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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:45

Running for peace in Dili

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"People who know me from my parish ministry work will know that I love running and I love sport," says Father Denis Andrew, Carmelite Prior Provincial for Australia and East Timor.

"While at secondary school in Melbourne I joined Box Hill Harriers. This initiated many years of competition: on the track in summer, cross country and road races in winter. I've kept pounding the pavements ever since. Training left me feeling fitter and healthier. It was always a great release from stress. The tally of races included about 20 marathons.

"My mother was convinced my body would quickly wear out. The remainder of the family was bemused. Then a few years ago my nephew, Michael Zammit, also discovered the joys of running. There was another devotee in the family! In September 2009 we ran the Sydney marathon together while I was parish priest at Wentworthville. We cherished a delightful moment running across the Sydney Harbour Bridge together at the start of the marathon.

"Three weeks later I ran the Melbourne marathon with Michael. The years were taking their toll. I was slowing down and finding it harder. At a family baptism later that afternoon, I declared that I had run my last marathon and was handing the baton over to Michael.

"That resolution held true until last year I discovered that Timor-Leste had inaugurated a marathon: the Dili 'City of Peace' Marathon for Peace. I was intrigued. Over the last 10 years we have watched the country slowly get back on its feet after the terrible violence associated with gaining Independence. Infrastructure is being repaired and developed. Industries are emerging. Tourists are visiting. I thought this just might be the inspiration I needed to run one more marathon!

"The Government wanted to use the marathon as a way of promoting healing and peace.  They formed a partnership with the Monaco-based organisation for Peace and Sport which has developed the 'Run for Peace' concept. The idea is to promote the use of athletics as a tool to bring vulnerable populations together in order to promote positive messages of social cohesion and peace in countries suffering lack of social cohesion and/or the aftermath of conflict, like Timor-Leste.

"In addition the organisers formed a partnership with the New York Runners Club. They will bring a number of youth and community services to Dili for the marathon. They will assist in providing expertise in coaching in athletics for youth.

"I mentioned the marathon to Michael, he immediately said he would like to run it with me.

"So, at 6am on Saturday 18 June, Michael and I had gathered along with hundreds of others to run the Dili marathon, half-marathon or 7km fun run.

"The race began early to try to avoid some of the heat of the day. During the second half of the race the temperature would climb to 30 degrees. But for the moment it was cool in the pre-dawn at a beautiful harbour-front starting location outside the Governor's Palace. The President, Ramos Horta, arrived to inspire us with a speech and to thank us for taking part in such an important event for Timor-Leste. At 6.30am he fired the starting gun and we were off.

"The marathon was two laps of a 21.1km course. The first lap was rather exciting as we were surrounded by the half-marathon and 7km fun run participants. The local Timorese were fantastic in their support from the sidelines, as were our own Carmelite students. The second lap was quite another story. The runners in the shorter distances finished and with only 41 runners remaining we were left to experience the loneliness of the long distance runner. The heat started to kick in. This was accentuated by the smog of the dry season and the smoke from the cooking fires of the locals along the course. Then there were the obstacles such as the river crossing (fortunately it was the dry season and the water was low) and the odd dog and pig straying across the path but also the police let a lot of motorbikes and cars on the course in the second lap. And that's saying nothing about our aching legs. Still the locals were highly excited, especially the children. They constantly ran with us wanting to do 'high fives'. And one group brought my nephew Michael into their soccer game as he passed.

"At long last the harbour approached. A left turn and another kilometre along the waterfront and the finishing line was the most pleasing of sights. It was a slow race as we finished in over four hours. But the experience of a marathon and the sense of achievement at the finish line is worth the effort. We spent the next couple of days recovering in our novitiate and student community at Hera. Michael is an optometrist by profession and he brought his equipment with him. He set about testing the eyes of around 50 of our Carmelite priests, brothers and students along with the cooks, drivers and all the workers associated with us.

"We both feel the trip was a great success as we were able to share in an important national event and show our solidarity with the East Timor people. We would like to thank all who supported us both financially and in spirit. So far we have raised just over $9,000 to support the Carmelite mission in East Timor. Our target is $10,000."

This story was first published in the enews of the Melbourne Archdiocese:

To make a donation in support of Fr Denis and Michael's run go to: www.everydayhero.com.au/carmelite_dili_marathon. This page will remain active until the end of August. You can also make a donation by phoning 03 9690 8822 or posting your donation to, The Carmelites, PO Box 5295, Middle Park, Vic 3206. Please mark your donation 'Dili Marathon' and make your gift payable to 'Carmelite Friars'. Thank you.