The Yass region has been blessed over the years by Priests who have lived and worked in our community.
Father Mick Burke continued the tradition for the past 12 years and is now saying goodbye to open a new chapter in his life.
Father Burke has been a priest for the past 48 years spending time in many Parishes across Australia.
He was stationed in Bega before coming to Yass and took over the role here from Father Laurie Bent.
Father Burke has a wide area to look after as the region includes Murrumbateman, Gunning and Wee Jasper as well.
“I didn’t really choose to come to Yass. I was told that I was the person to come to Yass. It’s been a wonderful experience I can tell you,” said Father Burke.
“I think Yass, Gunning and this region has extraordinary potential for the future and wonderful people too.”
Father Burke has planned to go to Central Australia for some time to reflect and start a new chapter in his life and will be leaving the Yass region at the end of December.
“The difficulty is that covid-19 has put a dampener on my plans. My plans initially were to live with Aboriginal people in Central Australia so that I could learn more about Aboriginal Spirituality,” said Father Burke.
However, current restrictions have altered these plans.
Father Burke stated that while the plans have changed, he will be taking long service leave of around three months and spending two of them at a friend’s retreat in Alice Springs called Campfire in The Heart.
After that time, he is trying to organise a month in Timor-Leste.
“My heart is very much with the Timorese. Things are getting worse rather than getting better (for them),” said Father Burke who has been involved with the country of Timor-Leste since 2004 and usually tried to visit twice a year.
This has stopped this year due to the outbreak of COVID-19, but Father Burke is hoping to go early next year.
“It has been all organised for me to an extent to be able to fly from Darwin to Dili. Then I may have to isolate for a couple of weeks when I come back; they are working that out through the Northern Territory government. But I’m having difficulty because of my age getting insurance,” said Father Burke.
His passion for Timor-Leste has been brought to the local Church community with the formation of the Yass Gunning Belun. Belun is a Timorese word for friendship, and the group has raised over half a million dollars reaching out to the poor in the country.
The Yass Gunning Belun is a group that formed through Father Burkes efforts, and he will continue to be involved after leaving Yass.
The money raised by the Yass Gunning Belun has gone towards many projects in Timor-Leste. Oecusse is an enclave in West Timor but is actually a part of East Timor.
It is here they have built clinics for the treatment of tuberculosis and leprosy.
The funds raised have also gone towards training people such as Nurse Practitioners and Obstetricians.
“Timor-Leste has a serious infant mortality rate,” said Father Burke.
The money also goes toward helping the blind. With the help of the Japanese embassy training centres and offices for the blind are being built.
Father Burke has been involved with projects for the blind for five years and says his ‘heart is very much with the Timorese.
When asked if he was concerned with COVID-19 and travelling to Timor-Leste Father Burke said: “COVID hasn’t really hit Timor so I couldn’t care less.”
After finishing his long service leave, Father Burke will take up his next station looking after Bungendore, Braidwood and Gundaroo.
“Normally I would retire because I’m 73, but I can’t see myself retired. I need to be doing things,” said Father Burke.
He stated that his intentions here in Yass were to open up the Churches buildings to the whole community, not just Catholics.
Yass Gymnastics along with occupational therapy, and a psychologist all use the Churches grounds to benefit the community.
The Lovat Chapel is also planned to become an art centre where the community can hold things such as musical performances in the future.
“The development since I’ve come here is quite extraordinary,” said Father Burke.
“The most disappointing thing to me was the closure of the secondary school at Mt Carmel. The joy was making several lasting friendships and also that our people have responded in such an extraordinary way to the development in Timor-Leste.”
While Father Burke is leaving the region, a new priest has already been appointed his position to take over. Father Peter My, a Vietnamese priest, will be joining the Yass community and will look to continue the work of the Catholic Church.
By Ryan Betts