Church Plays Decisive Role In Peaceful Independence Of East Timor

Celebration Begins With Mass

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DILI, MAY 19, 2002 ( on Sunday marked East Timor´s independence following four centuries of Portuguese and Indonesian occupation, a process ending in peace thanks in part to the Catholic Church´s commitment.

At midnight local time, the United Nations transferred its authority to East Timor´s new administration. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed to the world from Dili, to celebrate the birth of a new State, the first of the millennium.

Eighty countries sent representatives to the celebration, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

During Sunday morning´s Mass, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo of Dili asked Catholic faithful (who constitute 91% of the total population of 737,811) to pray that the new government and the new President, independent leader Xanana Gusmao, 56, will lead the country to a better future.

Celebrations began as early as sunset, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Belo. John Paul II sent a message to the people of Timor for the occasion. The message was read by Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican´s Permanent Observer at the United Nations, and the Pope´s extraordinary envoy to the celebrations.

As East Timor became part of the «free nations of the earth,» the Holy Father joined spiritually to all citizens «to share your feeling of exultation, and to encourage you to build a just, free, supportive, and peaceful society.»

«This homeland that God entrusts to your industrious hands will have to be founded on values without which there cannot be an authentic democracy,» the Pope said.

The Holy Father listed these values: «respect for life and for every person; effective solidarity among the members of the same community; opening to the positive contribution of each of its categories and of all its members, in respect of different competencies.»

The Pontiff also sent congratulations and encouragement to Xanana Gusmao, the first President of the independent Republic and its political leaders.

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