Father Peter James Alindogan, diocesan missions director, seated second from left, meets with Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, S.D.B., of Dili, Timor-Leste, seated left, and other bishops of the province. Photos courtesy of Father Alindogan
Father Peter James Alindogan, diocesan missions director, seated second from left, meets with Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, S.D.B., of Dili, Timor-Leste, seated left, and other bishops of the province. Photos courtesy of Father Alindogan
Editor’s Note: Following is a reflection from Father Peter James R. Alindogan’s visit to East Timor earlier this year. Father Alindogan visits a mission country each year as part of his role as diocesan director of missions.

The Communion line seemed endless that Sunday at a church in Dili, East Timor. It had been almost 10 minutes since I began distributing the Body of our Lord.

“Where were these people coming from?” I thought to myself. The church was small to accommodate them. Another 10 minutes passed, and I had the last communicant.

Dili is the capital city in East Timor. It is also called Timor Leste, its Portuguese name. Two decades ago, its residents had their nationwide referendum and decided to be an independent country. History unfolded for this tiny South Pacific nation that the whole world took notice of in the late 1990s. Their key leaders, José Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for their efforts in achieving independence from Indonesia.

On Sept. 11, 2019, Dili was elevated as an archdiocese with two suffragan dioceses, Baucau and Maliana. Since their independence in 2002, and despite having as their currency the American dollar, poverty is a big problem, with half of the population unemployed and living on less than a dollar a day.

It took us more than six hours to visit the Diocese of Maliana. We had to drive through winding valleys and climb steep mountains to reach the seminary, which is situated in a co-ed campus for high school students. A bridge was still being constructed as our Pajero jeep waded across one river. We visited schools and orphanages along the way, and I was moved by the appeals for help.

Their needs are very basic – a library and a laboratory for one school, a concrete fence for one orphanage. Some of the schools have thatched roofing. Others have galvanized iron. The day before we left for Maliana, we visited a two-room building for preschoolers. It was perched on top of a hill overlooking the bay. The breeze was steady, which lowered the humidity. The children had desks and chairs made of plastic. And barely, just barely, did they have any educational toys.

An Australian volunteer was kind enough to order a box of crayons, a pad of writing paper and some baby blocks shape sorter toys for the youngsters. Seeing the smiles on their faces got me thinking back to five decades ago, when I was their age and living in the Philippines. My toys were sticks and stones – plus some stray cans and soda bottles.

Their needs, like ours, may be endless. But, their needs are more immediate. From the library and laboratory that they hoped to have, how many of these East Timorese students might end up one day as scholars, teachers and doctors? From the orphans and the nuns who hoped to have a concrete fence around their house, how many of them might be able to sleep soundly some nights, having already some kind of security in place?

The threat of being infected with the coronavirus when I visited was real. But, it was worth the risk because I wanted to see and experience how they practiced their faith. I was impressed. The East Timorese Catholics, which comprise more than 90 percent of the country’s population, are very religious and faithful. Seldom do they miss a Sunday Mass.

So, where did those people at Communion time come from when I celebrated that Mass? Apparently, they had gathered around the church perimeter to attend Mass. They brought their own plastic stools, perhaps the same stools they use regularly at home. They also brought their sense of reverence and respect to God, who does not see any difference between a church pew or a plastic stool. They brought with them my hopes and prayers for the future.

Somehow, our continued efforts, as part of the universal Church through the missions, are coming to fruition in the churches being built, in the Catholic schools and orphanages being run, and in the scores of seminarians following the command of Jesus, the greatest missionary, to spread the Good News of his love.

It was the crown of Jesus’s love that the parishioners of East Timor received for Communion that Sunday.

It is unabating and endless. It was and is still, God’s mission.