December 2nd was a very special day for the community of Gari-uai, Timor-Leste. Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the Opening and Blessing of Centro Loreto; the impressive purpose-built Loreto Pre-Primary School and Community Centre that has been the long-held dream of many local parents, community leaders, Diocesan personnel and members of the Loreto family near and far. The sun-kissed day smiled on a vibrant community that welcomed visitors from Australia and other parts of Timor with incredible warmth and generosity.
The day commenced with an impressive welcoming ceremony for Don Basilio do Nascimento, the Bishop of Baucau, Wendy Hildebrand ibvm, Loreto Australia & South East Asia Province Leader, and a gathering of community leaders, Loreto Sisters, and those involved in the planning and construction of Centro Loreto. Every family had crafted a decorative post to line the road into the community, drums accompanied our footsteps, children clad in their uniforms and others in their finery created a guard of honour to guide our way with smiles and colour.
A highlight of the celebration for many of us was the welcoming words delivered by Tracia, a seven year old graduate from the Loreto Pre-Primary School, on the steps of the Church. Her speech was delivered with such gusto and confidence! Tracia was a symbol of all that this project represents; an educated girl standing tall in a public space, claiming her right to an excellent education. The Gari-uai church choir was joined by tertiary students from a university in Dili to sing the assembly into the Church. The Eucharist was a joy-filled celebration with ministries undertaken by women and men, boys and girls. Don Basilio’s homily covered so many bases, including genuine engagement with three and four year olds, the history and vision of the followers of Mary Ward and encouragement to parents to learn from their children, especially ways of peace and non-violence.
The Eucharist flowed easily into the formal blessing of Centro Loreto. It was wonderful to see the Loreto Sisters beaming at the entrance to the centre and the IBVM cross emblazoned on the wall of the building. This linked a cherished heritage with potent hope for the transformation of the lives of young children in a blessed and broken land, including the Courage to Move initiative and the hard work and prayers of so many friends of Loreto in Timor-Leste and Australia across many years. Wendy referred to this in her speech:
The Loreto Centre has been built on strong foundations of hope and many people have contributed to the building of this dream (Centro Loreto harii iha didin-hun forte laran metin nian no ema barak kontribui ba harii mehi ida ne’e).
The festivities that followed comprised the traditional placement of tais (woven scarves) on the shoulders of visitors and dignitaries, speeches covering the story of the centre, the vision of the centre and thanks to the myriad of people involved in this complex project. The highlight of the afternoon was undoubtedly the popping of champagne corks and cutting of the cake, followed by a feast and a number of dance and musical items.
Loreto Gari-uai knows how to celebrate and there was certainly much to celebrate on that warm early December day. Along with other Australian visitors I felt so blessed to have experienced such a powerful expression of community and such a joyful expression of the IBVM international family.
Wendy’s speech ended thus:
Today I both thank you for the hope and goodwill that has built the Loreto Centre and promise to pray in hope for the community of Gari-uai – for each of you and your children and the bright future that is ahead.
This Advent let us pray ‘in joyful hope’ with and for our ever-widening circle of friends.
Words: Loreto Ministries Mission Director, Anne Muirhead