Soibada Update - Our Lady of Aitara

The Marian Shrine of the Timorese people. 


There were amazing developments in Soibada the past couple of weeks. They have finally got mobile phone coverage in the village. No longer do I have to wait for Father Abel and Sister Maryanne to trek up the mountain to send their text messages! In a bizarre technological twist, Father Abel and I are now friends on “Facebook” and communicate regularly! The prospects for our community’s interaction with the people in Soibada are growing enormously! This week I received some wonderful photos from Soibada of the recent  annual pilgrimage there.

Timor Leste’s President, Jose Ramos Horta says that Christianity is the reason that Timor Leste has a strong national identity. He is well known as a deeply religious man and sees it as imperative that the Government develop a strong relationship with the church for the country to move forward. He almost died after being shot by a gang of armed rebels last year. He experienced a spiritual epiphany as the blood seeped from his wounds whilst waiting for the ambulance. He feels that God has given him a second chance at life to assist his country and help his people move towards peace. He says that he had an apparition and heard a voice telling him that it was not his time to die.

In many countries a political leader would be criticised for such a public affirmation of faith. Things are different in Timor Leste, he is admired and it has enhanced his ability to do his job. Even before the Portuguese introduced Catholicism, the Timorese were a strongly Spiritual people. They already had a relationship with God. Jorge da Cruz da Silva, a writer from Soibada, says that the establishment of the Catholic mission in the Soibada could be looked upon as an 'alliance' between the Catholic religion and lulik. (Animist religion in Timor-Leste revolves around the spirits of the dead who are both feared and worshipped. These spirits are materialized through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious magical powers that can be either good or evil. In Timor these are called ‘Luliks’, which means sacred and intangible.)

Soibada is a legendary place. em Timor. Primeiro It is overlooked by the Aitara hill on which is a large banyan tree. About a mile from the village, this location was, in the past, and still is by some, considered to be lulik. Next to that tree there stands a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Aitara. . Apparently, on 16 October many many years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared to several women near that Banyan tree on the hill. As a result a shrine, a church, a convent, a college and a town were built over 100 years ago. It is a classic example of the Portuguese art of construction on top of treacherous steep hills in the middle of the dense jungle. A huge set of stairs stretches half way up the hill at the top of which is a more modern looking Chapel resting on the original Portuguese footings.

From the day of the Apparition the site on Aitara Hill has been a place of great religious significance to the Timorese people and the nation. This is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aitara. Every year there is a festival to celebrate the vision. Soibada is the destination of the yearly pilgrimage during which hundreds of people from all over Timor Leste to come visit the chapel. The devotion of the Timorese people to this site has been likened to that of people towards Fatima.

As people come from all over Timor they bring the crosses with them that will then stand all over the country side. A procession with the statue of Our Lady, from the Parish Church of Sacred Heart in the village to the Shrine on the hill begins at 8 am on 16 October. Mass is celebrated there, with the mountains behind the altar in the background.

President Jose Ramos Horta was educated in Soibada and makes many visits to this spiritual place. He considers one day that “Our Lady of Aitara” Shrine could become a destination of international peregrination. In order to attract foreign pilgrims much work needs to be done on such amenities as; roads, electricity, drinking water, communication networks, health and education. Thus, the Virgin Mary’s appearance could have the dual benefit for the village. Not only is it a wonderful spiritual place but the lives of the villagers could be enhanced by visitors to the site.

Although the Vision is not officially endorsed by the Catholic Church, its significance to the people of Timor Leste was acknowledged by Pope John Paul II in his message on the occasion of the declaration of Independence.

He said:

While I extend a cordial Apostolic Blessing to you all, I invoke on the authorities of the Democratic Republic of East Timor and those who will be working for a prosperous and peaceful, divine assistance and intercession of Mary Immaculate, lovingly raised by you under the title the 'Virgin of Aitara'.

Vaticano, 6 de Maio de 2002. Vatican, May 6, 2002.

IOANNES PAULUS II As we here in Pittwater strive to assist the people of Soibada and to develop a strong friendship with them, it is comforting to know that the Nossa Senhora de Aitara herself is keeping watch over the village.


Timor Leste Facts

“Our Lady of Aitara” is the National Marian Shrine.

It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared near a Banyan tree on Aitara hill above Soibada.

It is claimed that this resulted in the establishment of the chapel, church, school and village.


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Here is an interesting video:


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