This past Sunday marked the end of the liturgical season of Christmas. It may or may not have marked the last time we get to sing Feliz Navidad! Sunday was also Sr. Guilhermina’s Christmas Party and was a fitting conclusion to the season’s round of festivities.
This was no ordinary party. Think of it as a reunion for several hundred of your closest friends. Or a giant neighborhood block party, complete with a roasted pig, speeches, and entertainment from the guests. Think of invited dignitaries including President Ramos-Horta and several representatives from the international NGO community and the Australian and New Zealand peacekeeping force. Think of preparing all of that food in the Balide kitchen! All in all, it was quite the occasion.
Though this gathering has become an annual event, that eventuality was not part of the original vision. It began in a much darker time, as a sign of hope amidst fear and suspicion. During the civil unrest that began in 2006, there were thousands of people displaced by violence and its threat. It was particularly disheartening because this time it was only about the Timorese, neighbor against neighbor, no outside interference from Indonesia. IDP camps providing refuge and temporary shelter were put up throughout Dili, including one of the largest at the Balide convent. In the early days, Sr. Guilhermina and the sisters were on their own, doing what they could to find room for the people and scrounge food and necessities. As the weeks and months wore on, foreign governments and NGOs began to show up to help out. The word is that during the time of the Balide camp, which extended nearly three years, over 23,000 people were provided for. Sr. Guilhermina will tell you about all of the healthy babies that were born at Balide, over 100, mostly boys. This Christmas party began, with its home-grown entertainment and simple decorations and gifts for the kids and vision of hope, during that time, and its continuation is Sr. Guilhermina’s way of fostering and shaping those memories. It was gratifying to know that St. Thomas Aquinas School, due to the efforts of Karen Kasprzak and Mary Ann Vasievich and many parents and students, was able to help her out. May her efforts bear much fruit… [posted by David]