Subject: A reciprocal legacy - church in ET

Northern Miner (Australia)

April 28, 2006 Friday

A reciprocal legacy

Verna Mitchell

FOR most, if not all of us, one of life's joys is the rich diversity of life -- a seemingly endless variety of choices in food, holiday destinations, music and lifestyles.

It's the same within the Christian church. There's a kaleidoscope of variety in teaching, music and worship styles, all providing nourishment for spirit and soul.

Interaction with variety in life imparts a legacy that helps shape and enlarges our worldview.

Sonia Boavni and Filomena Da Costa from Timor-Leste (East Timor) are employed by the Dalrymple Shire Council and will be in Charters Towers until the end of July.

They are enjoying a diversity of life experiences on all fronts, including some striking differences between the church scene in their own country and what they've seen in Australia.

Speaking animatedly of their homeland they light up with fond memories of a nation of churchgoers.

They reported that 95 per cent of the population is Catholic. Entire families attend church, from birth to death. People arrive about an hour before the service begins just to get a seat.

At this point it was hard to keep my mind on the job of recording the interview as I began to envisage a similar situation in Charters Towers. Ah, I thought, wouldn't that be something packed churches with those who couldn't get a seat peering in through the windows.

Before the Portuguese arrived in the former East Indies in the 16th century, the people were animists. The Portuguese brought Christianity and the population embraced the Catholic religion.

A recent 19-day demonstration, the largest in Timor-Leste since declaration of independence, was staged in Dili, demanding that Catholic education be kept a mandatory subject in schools, not a proposed elective.

This issue has now been resolved, with Timor-Leste president, Xanana Gusmao, signing a joint declaration with church groups which recognises that religious classes must be part of the regular curriculum, taught during school hours.

Mss Boavni and Da Costa described the role of church buildings as being places of refuge in the days surrounding East Timor's vote for independence in 1999.

Speaking of their impressions of the church scene in Charters Towers, both ladies said they were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and relaxed atmosphere in our local churches.

People, they said, were friends, not just part of a congregation. They commented that churchgoers display a genuine commitment to their faith.

Mss Boavni and Da Costa will return to East Timor with a rich deposit of diverse experiences, which they look forward to sharing with others.

Sharing has been reciprocal, however. They will leave with us an imprint of gentleness, graciousness and deep appreciation for the simplicity of life.

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