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Wednesday, 18 November 2015 10:27

A shared bond for collaboration and mission in Timor Leste

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ofm sosj 1The recent launch of the Franciscan Community Development Program- Timor-Leste, a partnership between Mary MacKillop International (MMI) and the Franciscan Friars’ Province of the Holy Spirit illustrates the collaborative relationship bound by shared values between religious congregations at the local level.

timor crossThis relationship between networked communities committed to a common vision was celebrated on November 17 with Franciscan friars, Sisters of St Joseph, Franciscan JPIC Animator Sarah Menassa-Rose and staff of Mary MacKillop International (MMI) gathered around the Timor Cross in the gardens of Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney to launch The Partnership for Timor-Leste. This project builds on the Franciscan partnership which began in 2004 between Franciscan Parishes in Australia and communities in Timor Leste.

“In 2003, we belatedly discovered that there was a Franciscan community in Timor at our doorstep that we were unaware of,” said Fr Paul Smith ofm, Provincial Minister of the Franciscan Friars’ Holy Spirit Province. A visit to the country by a group from the Australian Province in 2009 cemented a commitment to support each other in mission. “The visit really strengthened our Franciscan understanding of what the friars were trying to do there, not just in the ministries, schools and their eco-pastoral projects, but it was also what the people could teach us and how we could work together.”

ofm rsj group“There was always a two-way aspect of our relationship with the people of Timor Leste,” said Fr Paul. “Our initial involvements were the friars’ eco-pastoral projects working with the friars’ greatest resource and that was the knowledge of the land and the people.” This relationship was later bolstered by contributions of Padua College, the Franciscan high school in Queensland, for the Assisi School in Timor Leste.

“It’s always been a learning experience for us and we believe that the Assisi School is a project that we feel privileged to contribute to. And in working with this partnership, we can also be fed back information and all sorts of details to contribute further for the benefit of people in Timor Leste.”

“Our partnership has broadened to educating teachers so they can give their learning and experience to young people who are the future of Timor Leste,” said Fr Paul. “I suppose formalising a partnership between Mary MacKillop International for us is formalising a partnership between ourselves and the gifts of the people in East Timor.”

ofm mmi grpThe Franciscans found a partner in Mary MacKillop International, the international aid and development arm of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which has been active in Timor-Leste since 1994 delivering literacy education in the Tetum language. MMI has since expanded its programs to include teacher training, parent workshops, health education, music education and volunteer teacher support. MMI staff in East Timor are supported by education advisors in Sydney, and an in-country mentor. These advisors are Sisters of Saint Joseph with extensive experience within the education sector as teachers, principals and teacher trainers. 

Through this project, MMI will provide a holistic program over the next three years to meet the education and health needs of the communities in Fatuberliu and Weberek, Manufahi District, Timor-Leste. The project involves 40 pre-primary and primary school teachers, and up to 100 parents to access safe, engaging and effective learning environments at school and in the home.

This program is an addition to the long list of partnerships established by The Sisters of Saint Joseph who continue to explore ways of collaboration and enhance partnerships to effectively respond to the needs of disadvantaged communities.

“I am excited about this partnership and we recognise the common values that we share with the Franciscans,” said Sister Monica Cavanagh rsj, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. “We believe in education and there is a deep desire to make a difference. Like the Franciscans, we want this to be a hand up, not a hand out.”

“All of us in religious congregations are looking for a way to use our gifts to make a difference.”

(Middle photo shows Fr Andrew Granc ofm (vicar), Fr Paul Smith ofm, MMI Literacy Coordinator Sr Irene Macinante rsj and Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj. Bottom photo shows Franciscan friars, Josephite Sisters and staff from the Franciscan Provincial office and Mary MacKillop International.)

For more information on the Franciscan Community Development Program- Timor-Leste, please contact Sarah Menassa-Rose, Animator of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) at the Franciscan Provincial Office in Australia through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or visit www.franciscans.org.au.

Find out more about the work of Mary MacKillop International. 

Photos and story by Giselle Lapitan