Abuk Dut's devotion to Mary has sustained her through war, displacement and the many challenges of resettlement. And as a leader of the Legion of Mary, she has shared her faith and strength with others.
Can you tell me a little about your background?
I come from Aweil in South Sudan.
Was Aweil a Catholic town?
Yes. We were mostly Catholics.
Did you go to school when you were a young girl?
No. In my country, a lot of girls don’t go to school.
When did you leave Aweil?
I left Aweil in 1988 and lived in Khartoum for 12 years. Then we went to Alexandria before coming to Australia.
'I find the ladies are happy when they do the Legion of Mary. If you have a problem and you call me, I will tell my group to come to your house to pray.'
So when did you arrive in Australia?
We arrived on 26 December 2003. We had Christmas on the flight. I said some prayers on the plane and some other people joined me.
Can you tell me about the Legion of Mary?
When I came to Egypt. I joined the Legion of Mary. Our group would meet to pray together. In Egypt, Father gave me a certificate for my work with the Legion of Mary. He told me when you go, you have to pray.
And when I came to Sydney, I joined the Legion of Mary here after three months because I missed my group in Egypt. When I joined, I felt happy because I am sitting with the group and talking about the people in Iraq and Sudan and other places who are dying and then we pray to our Mother. We pray on Saturday at different houses and on Thursday in the church. It is very good to pray the rosary. I love the Legion of Mary.
How many people are in your Legion of Mary group in Australia?
Now there are a lot. As a group gets bigger and bigger, they start another group. When I joined the first one, there were ten people. Augk has another group.
What do you like about the Legion of Mary?
I find the ladies are happy when they do the Legion of Mary. Before they would go to church and go home. Now they have a day like Saturday to pray together. If you have a problem and you call me, I will tell my group to come to your house to pray. If someone is sick in hospital, maybe three or four of us will go to the hospital to pray. We meet in any hospital: Blacktown, Kingswood, all hospitals.
Sometimes we go to sing in the choir. We also go to the church to help the kids and clean the church.
Did you have the Legion of Mary in Aweil when you were young?
Yes. My mother and some other ladies in the village went to the Legion of Mary.
How has the Legion of Mary helped you here and in Egypt?
When someone is sick you go to pray with them. When someone has died, you go to pray for them. In Egypt, we prayed together and then collected a bit of money to send to the poor.
I went back to South Sudan in 2011 because I wanted to help my country. They don’t have clothes. They don’t have rosaries. I took these things to give to them. I have to help.
What do you do in a Legion of Mary meeting?
We pray. We say the rosary. I have a little prayer book. It is in my language, in Dinka. When I pray I use this book because I don’t read English well.
Is the Legion of Mary only for women?
Men can go too. Young people can come too. Some young women didn’t want to come but this year, we have had some young women join our group. People are welcome to come whenever they want.
How has the Legion of Mary helped you? What difference has it made to your life?
When I lived in Egypt and my sponsor sent me the form.
I think to myself, who has given me the form? It is Mother Mary.
I filled out the form and put it in. Then they called me and said that I could go to Australia.
And when I come here, I tell my family to pray.
I am working, my son is working, my husband is working.
We save money but who is helping us? It is God and Mother Mary.
So we saved money and I sponsored eight people to come here.
When I first arrived, I was staying with my cousin in Greystanes.
When the money comes from Centrelink, I pray to Mother Mary. I say I need money to find a house.
When I go to Merrylands to look at a house, I go into a big room and guess what I find on the wall?
I find my Mother Mary on the wall. I find Jesus on the wall.
I fall down to my knees to pray. I’m very happy.
My cousin said to me, 'Abuk, you can’t pray. Your application may be rejected. This is a big house for you.'
And I replied, 'No. They can’t reject me because I find my Mother Mary here'.
So I filled out the form and the real estate agent said 'Yes'.
And do you know who helped me? It was Mother Mary. She helps me with everything.
And so I live in Merrylands but I don’t know English.
Then I find my English classes at St Bakhita Centre and now I know English.
My prayers to Mother Mary have also given me this.
Because before I didn’t know English but now here I am talking to you.
Then I did computer classes.
I passed my test for the driver’s licence and I have been driving for six years now.
So when you think of your journey from Aweil to Khartoum to Alexandria to Sydney, has Mother Mary been with you the whole way?
Yes, yes. When I say this is very hard for me and I pray, I find it easy.
And then I am very happy too with my kids.
My kids they grow up. No one goes out. They live with me too.
Mother Mary has helped me.
What was the hardest thing about coming to Australia?
It is speaking English. When I came here, I find Tresa and she took me to buy things.
I was lucky because she showed me how to do this and that.
When I went out, someone would help me because I didn’t know what I saw.
When I needed things, I didn’t know how to talk or how to say ‘thank you’.
I felt sad.
I said to my husband, 'Don’t leave me alone because if someone comes, I don’t know what to say or how to ask if they need water'.
Did Tresa help you a lot?
Yes. She organised school for the kids.
And when there was something wrong, the school would call her.
I was very happy about that.
Did your husband find work?
Yes. He is working in construction and my son is a car dealer in Parramatta. My daughter works in a nursing home in Guildford. My other daughter works in the office for a Family Day Care centre and is studying too.
Did your children find it hard to settle into school when they came?
It was very hard for my older son who was 16 but he finished Year 10 and now works for a car dealer
Are your children happy in Australia?
Yes, they are all happy. I have four boys and two girls. Three are working, the others are studying.
I thank God for helping me.
When did you first come to St Bakhita’s?
I came here six years ago to learn English and computers. It is very hard when you are older to learn English quickly.
I used to help clean the centre. I also went to TAFE in Quakers Hill to improve my English.
Has the centre helped you?
I am very happy with St Bakhita’s because before I came here, I didn’t know English.
Sr Maria and Sr Jeanette bring all the volunteers here.
The volunteers help the Sudanese.
When you don’t know where to go, people will help you.
Do you think St Josephine Bakhita is important for the South Sudanese people?
Yes, very, very important. St Bakhita was a strong woman.
St Bakhita is very important for the Sudanese and the whole community.
Has it been important to the community to have their own meeting place?
Yes. It is very important. I want to thank Australia and all Catholics.
They have helped the Sudanese community a lot.
And Sr Maria and Sr Jeanette.
Sr Jeanette is gone now but Sr Maria and the other volunteers work very hard for the Sudanese people.
The Sudanese come, they don’t know English very well. They write English very slowly.
They make all of this for the Sudanese.
It is a very hard job.
Sr Maria, Tresa, then Anna, they make everything.
I am very happy.
Has Sr Maria been important to the Sudanese?
She is very important. I tell her, 'Sr Maria, you can’t be Australian, are you sure you are not Sudanese?'
Did you know Anna in Egypt?
Yes. I knew her in Aweil, Khartoum and Egypt. Tresa as well.
When you came to Sydney, was it hard to find a Catholic church?
The first Sunday I was here I didn’t go to church.
I didn’t know where to go to church so I told my family we have to sit and pray together.
My son sang and we prayed.
The next Sunday, I said to Tresa, 'Where is the Catholic church?'
She said, 'We have mass one week in Greystanes and one week in Lidcombe each month.'
I said, 'What about the other two weeks?'
She said, 'They have only given us two weeks.'
So we sat and talked about it at the Legion of Mary.
And we prayed that they would say mass for us every week.
Then about five years ago, Father Peter asks Anna, 'Can we move the church to Blacktown?'
Now all my prayers are in St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown and there is mass every Sunday.
I give thanks to my Mother Mary.