Subject: UCAN: Foreign Missioner Uses Traditional Medicine To Treat The Sick

ET03993.1475 December 13, 2007 63 EM-lines (694 words)

EAST TIMOR Foreign Missioner Uses Traditional Medicine To Treat The Sick

ATAURO, East Timor (UCAN) -- An Italian missioner is running a medical service that utilizes fruit, herbs and plants to treat sick residents on an impoverished island off the coast of East Timor.

Father Francisco Mozer, 69, told UCA News he established the traditional medical service on Atauro Island to take advantage of local herbs that are good for the health and contain no harmful chemical substances.

Local women use materials such as plant stems, roots and leaves that are found on the island to make the traditional medicines, which they use to treat coughs, malaria, pneumonia and physical injuries. They also put together nutritional supplements for undernourished children. The ingredients include pineapple, peanuts, honey, banana and aloe.

Dengue fever, respiratory-tract infections and diarrhea are common in East Timor, or Timor Leste, as well as malaria.

Father Mozer stresses that the local community has severely limited access to hospitals and clinics because of the lack of roads and reliance on footpaths on the rugged island. He hopes the traditional medical service can help reach sick people in need. After the priest and his compatriot, Father Pier Luije Fornazier, about four years younger, first arrived on the island in 2004, they asked Canossian Sister Domingas da Silva Sousa to train five women volunteers.

The current program director, Natalia de Araujo, 50, is in charge of 15 volunteers. "It started with no funds, and we just volunteered for the training," she told UCA News recently.

She recalled that she wanted "to help improve the health of the poor in the area, especially children under 5 years old, and thank God the program is still going on."

As part of the project, the volunteers tend a 100-square-meter garden stocked with various plants used in traditional medicines.

Atauro, 27 kilometers north of Dili, has beautiful beaches and good fishing but is underdeveloped. This 25-kilometer-long island, whose name means "goat" in the local language, is also somewhat unique in East Timor, where Catholics form about 96 percent of the 1 million population. Sixty percent of Atauro's 8,664 people are Protestants, a result of the arrival of a Dutch Calvinist mission from Alor Island, 45 kilometers west of Atauro, in the early 20th century. Catholicism arrived several decades later, in the 1950s.

Health is an important subject on the Dili government's agenda. It has sent hundreds of students to Cuba to study medicine, so they can serve the people when they return. The world's newest country is struggling to build its infrastructure since becoming fully independent in 2002.

Father Mozer's medicines offer a cheap alternative to Western pharmaceutical medicine, and without the potential side effects, for the more common medical problems affecting Atauro's people, mostly subsistence farmers and fisher folk. Typically, they are drunk in liquid form or applied on the skin, sometimes with massage.

Belarmino Maia Tavares, 45, told UCA News the medicine healed a troubling injury he had sustained while farming. "I had a long-time wound on my knee and had taken different medicines, but it did not get better until I tried the traditional medicine," he said. During his two weeks of treatment, he took an oral medicine and applied another to his wound. "Now my wound is cured and I can work again to feed my family."

The medication is offered to the local community at a cheap price.

De Araujo said one bottle of liquid medication sells for US$0.25, but those who cannot afford even this can have the medicine for free. "We use the money to help support the volunteer members' families and to buy materials for the preparation of the medicine," she said.

Fathers Mozer and Fornazier belong to Trento (Trent) archdiocese and neighboring Bolzano diocese, both in northern Italy. They serve abroad as part of the continuing response to Fidei Donum (gift of faith), an encyclical Pope Pius XII issued in 1957 that encourages dioceses to send their priests abroad as missioners.

They now run several projects on Atauro including evangelization in remote areas and construction of new churches. They also oversee handicrafts groups formed by youths, and women and their husbands.

END


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