East Timor: Far from a Pacific Paradise

Bishop Appeals to Portugal for Vocations

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DILI, East Timor, NOV. 3, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Five months after gaining independence, East Timor is still grappling with problems regarding education and culture, as well as its beleaguered refugees.

Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, spoke about the former Portuguese colony’s plight when he appealed to Church leaders in Portugal to send priests, seminarians, deacons and other religious to East Timor.

Bishop Belo, who was received by the Pope last week during his every-five-year visit to Rome, spoke recently at the School of Religious Sciences of the Diocese of Lamego in Portugal, and referred to the crisis of vocations. If vocations were shared, he said, both the Portuguese and Timorese would be enriched, the VID Web page reported.

According to the bishop, the parishes of the Pacific nation are very large — the smallest has 50,000 inhabitants. Just one priest per parish is insufficient, especially now when social and political problems persist, he said.

«If there were someone to accompany the priest, teaching Portuguese, leading young people, and heading the scouts, it would be of enormous» value, he said, appealing to Bishop Jacinto Botelho of Lamego, who was in the audience.

Those that come «will have to get used to great sacrifices. There, we do not eat meat or drink wine,» and our food is «very poor,» Bishop Belo warned.

The Dili bishop considers the support of Portugal to be crucial in the areas of education and culture. «There is a war of influences» since the end of fighting, Bishop Belo said.

The Indonesians «have retreated politically, but they continue to be there through the language and culture,» he explained. Some even spread «poison» against Portugal, reminding Timorese of the colonialist past, he said.

There are still 50,000 to 60,000 Timorese refugees suffering at the hands of Indonesians, the bishop of Dili said. Armed militias live in refugee camps and «threaten the people every night not to go back to East Timor,» he said.

The refugees live in terrible conditions, he continued. Many children die and, in some areas, girls are raped at night, the bishop continued. The Indonesian government, he said, is not interested in withdrawing the soldiers because «it has an interest» in the international aid allocated to the refugees.

He added: «The feasts which celebrated independence were made for foreigners — only for them to see.»

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