Subject: UCAN: Portuguese Mission Helps Elderly And Kids In Poor Seaside Villages

ET02776.1454 July 19, 2007 49 EM-lines (566 words) EAST TIMOR Portuguese Mission Helps Elderly And Kids In Poor Seaside Villages

VEMASSE, East Timor (UCAN) -- Children may be the future of the Church, but for the three nuns who make up a Portuguese mission in a rural area, that does not mean elderly people are forgotten.

Besides running a kindergarten, the nuns travel to remote areas every week, often walking many kilometers, to visit the poor, the sick and the elderly.

The mission in Vemasse, a village in Baucau district, began in 2001. The poorly irrigated area, about 70 kilometers east of Dili, is inhabited mostly by farmers and has no other resident Church workers or mission posts, said Sister Maria Magdalena Pereira Alves.

The Portuguese nun heads the mission, which her government supports. One of her two companions is a local East Timorese and the other is Mexican. Their congregation began as Concepcionista aos Servicos dos Pobres in 1939 in Portugal, with a charism of serving the poor. The Vatican recognized it under the name Maria Santissima Trindade in 1955. It has 30 members worldwide.

Every Saturday and Sunday, the nuns visit faraway villages. Though they travel by car as far as it can take them, they also have to walk several kilometers to reach communities in areas not accessible by motorized vehicles. They visit the elderly and sick people, pray with them, bring them food and find ways to take them to the clinic or hospital if needed.

"Our service focuses on poor elderly people. We also run a kindergarten and playground for kids, because we see there is a need here," Sister Alves told UCA News recently.

At the kindergarten, children aged 5-7 learn to read and write, count, draw, sing and pray. The yearly enrollment fluctuates between 40 and 60, and Sister Alves estimates about 400 children have gone through the program since it was set up in 2001.

The kindergarten is open from Monday to Friday, but the nuns are not able to recruit outside teachers due to limited funds.

Sister Alves is very happy to teach the children, since she sees them as the future of the Church and the nation. "It is important to develop love for Jesus in their hearts," she said, so they "will not be involved in violence, as many youth are prone to do today."

East Timor, or Timor Leste, which gained independence in 2002, has faced decades of violence, including an armed rebellion and brutal countermeasures during the Indonesian occupation 1975-99. More recently, a mutiny in April 2006 led to months of arson, looting and gang violence, pitting locals from eastern and western parts of the country against one another. Many of those involved in the violence were students.

Julmira Correia told UCA News she appreciates the nuns preparing the children for primary school. "Before I could only wait until my children were 7 to enroll them in primary school, because the kindergarten was in the district capital," more than 20 kilometers away, said the 45-year-old mother of five.

Mexican Sister Gramenzinda Baroso, 40, told UCA News: "We came here because we are concerned about the poor people. We evangelize the people in the rural areas so that they get to know Jesus more and can get close to him."

Vemasse lies near the sea along the main road connecting Dili with Baucau, in an area dominated by rice fields. About 1,500 people, nearly all Catholics, inhabit the main village and the surrounding areas.

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