it. If farms need to be worked then we go and help people to do that. We want to be an example with the work that we’re doing. Not by just teaching or talking, but by putting our words into action. “To take the new Timor forward.” She is adamant that any change in Timor will have to be initiated from within, using the resources available to create sustainable improvements, rather than superficial solutions imposed from outside.

In this process of education for liberation, she has said, “Our arms are peace, love, justice, truth, freedom, forgiveness, unity and solidarity.”


In 1997 she was a recipient of Pax Christi’s International Peace Prize. In December 2009 she was awarded the Sergio Vieira De Mello Human Rights Award for promoting social, economic and cultural rights by President Jose Ramos-Horta.





Sister Lourdes – Part Two


During the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste the Catholic Church became “the people’s church”. To be Catholic became a symbol of Timorese identity. Priests and Nuns spoke out about human rights abuses. They risked their own lives. The Timorese lost their own identity, their indigenous culture and their spirituality during this time.


Sister Lourdes, Mana Lou, is now 48 years old. A dynamic, vocal and independent-minded woman, she provides a new model of religious leadership and service for the Church. She has dedicated her life to “changing the plight of the poor by working on the roots of the problems”. Sister Lourdes feels that God asked her to look after the “underdogs”. Now her focus is on empowering the poor to become truly "independent" by developing cottage industries, handicrafts, and agriculture, as well as spiritual growth. One of her goals is to preserve local languages and culture. She collects traditional music, and is an expert in traditional food and medicine. In a demonstration of Christ's love she reaches out to the areas other groups do not venture. She gathers communities in the search for solidarity, faith and resource maximization. She has established more than 10 houses across the country, and health clinics and a hospice for tuberculosis patients and one for children with disabilities.


Sister Lourdes considers that the children are the real future of East Timor. She believes Timor Leste needs more than education to overcome its challenges. Its people need to be prepared to do hard work and take the initiative. She is concerned that some Timorese people live with an “occupation mentality”. That is, they are so used to not being in control of their own lives and society, and then becoming the recipients of charity, that they do not have the drive to attempt to rectify the situation for themselves. This has resulted in a noticeable lack of leadership skills. Another goal is to build leadership among the youth. Her bigger vision is a self-sufficient country that does not rely on charity. Her crusade to help the poor has put her at odds with her country’s invaders, her church and at times even her own people. Although it has the official blessing of the Bishop, the Institute receives no official funding from the Catholic Church. It relies on income generated from crops grown, cottage industry and any donations received.

The structure of her “Institute”, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, is unique. There is no rank and little bureaucracy. Sister Lourdes personally oversees the day to day management with the assistant of a secretary. She welcomes people of any denomination, who share her vision to join the community. However, if they are Catholic and are called by God they are eligible to become a “member”. This entails a commitment of five years of training. The members are educated to be a source of inspiration to the people. They are trained intellectually and in hygiene, social and economic skills, cultural activities and spiritual formation. They undertake outreach work with the poor in villages across Timor Leste. After completing this training they take holy vows, including one of chastity. The latter is to ensure that they can be “mother, father, brother, sister or child to anyone of God’s people.”

Continue Reading


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)


Soibada Update - Our Lady of Aitara

The Marian Shrine of the Timorese people. 


There were amazing developments in Soibada the past couple of weeks. They have finally got mobile phone coverage in the village. No longer do I have to wait for Father Abel and Sister Maryanne to trek up the mountain to send their text messages! In a bizarre technological twist, Father Abel and I are now friends on “Facebook” and communicate regularly! The prospects for our community’s interaction with the people in Soibada are growing enormously! This week I received some wonderful photos from Soibada of the recent  annual pilgrimage there.

Timor Leste’s President, Jose Ramos Horta says that Christianity is the reason that Timor Leste has a strong national identity. He is well known as a deeply religious man and sees it as imperative that the Government develop a strong relationship with the church for the country to move forward. He almost died after being shot by a gang of armed rebels last year. He experienced a spiritual epiphany as the blood seeped from his wounds whilst waiting for the ambulance. He feels that God has given him a second chance at life to assist his country and help his people move towards peace. He says that he had an apparition and heard a voice telling him that it was not his time to die.

In many countries a political leader would be criticised for such a public affirmation of faith. Things are different in Timor Leste, he is admired and it has enhanced his ability to do his job. Even before the Portuguese introduced Catholicism, the Timorese were a strongly Spiritual people. They already had a relationship with God. Jorge da Cruz da Silva, a writer from Soibada, says that the establishment of the Catholic mission in the Soibada could be looked upon as an 'alliance' between the Catholic religion and lulik. (Animist religion in Timor-Leste revolves around the spirits of the dead who are both feared and worshipped. These spirits are materialized through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious magical powers that can be either good or evil. In Timor these are called ‘Luliks’, which means sacred and intangible.)

Soibada is a legendary place. em Timor. Primeiro It is overlooked by the Aitara hill on which is a large banyan tree. About a mile from the village, this location was, in the past, and still is by some, considered to be lulik. Next to that tree there stands a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Aitara. . Apparently, on 16 October many many years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared to several women near that Banyan tree on the hill. As a result a shrine, a church, a convent, a college and a town were built over 100 years ago. It is a classic example of the Portuguese art of construction on top of treacherous steep hills in the middle of the dense jungle. A huge set of stairs stretches half way up the hill at the top of which is a more modern looking Chapel resting on the original Portuguese footings.

From the day of the Apparition the site on Aitara Hill has been a place of great religious significance to the Timorese people and the nation. This is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aitara. Every year there is a festival to celebrate the vision. Soibada is the destination of the yearly pilgrimage during which hundreds of people from all over Timor Leste to come visit the chapel. The devotion of the Timorese people to this site has been likened to that of people towards Fatima.

As people come from all over Timor they bring the crosses with them that will then stand all over the country side. A procession with the statue of Our Lady, from the Parish Church of Sacred Heart in the village to the Shrine on the hill begins at 8 am on 16 October. Mass is celebrated there, with the mountains behind the altar in the background.

President Jose Ramos Horta was educated in Soibada and makes many visits to this spiritual place. He considers one day that “Our Lady of Aitara” Shrine could become a destination of international peregrination. In order to attract foreign pilgrims much work needs to be done on such amenities as; roads, electricity, drinking water, communication networks, health and education. Thus, the Virgin Mary’s appearance could have the dual benefit for the village. Not only is it a wonderful spiritual place but the lives of the villagers could be enhanced by visitors to the site.

Although the Vision is not officially endorsed by the Catholic Church, its significance to the people of Timor Leste was acknowledged by Pope John Paul II in his message on the occasion of the declaration of Independence.

He said:

While I extend a cordial Apostolic Blessing to you all, I invoke on the authorities of the Democratic Republic of East Timor and those who will be working for a prosperous and peaceful, divine assistance and intercession of Mary Immaculate, lovingly raised by you under the title the 'Virgin of Aitara'.

Vaticano, 6 de Maio de 2002. Vatican, May 6, 2002.

IOANNES PAULUS II As we here in Pittwater strive to assist the people of Soibada and to develop a strong friendship with them, it is comforting to know that the Nossa Senhora de Aitara herself is keeping watch over the village.


Timor Leste Facts

“Our Lady of Aitara” is the National Marian Shrine.

It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared near a Banyan tree on Aitara hill above Soibada.

It is claimed that this resulted in the establishment of the chapel, church, school and village.


Tetum Word of the Week

Atelogu   See you later


Here is an interesting video:


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Soibada Project Update


It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Pittwater Friends of Soibada. The committee has been officially formed. It comprises enthusiastic volunteers not only from our Parish but from the broader Pittwater Community. This is great because it has become a truly ecumenical venture, involving members of other churches and also many interested people from different community groups.

I was fortunate to meet some visiting East Timorese women who run Non Government Organisations (NGOs) in Dili, Timor Leste. Gizela de Carvahlo is a founder of Feto iha Kbiit Servisu Hamutuk (FKSH). Their motto is “Women have power when working together.” Her family is from Soibada and she is a good friend of father Abel’s. She is an amazing young woman dedicated to bettering the lives of her fellow Timorese. We will be able to work with her organisation to assist the women in Soibada. Gizela’s Aunt, Rosaria Martins da Cruz, who was on a speaking tour in Sydney about nutrition in Timor Leste, also happened to be Sister Lourdes’ (see Bulletin a few weeks back) younger sister.

These women are fine examples of the way we can assist to better the lives of the Timorese. As it has been said before, we need to do more than just give handouts, we need to create sustainable programs and small businesses. It is imperative that we enable the people of Soibada to help themselves. The organizations run by Gizela and Rosario go out into rural Timor Leste to educate and assist the villagers to gain the skills to improve their own future. FKSH focuses on women's issues and works with people isolated from cities. It contributes to their social, economic and cultural well-being.  It delivers programs to women and youth in 4 districts of Timor-Leste. Gizela and her staff run programs for:

Women’s Economic Development, including; Finance, Marketing and Leadership. Organization Skills training in: sewing, traditional food, life skills and gender Issues

Youth Skills Development; leadership, vocational training, gender issues, forum reflection, life Skills

FKSH also researches and markets the handicrafts produced by women program participants.

Rosaria Martins da Cruz is the Director of HIAM Health and has been operating out of Dili National Hospital since Nov 2003. HIAM Health is a Non Government Organisation (NGO) based in Dili East Timor (Timor Leste) working to create a future for the nation in the way of education, rehabilitation and prevention of malnutrition. The vision of HIAM-Health is to empower Timorese people to work together to reduce high infant and maternal mortality rates and to assist in the reduction of poverty and hunger through education and support. The main focus of HIAM-Health’s work since the beginning of 2004 has been the monitoring and supplementary feeding (SFP) of infants/children suffering from malnutrition. This service included Health and Nutrition education for their parent/caregiver, focusing on teaching preventative strategies to combat malnutrition.

Local News

Pittwater Council has given the Friends of Soibada the use of the Avalon Scout Hall every last Friday of the month during the Avalon Growers Market. It is intended to be more than a venue for fundraising but also a community engagement exercise. We had a trial run last week – selling Tais, bric a brac, books and cakes. The dvd about Soibada drew some interest and many children gathered to do Timor themed colouring in. Eventually we will be able to show video updates of progress in the village so that you can really see where the money you raised has been spent. Saturday’s International Festival at Sacred Heart also proved to be a successful awareness raising opportunity for Soibada. Thank you very much to all those volunteers who assisted at both of these events.(More are always welcome!) Overall you raised more than $1200 for Soibada last weekend! It would be comforting to know that each month we could regularly deposit such funds into Father Abel’s and the Sisters’ accounts.


This week I spent a delightful afternoon with Year 3 students at Maria Regina. It was World Mission Month and the focus was Timor Leste. After watching the DVD about Soibada the children earnestly spoke about the ways in which their lives differ from those of the children there. Although their day to day lives differ greatly there are similarities of belief that cross culture. Interesting discussion ensued about happiness, behaviour towards others and being grateful for God’s gifts. Our children have much to learn from those in Soibada.


They talked about reaching out to others and how they could show their friendship for the children in Soibada without actually going over there. The caring manner in which the children in Soibada treat each other was discussed. Interest amongst the Maria Regina children was extremely high and they are all keen to establish regular communication and create a sense of “community”. Some of them began writing letters that day. It is very encouraging to witness this enthusiasm in our young people. They are the future of this friendship project.


The Soibada Knitters/Crafters had their first get together in the Social Justice Office under Maria Regina Church on Wednesday this week. We still need more wool and knitters or crocheters. Any other craft items that could be sold as fundraisers are gladly accepted too. If you would like to come along please get in touch either on 0403226699 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Tamara Sloper Harding


Timor Leste Facts

  • The 2010 Census revealed that although Timor-Leste’s population growth is slower than projected (2.41%) it is still the highest in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region.
  • The total population of Timor-Leste is 1,066,582.
  • 70.4%, of the Timorese people still lives in rural areas.
  • Men: 541,147
  • Women: 525,435
  • Manatuto is 43,246  2010
  • Soibada is one of the least populated sub-districts at 3,051

Tetum Word of the Week

Eskola amigo        School friend


Santa Cruz Memorial Day


Friday 12 November is a public holiday in Timor Leste. One of the bloodiest days in their history, it is the anniversary of the Santa Cruz Massacre. It is a day dedicated to the victims of the most significant slaughter in the struggle for independence. Candles are lit in memory of the Santa Cruz dead, their link to freedom not forgotten.

Timor Leste’s leaders Jose Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao encourage their people to forgive the perpetrators of the violence inflicted upon them over many years. They consider that the country cannot move on and develop whilst harbouring any hatred. This is not an easy task. It is costly, painful and difficult. There might be forgiveness - but the people will never forget. Many Timorese remain prisoners of past events. The Catholic Church and the culture of forgiveness play an important role in reconciliation processes at the community level. It is important to look forward with positivity, however, it cannot be ignored that incidents such as this massacre shaped the newly independent nation. It is an independence that was achieved through the sacrifice of those that suffered as a result of that day.

The Catholic Church was regarded as a safe haven by the Timorese. On 28 October 1991, many people sought refuge from the violence rife in Dili in the church of San Antonio de Motael. The army stormed Motael. Sebastiao Gomes, a student activist was shot in the stomach by an Indonesian soldier in front of many incredulous witnesses. On the morning of November 12th there was a memorial Mass at the Church followed by a procession to the cemetery for the laying of sweet flowers. (At a burial there is the laying of bitter flowers, two weeks later when grief has lessened there is the laying of sweet flowers.) This peaceful memorial procession developed into a pro independence demonstration. Pictures of Xanana Gusmao were held aloft and banners calling for self determination and independence waved amongst the sea of people.

Indonesian troops opened fire upon this peaceful procession of thousands as it entered the cemetery. 271 people were killed, 382 wounded, and 250 disappeared. The massacre at Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili on 12 November 1991 was by no means the largest such occurrence during the 25 year occupation. It did not compare to the scale and brutality of other massacres:  Dili in December 1975, Matebian in 1979, Lacluta in 1981 or worst of all, Kraras in 1983.  However, it became internationally notorious when video footage filmed by foreign filmmaker Max Stahl put the atrocities out there in world view. Public outcry ensued as the world witnessed Timor Leste’s struggle for freedom. Ali Alatas, former foreign minister of Indonesia, called the massacre a "turning point," which set in motion the events leading to East Timor's coming independence.

There is no formal monument to mark the site yet. The bodies of the victims were removed and have never been recovered. For the Timorese, the massacre is exacerbated by the victims not having burials. Santa Cruz Memorial Day is a national holiday when families spend the day together in remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives on November 12th 1991 for Independence.


Timor Leste Facts

12th November 1991 Santa Cruz Massacre 271 killed (at least, some people say that it was more like 400) 278 wounded 103 hospitalized 270 “disappeared”

Tetum Word of the Week: Kalma Relax


Friends of Soibada update and news

Last week I wrote about the Santa Cruz Massacre. It was an event that was instrumental in spurring on the fight for Independence in Timor Leste. Last Friday at Dili’s Motael Church, during a ceremonial mass commemorating the November 12 massacre, the Dili Diocese Bishop, Monsignor Alberto Ricardo da Silva, called on the Timorese Government to make efforts to liberate their people from poverty. He said that it is imperative that the young Timorese should be involved in the process of the country’s development. Da Silva affirmed that the Catholic Church is witness for the massacre by Indonesian troops, and emphasized that the importance of respecting the struggle of the young people who were massacred in November 12, 1991.

Also on the day of the anniversary President Jose Ramos Horta urged the Government of Indonesia to show the graves and skeletons of the young Timorese who were massacred in 1991. Horta acknowledged that Indonesia should be given the opportunity of strengthening its democracy and only then the process of seeking justice for serious crimes committed in Timor Leste should begin. The Timorese Government has never taken the assailants to the courts. President Jose Ramos Horta is meeting with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to talk with the Indonesian Government about speeding up the process of locating the burial sites. Here is an interview (video) with a Santa Cruz survivor (click the link).


There is a great deal happening in our community to support the people of Soibada. Please assist us with our efforts. Any contribution of time and effort, big or small is gratefully accepted. These activities are not limited to members of Pittwater Catholic Parish. It has become a wonderful ecumenical opportunity and involves members of other

churches and community groups. I communicate with Father Abel and Sister Maryanne by text message in Soibada almost daily. To be able to inform them of these undertakings is really strengthening the friendship between our communities.



Jo Guberina, a parishioner and parent from Maria Regina School, has designed some beautiful Christmas Cards to raise money for the children of Soibada. She adapted the layouts from photographs taken on our last visit to the village. They are not traditional Christmas cards but are a beautiful depiction of scenes of village life. All profits from the cards go straight to the village. They will be on sale after all the Masses. Volunteers are needed please.



It was intended that we would get together fortnightly, however enthusiasm has been so great that we now meet weekly! We have been inundated with donations of wool from throughout the Pittwater Community – actually it has even been more far reaching than that, a group of women at Queenscliff are busy knitting for the children of Soibada. After the Manly Daily article a few weeks back featuring our parishioners I received over 37 phone calls offering help. Yesterday I collected 15 children’s jumpers and many baby hats lovingly knitted by an Avalon woman who is housebound due to hip surgery. What a constructive way she filled in her recovery time! Thanks are due to many of our parishioners and I am thrilled that so many of you are involved. However, a special mentioned must be made to Ann Harvey. Ann has knitted well over a hundred squares for blankets for the children in the village. She is truly amazing and most generous with her skills and time.

With all this wool we need more knitters! So please, even if you can’t be a regular, call in some time to join us, or even take up the needles at home. It has become a fantastic community building experience.


Time: Wednesdays 1230

Place: Outreach Office, under Maria Regina Church

Contact: Tamara 0403226699 or Dannie 99188317



Pittwater Council has given us the use of Avalon Scout Hall in Dunbar Park to hold a monthly “Friends of Soibada Get Together” during the growers market. Intended as more than a fundraising event it is a fabulous community engagement opportunity, it is a time when updates on progress in the village will be available and you have the chance to see where your fundraising makes a difference. It is on again next Friday and we do need really your help with the following activities;

  • Decorate and set up the hall

  • Man the stalls during the day.

  • Sell the Christmas Cards

  • Cakes and Jams – we need people to provide baked goods and jams for the stall.

  • Assist with Timor themed children’s craft activities

  • Run the slide show and distribute leaflets

The Soibada Knitters will be there too – so if you can’t make the Wednesday group come along once a month! Please give me a call on 0403226699 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thank you all for your interest in this project. You are making a tangible difference in the lives of our nearest neighbours!

Tamara Sloper Harding


Tetum Phrase of the week

Ita pronto ona ka lae?   Are you ready?

Hau pronto ona.             I’m ready.


Violence and Inequality - A Challenge for Women in Timor Leste


This week, Thursday 25 November was White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On 17 December 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as a day to raise public awareness of the problem all over the world. Governments, international organizations and NGOs were invited to organize activities highlighting this theme.

Although Timor Leste is now an independent nation the scars of years of brutal occupation remain evident in so many aspects of daily life. Confronted with many obstacles, women continue working towards peace, security and justice. Countless lives have been shattered by violence both past and present. Women have been displaced from their homes; witnessed close family members being tortured and slaughtered and been abuse victims themselves. Young girls were abducted and enslaved by pro integration militias. These women could now be free but they remain tied to their kidnappers by the children they bore them.

Women face significant discrimination in the household, the workplace and the community. Dominated by the traditional patriarchal society they still suffer violence. - Violence that very often occurs inside their own homes. Many women in Timor-Leste consider this a normal part of family life. Tradition and customary law favour men over women. Men own property, men inherit and men make all the important decisions. As a much higher percentage of women are illiterate, they become subordinated and economically dependent on men.

Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the Australian wife of the Prime Minister of Timor Leste Xanana Gusmao says "The major challenges that women face today relate to economic independence  -- or  dependence -- and the impact of that in terms of the options that are available in resolving issues such as violence in the home. Women are very financially dependent on men and they therefore often do not have the option of pursuing legal channels, and this shuts off access to other things, like education. That is particularly the case of rural women."

The women’s movement is young and the future for the women of Timor Leste is bright – they have many champions for their cause. It has been recognized that the future growth of the country lies with the development and empowerment of its women.

Recently a mother at Maria Regina School lent me Greg Mortensen’s book, “Three Cups of Tea”. Greg is an American who has made it his life’s work to promote peace by building schools for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tales of his travels had an odd similarity to our recent adventures in Timor Leste. The challenges of culture, infrastructure (lack of) and communication resonated with me. However, it was a couple of his quotes that really rang true. He quoted an old African proverb saying;

"Educate a boy, and you educate and individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.”

"Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls."


The same could be said of Timor Leste.


If you would like to read more about Timor Leste, Soibada and our Friendship Project please look under the Ministeries->Outreach->Timor menu. There are a couple of videos at the end of this article.


Tamara Sloper Harding


Tetum word of the Week

Feto   woman






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