Fr Peter Puthenkandam’s path to the priesthood began as a primary schoolboy in his native India, where it took two hours to walk there and back to Mass every Sunday with his mother “without fail”, reports the Catholic Religious Australia website.
It was a journey that eventually took him as a missionary priest to Timor Leste, a country so undeveloped you can’t even walk to most parishes, but need a four-wheel drive to reach them.
“Without them it’s impossible to reach village communities in any part of Timor Leste,” he says. ”To get from Dili to the most southerly parish, Fohorem, in the dry season can take nine hours.
“In the rainy season it depends on a four-wheel drive – and luck. To get from the principal town of my diocese, Maliana, to the capital Dili, a distance of 120km, takes four hours.”
Fr Puthenkandam cfm was brought to Australia by the Australasian Catholic Press Association as its special guest at its recent annual conference in Adelaide. Caritas met the cost of the exercise.
One of the highlights of his visit was meeting the conference guest speaker, General Peter Cosgrove, (pictured together) who had led the international forces (INTERFET) in a peacekeeping mission when the United Nations intervened in East Timor in the 1990s.
Fr Puthenkandam recalls the turmoil when the Indonesian administration withdrew from East Timor. “Originally, when asked by my superior in 1992 to go to Timor, I was very reluctant to leave India,” he says. “But, of course, it was a matter of obedience.
“Now I have a deeper realisation of the truth: that He who called me to be a missionary cares, plans and led me and leads me at the cross roads and dead ends of my life of 20 years in Timor Leste; for example the care and hospitality I received from the catechists in the parish of Bobonaro from 1991-94.
FULL STORY A priestly path to East Timor (CRA)