Where Their Souls Once Wept

By Memen Lauzon

Recently, Memen Lauzon made a return visit to East Timor. Memen Lauzon works for international Dialogue, a non government organization based in the Philippines which helps to build solidarity in places like East Timor. She shares with us her return journey to East Timor and her great appreciation of the work of Filipino Missionaries there. Se mentioned many of these missionaries but for editorial reason I have been forced to cut them down. But I can assure you her respect for each and every one of them is unbounded. (Ed).

On my return visit to East Timor I made sure to visit the Dominican Sisters, the Salesian, the Maryknoll Sisters in Aileu, the Canossians, the St. Paul Sisters and the Claretian priests in Suai. I was particularly struck by my sojourn to Suai, my first time ever in two years of work in East Timor. Suai is one of the most perilous areas on the border separating East and West Timor we had a medical team for the place at the time of the referendum but he conditions prevented our Filipino doctors from reaching the area. I myself failed to get there at that time. Suai turned out to be the site of the scariest massacre in East Timor. Three Catholic priests were murdered by pro-Indonesian paramilitary. One of them was a newly ordained Jesuit who had spent his theology studies in the Philippines. About 300 inhabitants were hacked to death and burned on church grounds. I came to see the exact spot where the horrible brutality was perpetrated.

Where their souls once wept

The Memorial Day in Suai was highlighted by a Requiem Mass and a vigil beginning on the eve of the Massacre’s anniversary to recall the memory of the victims, to gray for them and to mourn with their bereaved families. There was also a re-enactment of the event. There eve of the anniversary came to be both gloomy and dramatic. Wailing women and children gathered in the churchyard with lighted candles and floral wreaths all over the place. I felt some goose bumps all over as I walked through the exact site of the bloodbath and thought of the corpses scattered there and the Timorese priests who came to be martyrs. I could almost sense there cry for justice.

I will rebuild my Church...

Amidst the turmoil, a lot of healing and rebuilding has to be done. The Filipino Claretian Missionaries and the Saint Paul Sisters in Suai have been doing a good job along this line. For instance, the outgoing parish priest Fr. Rene Manubag, CMF has managed wit modest means to reconstruct the burnt church and the adjacent convent and put up with the locals a beautiful indigenous multi-purpose community center.

Fr. Rene has been aggressive himself in organizing parish activities and workshops towards communal healing. When I talked to small children while we were walking down a street to go to church, I introduced myself as a Filipino and to my surprise they happily expressed in chorus a familiar chant we use in the Philippines as “ice-breaker” during seminars. I learned that it was Fr. Rene who taught them. In glee, I joined them in reciting the chant as we walk back to church.

The best out of worst times

I was glad to see and meet other religious Filipino missionaries for the occasion, the Claretians - Fathers Ric and Cyrus and seminarians Brothers Edwin and Rey, the Jesuit Brother Joey and the Divine Word missionary Fr. Efren, the St. Paul Sisters community, Sisters Carmen, Constance,, Annette and Vicky who welcomed me in their house, Sr. Violeta, a Filipino Canossian Sister, who had many interesting stories to tell and till a number of others whose names I failed to take note. It was indeed a memorial day for all, a fitting day to recollect the ill-tidings of the past and the joy for the best that was brought out of people in the worst of times. I was jubilant to have the acquaintance of all and thanked God that these people made it through. They stuck it out in East Timor amidst the poverty and destruction.

Hats off to Filipino missionaries

In recent days, reports of renewed paramilitary violence broke out in West Timor where East Timorese refugees are still held up. Three UN aid workers were killed precipitating again heightened feelings of insecurity especially along the border notwithstanding the presence of UN peacekeeping forces. I am confident that the Filipino Missionaries won’t be cowed. They will endure to stay on with the people they have chosen to serve just as they did in 1999. I bow before them for their courageous spirit. There is so much about them that is admirable and worth emulating. I am humbled by their example. I could only pray hard that they may be able to sustain their apostolic work in all wisdom and fortitude.
With national pride, I could say that one of the most beautiful things that happened to the people of East Timor is there encounter with the Filipino religious missionaries who nourished a long suffering people and imbibed them faith, hope, passion and commitment.