Launch of Project Compassion 2012

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Launch of Project Compassion 2012
21st February 2012

One of the privileges that have come my way during my time as Chairman of Caritas Australia has been to make two visits to the new country of Timor Leste (East Timor) in 2001 and again in 2006 to speak with the Bishop of Dili, and to offer support to those who are involved in the initiatives which are funded by Caritas Australia.

I well remember attending a meeting of the National Council of Caritas Australia in Sydney in the early days of my time with Caritas, and receiving up-to-the- minute reports over the phone of street fighting that was going on in the country back in 1999 when the nation was on the verge of civil war. Thankfully there has been a marked improvement since that time, but much needs to be done.

What I think we have to remember is that Timor Leste, was under the domination of foreign powers for 450 years, first with the Portuguese, and then the Indonesians, so that when the time came for the people to enjoy and exercise independence and their own destiny, they lacked the skills, the education and the infrastructure to make it all happen.

It seems strange to think that Timor Leste  is just one hour’s flight from Darwin, yet it seems as if there is an ocean as wide as the Pacific between the two countries. Thankfully that separation is breaking down. The presence of the Peace Keeping Force, under the leadership of General Peter Cosgrove, was a very positive contribution to the emerging nation. In the past  ten years, closer links have been formed between the Australian Church and the Church in East Timor. Two years ago, Bishop Riccardo, the Bishop of Dili, was a very honoured guest at a meeting of the Bishops of Oceania, which took place in Sydney.

Another strong link has been formed through the presence in Timor Leste of Caritas Australia, along with some of the religious congregations. I know that the Salesians, the Christian Brothers, the Sisters of St. Joseph are all very involved in helping the local people improve their education, and giving them a chance to be more-self reliant.

Caritas Australia has maintained a presence in the capital Dili for over 20 years. Most of those who are employed, are local Timor Leste men and women and they manage the various programmes which Caritas Australia supports throughout the country.

The cover person for the Project Compassion literature this year is a lady from the enclave Occussi, which is a separate area located geographically in West Timor, but which actually belongs to Timor Leste. Flabiana is clearly one of the women who have strong leadership qualities, and with the help of Caritas Australia, has been able to set up a co-operative system which enables local residents to plant crops, increase the number of domestic animals, produce food for sale in the local markets.

As a result, Flabiana has been able to fund improvements in her own house, and to send her children to school, giving them the chance of a better education, which eventually will open up greater possibilities for their future. It was sad to learn that her hushand Joao died shortly after the filming of the DVD, but it was clear he had not been a well man for some time.

Other initiatives which are highlighted in the promotional material this year are centres on Caritas Australia initiative along the Thai-Burma border, Zimbabwe, Mindanao in the Philippines, Lima, Peru and here among our own people in the Kimberley’s. It makes very impressive reading and I am very proud of what Caritas is able to achieve.

I wish to thank all those who take a particular responsibility for the promotion of Project Compassion in the Archdiocese, in the parishes, in the schools and colleges in particular. A very special thanks to our Diocesan Director, Pat O’Halloran, for whom this particular part of the year is the busiest of all.

I wish to acknowledge the wonderful financial support that Caritas received in Tasmania last year, with $156,000 being donated during Project Compassion, and the overall financial support reaching $379,000 which includes the amount of $120,000 for the special appeal in East Africa. Both amounts show an increase on the donations of the previous year.

In Australia last year, the amount of $9.75m was donated during Project Compassion, a truly remarkable sum, and an indication that Caritas has earned the respect of the Australian and the wider community, something that is irreplaceable. In the past years, there have been some serious natural disasters, such as the floods in Queensland, and the bushfires in Victoria, but the support for Caritas has remained strong and improved each year.

The theme for Project Compassion this year is “If you want peace, work for justice.” They are the words of Pope Paul VI who had a great deal to say about the issues of justice and peace which are still serious issues today.

The Pope would have taken his inspiration from the words of St James: “Faith that does not lead to good deeds is all alone and dead.” I believe that we understand fully the significance of that message, and I am sure that we are all prepared to put it into practice this year again. I am very pleased to launch, for the last time as Chairman of Caritas Australia, Project Compassion, 2012, and commend it to your strong support once again.