The feast of Our Lady Help of Christians last month was a momentous celebration for the Catholic community of Cairui in Timor-Leste with the blessing and dedication of the new St John de Brito chapel.
It is the country’s first chapel designed to reflect traditional Timorese style and developed by partners in Portugal, with project and funding support from Catholic Mission.
The Bishop of Bathurst, Bishop Michael McKenna, attended the dedication ceremony along with Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau, the Capuchin Provincial for Timor-Leste, Laleia parish priest Frei Hermano Filipe, and diocesan clergy.
Catholic Mission’s diocesan director for Bathurst Mike Deasy, who also attended the ceremony, said Cairui had been eagerly anticipating the new chapel for nearly a decade.
“This innovative project was ten years in the planning and looked to be an impossible dream until Bishop McKenna and his Council of Priests embraced the idea,” Mr Deasy said. “The diocese’s fundraising efforts over three Christmas appeals from 2012 to 2014 raised in excess of $130,000.”
Frei Filipe expressed his deep gratitude to Bishop McKenna and the diocese of Bathurst for its financial support of the project. The chapel’s unique design, he said, lent itself to being recognised throughout Timor-Leste as a national pilgrimage site.
“Perhaps most spectacular among the many unique design features is a ‘constellation’ of 50 lenses,” Mr Deasy said, “which project natural light onto the sanctuary and highlight the altar, tabernacle and baptismal font during Mass.”
Other features reflect the native Timorese environment, including the sanctuary flooring and panelling, as well as the pews and kneelers, made from local teak; a mosaic depicting the baptism of Jesus; large basilica-style doors partially covered in copper; an elevated series of small stained-glass windows featuring the flora and natural colours of the Timorese landscape; and a large timber cross and belltower in the chapel’s forecourt.
As part of the Eucharistic celebration for the dedication of the new church, Bishop McKenna sealed in the stone altar the relics of Capuchin saints Leopoldo de Mandic and Pio de Pietrelcina.
Presenting an icon of Our Lady Help of Christians by local Bathurst artist Mary Clancy, a gift to the community, Bishop McKenna said the chapel was a clear sign of the resilience of the community and of their resounding faith.
A Eucharistic cruet set that was part of a diocesan clerical display and belonged to the late Fr Hugh Delaney, former director of Catholic schools and Vicar-General for the Bathurst diocese, was a personal gift from the bishop.
Bishop McKenna later visited St Peter and St Paul Major Seminary in Dili, where he met with more than 100 seminarians.