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Bathurst's Bishop Michael McKenna Opens Stunning New Chapel in Timor-Leste

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
4 Jul 2016

Laleia parish priest Frei Hermano Filipe (left), Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau (centre) and Bishop Michael McKenna (right) at the Mass

The feast of Our Lady Help of Christians in May was an especially momentous celebration for the Catholic community of Cairui in Timor-Leste with the blessing and dedication of their new St John de Brito chapel.

It is the first chapel in the country to reflect traditional Timorese style in its design, which was developed by partners in Portugal, with project and funding support from Catholic Mission.

Bishop Michael McKenna of Bathurst attended the dedication ceremony in the small township not far from coastal Baucau, 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 its 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," said Mr Deasy. "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 generous financial support of the project over the three years. The uniqueness of the chapel's design, he said, lent itself to being recognised throughout Timor-Leste as a national pilgrimage site.

The construction, which embraced a Timorese traditional style using modern building materials took four years, with the professional architectural and engineering support and the design of the scared space all provided on a pro bono basis by specialist firms and consultancies from Portugal.

"Perhaps most spectacular among the many unique design features is a "constellation" of 50 lenses," said Mr Deasy, "which project natural light onto the sanctuary and highlight the altar, tabernacle and baptismal font during Mass."
Other features clearly reflect the native Timorese environment, including: the sanctuary flooring and panelling, as well as the pews and kneelers, which are all made from locally grown teak; an expertly crafted mosaic depicting the Baptism of Jesus by St John the Baptist; large "basilica-style" entrance 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. He expressed his gratitude to Bishop do Nascimento and the Parish of Laleia for the opportunity to be part of such a visionary missionary project.

The chapel was blessed and dedicated on the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians

Presenting an icon of Our Lady Help of Christians by local Bathurst artist Mary Clancy, a gift to the community on behalf of the Bathurst Diocese, Bishop McKenna said the chapel was a clear sign of the resilience of the community and of their resounding faith.

A personal gift from the Bishop was a Eucharistic cruet set that was part of a diocesan clerical display and belonged to the late Father Hugh Delaney, a former Director of Catholic Schools and Vicar-General for the Diocese of Bathurst.
To honour the different nationalities present, the Gospel passage for the celebration, from St Matthew (16:13-20), was read in three languages-Tetum, Portuguese and English.

The six-day itinerary, which was prepared by Catholic Mission Immersions, provided Bishop McKenna with the opportunity to visit the St Peter and St Paul Major Seminary in the capital Dili, and engage with over 100 seminarians in prayer and discussion. "This final leg of the journey was particularly close to Bishop McKenna's heart," said Mr Deasy, "himself a former rector of the Corpus Christi College in Melbourne." 

Bishop McKenna was accompanied to Timor-Leste by Chris and Judy Dwyer of Orange; Carmen Beard, a member of the Bishop's personal staff; Rob Exner, Religious Education Coordinator and Director of Mission at St John's College, Dubbo; and Mr Deasy Deasy.