A Filipino, who was a medical doctor before he entered the Society of Jesus, has been a missionary for the last 20 years in East Timor, Asia's youngest nation.
Father Martin Abad Santos says that the gift of poverty helps him in his pastoral work.
Sharing his stories about his pastoral work, he says, “I always thank God for this gift of poverty because it helps me in my vocation as a Jesuit.”
Father Martin is the superior of the Jesuit community in Railaco, in the province of Ermera, which is one of the municipalities of East Timor, located in the west-central part of the country.
Ermera is about 40 km from Dili, the capital of Timor Leste. Ermera is well-known as the municipality with the biggest coffee production in the country and some of it is exported internationally. Besides, Ermera produces vegetables and fruits.
Jesuits manage the Our Lady of Fatima Church in Railaco. The parish has 12 mission stations.
“Before I entered the Jesuits in 1988, I finished my degree as a medical doctor and I entered as a doctor in the Society of Jesus. My first mission started in 2002,” he says.
As a medical doctor, he could have earned a lot of money, but he gave it up for the sake of the gospel. In his testimony, he tells how the vow of poverty and the service of the poor have allowed him to focus his life on the essential. Not on what preoccupies so many people, the accumulation of goods and personal achievement, but the desire to be a “good shepherd” for his flock.
He was sent to East Timor to work, and he was sent to one place only, in Railaco.
“So since then, until now, I am in the same place in East Timor, in Railaco,” he adds.
One of the vows or promises, Jesuits, like other Catholic religious congregations or orders take is poverty.
“I only knew about this vow [poverty] and it became more clear and clear over time. You never get to deepen your understanding of a certain thing if you do not try to live it,” Martin says.
“So if I did [not] enter the Society, I would [not] get to know about poverty. So, right now, it’s among the three vows; it’s helping me focus my life on the essential things,” he adds.
And what is essential for him is to follow the will of God.
“I always thank God for this gift of poverty because it helps me in my vocation as a Jesuit and as a priest trying to be a shepherd to my people,” he says.
And it gives him focus not being concerned with other things, like how he should live, how he should comport himself in front of the people.
“This vow is for me, it is liberating. So the challenge now is, of course, that the world is very consumeristic. It is very concerned with a lot of things, especially on living and succeeding, and amassing a lot of things,” he explains.
So with this vow, one will get to be liberated from these concerns in a way. So it is not that he is liberated, but desir[ing] to grow more in the vow of poverty.
“I am less and less concerned with what the world would be concerned about—how to earn more money, how to be more famous, and how to be the greatest of all time. So, with this vow of poverty, you just come to think that all things boil to service,” he says.
“Are you faithful to living in accordance to what the Lord wants and you live as Jesus lives?” he asks.
Jesus is [not] concerned – as the way the world is concerned. But Jesus is concerned in terms of looking at the people, as a shepherd looks at his flock and he wants to take care—a look of love, Father Martin says.
“That is the main challenge now because the world is going in one way. But of course, if you want to live out there, you probably go another way. So, eventually, there are a lot of conflicts. But, at least when I get to meet these conflicts with the grace of God, I can overcome them,” the Jesuit says.
Father Martin and his Jesuit community help the people in Railaco with the welfare, healthcare, pharmacy, nutrition, and educational needs of their children since 2004.
The Jesuits support a feeding program for babies and young children, a mobile medical clinic that visits remote communities, and 11 specially-trained teachers at the secondary school.
There are as many as 375 students in classes from years 10 – 12 with 24 teachers and 7 non-teaching staff at the school.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony up until 1975 and was under Indonesian sovereignty from 1976 to 1999. On May 20, 2002, East Timor achieved its formal independence.
Upon withdrawal of the Indonesian Occupation Forces at the turn of this century, the East Timorese people were left without any government, teachers, doctors, civil servants, and any form of enterprise. Not only scorched earth but the East Timorese people were left with virtually nothing.
Since 2004, the Jesuits in Railaco joined the East Timorese people on their long road to building better lives by creating opportunities and bringing hope to people.
The missionaries help improve the lives of the families of Railaco and give them hope for a brighter future, says Father Martin.
East Timor, a Catholic-majority country, has a population of 1.3 million.
The country's president-elect Jose Ramos-Horta will be sworn in on May 20, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence. - With reporting from Jennibeth Sabay / Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific
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