Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers has urged Catholic school students across Sydney to reflect more deeply on the challenges faced by communities living in poverty overseas and look at practical ways to offer ongoing help to them throughout the school year.
Bishop Umbers travelled to Timor-Leste in January where he was a guest of Caritas Australia and had an opportunity to see first-hand the work the aid agency is doing to empower local communities in one of the poorest nations in the world.
From shelters for women fleeing domestic violence through to sustainable agriculture programs and low-interest loans for local businesses, Bishop Umbers has seen the tangible impact Caritas is having on lifting generations of people out of poverty in one of Australia’s closest neighbours.
Bishop Umbers visited three Catholic schools across Sydney during Lent to share his insights from the visit with students and staff, alongside Caritas’ Associate Communications Director, Nicole Chehide.
The two explained how their contributions through Caritas’ Project Compassion can make a real difference in the lives of the people of Timor-Leste.
“We are indeed very fortunate here in Sydney and that then makes us responsible to share what we have with others …”
At Casimir Catholic College in Marrickville, Bishop Umbers told a hall-full of senior students that through responding to the call to help those in greatest need, we can in turn draw closer to Christ.
“Jesus is asking us to be more and more like him and in as much as we strive to be Christ-like, we really discover what it is to be fully human, living in true relationship with others”, he said.
“We are indeed very fortunate here in Sydney and that then makes us responsible to share what we have with others, seeking to live good lives and understanding who God is and emulating the love of God.”
Ms Chehide explained to the students that the reach of Caritas’ mission extends across 163 countries around the world, from responding to natural disasters including earthquakes and droughts in Haiti and Somalia to longer-term programs passing on sustainable agricultural techniques to communities in Afghanistan.
In Timor-Leste, she said the empowerment of women is a key priority for the aid agency.
“Womens’ shelters are a very prominent part of our work there and one in four women in Timor-Leste experience some form of abusive violence. But our support extends beyond just offering the women protection and we are focused on ensuring that these women can go on and flourish in their lives through education and employment opportunities,” Ms Chehide added.
Bishop Umbers and Ms Chehide also spoke to students and staff at St Joan of Arc Primary in Haberfield and Gallilee Primary in Bondi about the challenges facing Timor-Leste and how Caritas is responding to them.
Bishop Umbers told the students the unfailing hospitality shown by the people of Timor-Leste, despite their daily struggles, is indeed a lesson to us all.
“The people were always very generous, even thought they were very poor, but would always give the very best they had to visitors,” he said.
“… I always try and build up that relationship between the Bishop and the school which has such a positive impact on the children.”
The Principal of Gallilee Primary school in Bondi, Brian Anderson, said the senior students enjoyed learning more about the on-the-ground efforts of Caritas in Timor-Leste and also welcoming Bishop Umbers back to the school.
“The Bishop confirmed our Year 6 students here last year and also celebrated our 20th anniversary recently and as Principal, I always try and build up that relationship between the Bishop and the school which has such a positive impact on the children,” he said.
“The children here generally come from very blessed households and their families are conscious of that.
“They want to do what they can to support Project Compassion in countries like Timor-Leste, to help our children appreciate that not all children in the world have the same opportunities as them.”