Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, papal envoy to the forthcoming celebrations on August 15, feast of the Assumption of Mary, in Dili, capital of the small Asiatic State of East Timor, dedicated to the Fifth Centenary of the country’s evangelization.
In a letter to the Cardinal for the occasion, the Holy Father recalls the witness of the “enterprising” Dominican “missionaries,” who courageously “undertook a long trip, surmounting “innumerable difficulties,” to take the Gospel to the people of the Eastern part of the Island of Timor, colonized in the 16th century by the Portuguese, so much so that the country was known as Portuguese Timor. “It is right and opportune that this event be recalled appropriately,” wrote the Pontiff.
East Timor gained its independence on November 28, 1975, declared unilaterally by pro-Communist factions. However, liberty lasted a short while, as in December of that year Indonesia invaded the archipelago on a grand scale, with the support of Western governments, declaring it its 27th province on July 17, 1976, with the name Timor Timur.
The military occupation lasted 25 years and caused new and bloody battles for freedom. Remembered in particular is Jakarta’s harsh repression, which eliminated a great part of the population, also Catholic, despite the strong condemnation of the United Nations and the International Community.
On August 30, 1999, the inhabitants of East Timor opted for independence in a referendum sponsored by the United Nations and approved by a large majority of the population. Thus was born the Democratic Republic of East Timor, and on May 20, 2002, the country became the first nation to gain independence in the 21st century. At present, East Timor is one of the two Asian countries whose majority religion is Catholicism. The other is the archipelago of the Philippines.