NEW YORK, JUNE 12, 2003 (ZENIT.org–Fides).- President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor received the Path to Peace award for his role in the process of peace and reconciliation in the former Indonesian province.
The award is promoted by the Holy See’s mission at the United Nations. Among those scheduled to attend the award ceremony was Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations.
On May 20, East Timor marked the first anniversary of its independence. The country is engaged in “national dialogue” on justice and reconciliation, at which Gusmao is personally present.
The dialogue involves members of Parliament, socio-political groups, representatives of the Catholic Church, and a U.N. Mission of Support established by the Security Council for a 10-year period to assist with the shift of administration from the United Nations to East Timor authorities.
“Through dialogue, we learn to forgive crimes of the past, we strengthen national unity, and help the progress of democracy,” said Father Jose Antonio Da Costa, vicar of the Diocese of Dili.
“The Church supports constructive dialogue because its helps people understand one another,” he said. “A wrong impression or attitude can threaten harmony, stability, justice and peace.”
East Timor’s reconciliation process is difficult and slow because some people supported the pro-Indonesia militia which engaged in massacres following the referendum vote for secession from Jakarta in August 1999. Suspects in the massacres are now being tried by a Special Court of Justice.
Even today, many East Timor people who fled to West Timor, still under Jakarta’s control, refuse to return for fear of being lynched or of suffering other forms of retaliation.
With 95% of the population declared Catholics, East Timor is the most Catholic nation in Asia. It has more than 665,000 Catholics in the Dili and Baucau dioceses.
The award presented to Xanana Gusmao is sponsored by the Path to Peace Foundation, established in 1991 and presided over by Archbishop Celestino Migliore. The foundation aims to spread a message of universal peace. It distributes information and documentation on initiatives undertaken by the Pope and Catholic organizations to build peace and justice.
Past winners of the award include Corazon Aquino, Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein, and Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha.