On Sunday 3 December, St Patrick’s Cathedral resounded with the voices of Melbourne’s East Timorese Catholic community, raised in song, as the community celebrated the Mass in their native language, Tetum, at the Cathedral for the first time.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr Nelson Fátima Gonçalves Salvador Soares, the community’s chaplain, and it was a beautiful opportunity for their choir to worship using the East Timorese hymns that they had been practising for several months.

More than 200 people were in attendance, and according to community member Deolinda Dacunha, it was ‘one of the biggest events that’s happened’ in their community in a while.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 5,000 people living in Victoria who are from Timor-Leste. Deolinda says that after the Indonesian invasion of their country in 1975, a small but tightly knit community formed in Melbourne and Sydney.

When Timor-Leste achieved independence in 1999, things changed. ‘After 1999, many of us went back home,’ she says.

Deolinda was one of those who went home, remaining in Timor-Leste for 15 years before finally returning to Melbourne to be with other family members who had decided to remain here.

Deolinda and others were looking forward to rebuilding the Melbourne Timorese community, but COVID-19 kept them apart for a few more years.

‘We want to get the community together like it was in previous years,’ she says. ‘Now we’re getting back together again, which is really good.’

We’ve started to unite everyone again through our faith. It’s not easy. It’s hard. But we’re doing it.

According to Deolinda, the community hopes to start having a more involved and active presence in the life of the Church in Melbourne.

‘We’ve started to unite everyone again through our faith. It’s not easy. It’s hard. But we’re doing it through our actions. I believe we can do it.’

Many in the East Timorese community already gather regularly to celebrate the Mass in Tetum at Holy Child Parish in Dallas, in Melbourne's north-west, and they hope there will be more opportunities to gather and worship together at the Cathedral in the future.