The Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Thurgoona, near Albury in the Wagga Wagga Diocese, has embarked on an ambitious fundraising campaign to assist the people of East Timor, including helping young East Timorese attend World Youth Day.
Thurgoona's Fr John Fowles CCS and Fr Joel Wallace CCS (Confraternity of Christ the Priest) came up with the idea of having a 'fly-a-thon' - the circumnavigation of Australia by Fr Fowles in May 2008 - as a means of raising awareness.
'The 'Fly-Away-to-Heaven' initiative emerged purely from the necessity to give back,' Fr Fowles said. 'The Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish has already completed a myriad of campaigns to raise funds, including two 'Highway to Heaven' truck raffles, numerous other fundraisers such as parish balls and the stage musical 'The Call of Guadalupe', which have resulted in the beautiful church dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a parish centre and presbytery.
'Now it is time to hand on the blessings we have received through the generosity of others. It is our turn to give, and after considerable reflection, we have chosen to support the people of East Timor as worthy recipients of our charity. In turn, this commitment sparked the concept of a 'fly-a- thon'.'
Providentially, an anonymous benefactor, without solicitation, unexpectedly donated a $70,000 build-yourself-kit aircraft to the project.
Fr Fowles has spent many of his Mondays (traditionally a priest's day off) over the last three years building the Jabiru aircraft, assisted by a band of helpers. Named 'Angel Wings' the plane took its maiden flight in July to the Wide Bay Airshow in Bundaberg, Queensland.
Not long afterwards, Fr Fowles attended a special Retreat in Birmingham, Alabama, the home of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). While there, he was interviewed on the program 'Life On The Rock' and spoke about World Youth Day 2008 and the aims of the Fly-Away-to-Heaven Project. He was also invited to meet Mother Angelica and the sisters at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.
Earlier, after a visit to East Timor, one of the founding team members, Mrs Pauline Pascoe, prepared a mission statement and song documenting both the project's objectives and the plight of the East Timorese people. This song, 'Angel Wings', was performed within the parish.
After some time, both the song and the mission statement reached the hands of Australian country music artist, Korey Livy. Keen to lend support, Korey discussed the project with fellow songwriter, Vanessa Selwyn, and veteran country music producer/songwriter Roger Corbett. Together, they were inspired to write another song, 'Earth Angels Care', as their interpretation of the parish's commitment to this worthy cause.
'The generosity that the project spontaneously engendered has confirmed in our opinion that the country wants to identify with the people of East Timor in their struggle for independence and self-reliance', Fr Fowles said.
'We see ourselves, in some ways, like the 'rich man' of the Gospel and the Timorese people like the poor Lazarus. Like that rich man we are challenged to help poor Lazarus. It is a matter of justice. Furthermore, we feel a debt of honour is owed to the people of East Timor who stood by the Australian Diggers, hiding and supporting them in the fight against the Japanese when they were cut off from their command in the defence of Australia, during the Second World War.
'Australians today are fighting their own battle against another enemy, materialism, which erodes an appreciation of basic values that families once were able to instil in their children. To rediscover these basic family values we need to be challenged to go beyond ourselves to serve the downtrodden and in doing so, find new meaning and purpose in our lives.
'To this end we invite you to come on board the 'Fly-Away-to- Heaven' project, to help 'Angel Wings' in rebuilding a link with our closest neighbour - a link that will return benefits immeasurable in material wealth but invaluable in true freedom.
'We can learn the real meaning of what it is to be free by releasing others from the oppression of poverty and ignorance. It is by way of service and through the gift of self that we will rediscover the truth about life itself.
'I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who have been, continue to be, or are soon to be involved in supporting this worthy cause,' Fr Fowles said.
The Fly-Away-to-Heaven project can be assisted in a number of ways:
* by raising awareness of the project among others;
* by purchasing and listening to the theme song 'Earth Angels Care' (the CD can be purchased for $7.95);
* by making a direct donation;
* by encouraging sponsorships per kilometre from within your own community or organisation.
Further information on this project can be found on the project website: www.fly awaytoheaven.com.au where credit card facilities are available for donations. Cheques can be forwarded, made payable to: 'Fly Away to Heaven', PO Box 110, Lavington, NSW 2641. For any additional inquiries please contact (02) 6043-2222.