Faith and friendship connect and enrich international communities

09 Jun 2022

By Michelle Tan

Bishop Don with diplomatic visitors
Image 1: Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton presents Consul General of Timor-Leste, His Excellency Luciano Valentim da Conceicao, with a gift. Photo: Michelle Tan.
Image 2: From L to R: Ms Croina Reyes, First Secretary, Philippine Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Hellen De La Vega, Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, and Ms Virma Symons, Philippine Consul of Perth. Photo: Michelle Tan.

Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton has last week welcomed Consul General of Timor-Leste, His Excellency Luciano Valentim da Conceição, and Philippine Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Hellen De La Vega.

The two meetings discussed how connections between the local church and the Catholic faith have enriched their communities.

Consul General Luciano explained that East Timor shares half an island with Indonesia and most of its population (99 per cent of 1.4 million) are Roman Catholics.

As the largest Roman Catholic nation in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region, his people’s faith has remained steadfast through the generations, even as they celebrate 20 years of independence from a “long time of painful sufferings”.

“After my parents were killed by the Indonesian army, I lived with 40 other children between the ages of eight to 14 and we were supported by the Salesian missionaries during the occupation.

“The priest in charge sent me to the seminary but one day I was arrested by the Indonesian army. This made me realise that maybe God had a different plan for me, not to enter the priesthood but to do other things for my country and my people. Since then, I have dedicated my life as an independent activist.

“I came to the Archdiocese today because Australia is our neighbour and we have a lot of cooperation and common interests. However, 20 years have passed since East Timor’s independence and the younger Australian generation do not know about the history of East Timor. So, I am asking the Archdiocese of Perth for moral support to see how we can introduce East Timor’s history into the WA Catholic school curriculum.”

Bishop Don agreed and said that “it is very dangerous when a generation comes that doesn’t know the history and that history can easily be lost. We have a good relationship with Catholic Education of Western Australia so we will discuss how this can be taught in future”.

Bishop Don also acknowledged that the Salesians have had a big impact on the Timorese people.

“Bishop Belo really was a hero to many people, even here in Australia. He was a remarkable man, and the Church has certainly grown since the days that he was appointed Bishop and now we have an Archbishop from East Timor who has been just appointed a cardinal. It’s going to be for the good of the Church to have a greater number of voices.”

At the end of the meeting, Mr Luciano said that “Australian priests, nuns and bishops have been very supportive of East Timorese people” and he invited the Archbishop, Bishop and other clergy from the Archdiocese of Perth to visit and form a closer bond with the Catholic community in East Timor.

Later that afternoon, Bishop Don had afternoon tea with representatives from the Philippines.

Ambassador Hellen was accompanied by Ms Virma Symons, Philippine Consul of Perth, and Ms Croina Reyes, First Secretary.

They toured St Mary’s Cathedral and the Pro-Cathedral and took a moment to pray and reflect in the Lady’s Chapel.

Ambassador Hellen was in Perth to wrap up the year-long celebrations of 75 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Philippines.
The theme for the celebration, Bayanihan which means ‘mateship’, was launched in 2021 in Manila, on Australia Day.

She presented a gift commemorating the 75 years to Bishop Don which reflected distinct elements of the two national flags, the Commonwealth Star and the Philippine sun, symbolising shared values and friendship.

During the meeting, she thanked the Archdiocese for supporting Filipinos, both locally in Perth and in the Philippines. She made special mention of the concert that fundraised for the victims of Typhoon Odette.

Bishop Don concluded that “being open to traditions and cultures such as the Filipino community enriches the local parish faith. For example, when local churches and parishioners participate in Simbang Gabi, the sharing of food and music keeps young ones close to the Church and creates harmony between faith and culture”.

To learn more about the Embassy of the Philippines in Australia, visit: 

Sydney PCG, NSW | Philippine Embassy of Canberra Australia (

To learn more about the Embassy of Timor-Leste in Australia, visit: 

Embassy of Timor-Leste in Canberra | Facebook