Subject: CNS: Bishop says Timorese should honor those who died for independence

Bishop says Timorese should honor those who died for independence By Stephen Steele Catholic News Service

DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- In rebuilding their nation, East Timorese should honor those who died while helping the country achieve its independence, said Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili.

Bishop Belo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his defense of human rights in East Timor, celebrated Mass Aug. 30 in Dili, commemorating the first anniversary of the U.N.-sponsored referendum that effectively ended 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

``We have to rebuild our nation, but let us not forget the people who died in helping us achieve our liberty,'' the bishop told an overflow crowd of more than 4,000 in Dili's cathedral.

``We must pray to our martyrs who died for us. They see us from heaven so we must continue their sacrifice,'' Bishop Belo said.

In Portuguese and Tetun, the indigenous language of East Timor, Bishop Belo spoke of his ``fallen colleagues,'' a reference to the four priests who were murdered in the violence that followed the Sept. 5 announcement that the East Timorese had rejected Indonesian rule.

The bishop said that Aug. 30 would forever be known as ``liberation day'' in East Timor.

``Let us thank God for allowing the people to participate in the process of liberating East Timor,'' he said.

East Timor descended into violence and anarchy in the weeks following the referendum. Most of the island's infrastructure was destroyed by paramilitaries and retreating Indonesian troops. Some estimates said more than 1,000 people were killed, including the four priests, several nuns and lay catechists.

The violence continued until Sept. 17, when U.N.-troops, led by Australia, arrived in East Timor. About 150,000 East Timorese then fled or were forced at gunpoint to neighboring West Timor and resided in squalid refugee camps.

About 80,000 to 120,000 people still remain in the camps.

Bishop Belo, whose home was destroyed by militias, spoke briefly of last year's violence, but urged the East Timorese to not seek revenge for past abuses.

``We must not seek vengeance, rather we must work for mercy in the seeking of justice,'' he said.

Bishop Belo told the congregation that they must build a nation of peace and one that respects human rights. He called for a process of ``reconciliation'' where each person ``seeks forgiveness and gives forgiveness.''

``We are a Catholic people who must never forget that every person deserves dignity,'' he said.

Among the participants at the Mass were Jose Ramos Horta, who shared the Nobel Prize with Belo, and Xanana Gusmao, the former leader of the East Timorese guerrilla movement, who it is widely believed will be the new nation's first president following the departure of the U.N. administration.

Also present were Robert Gelbart, U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Following Mass, the congregation processed from the cathedral to the Santa Cruz cemetery, site of a 1991 massacre in which 271 people were killed during a funeral procession. Because of the unusual presence of foreign journalists who witnessed the massacre, the incident brought international attention to East Timor.

At the cemetery, participants laid flowers and wreaths at a memorial to the victims.

On the way to Santa Cruz, participants passed a cemetery for Indonesian soldiers. Unused land on the property was being used for a vegetable garden. Armed Portuguese soldiers guarded the entrance to the cemetery.

More than 250,000 East Timorese are believed to have been killed or died of starvation or disease during Indonesia's often brutal 24-year rule.

During a prayer service, Father Francisco Barreto, director of Caritas East Timor, told the mourners that they were to leave the flowers at the memorial for those ``who died in the course of our fighting for independence.''

He said the memorial was put in place in the cemetery to honor the ``victims we could not bury.''

``All of East Timor is a big cemetery. We do not know what happened to many of our brothers and sisters,'' he told Catholic News Service.

Father Barreto was reported dead by the Catholic humanitarian aid agency Caritas Internationalis last September, along with most of his staff. He said that the agency suffered no fatalities. He fled to the mountains surrounding Dili.

``We had no food or water, but we survived,'' he said.

Participants in the prayer service then processed to the seaside in front of the U.N. administration building, where they placed flowers in the sea. Many openly wailed during the three-mile procession.

At U.N. headquarters, an outdoor celebration was held that featured speakers and music.

Harkin, a Catholic, spoke of his visit to Suai in southwest Timor two weeks before the referendum, where he met Fathers Hilario Madeira and Francisco Soares, who were later killed.

``As a Catholic myself, I am very proud that I knew them. They were kind, generous and loving Catholic priests,'' he said. end

September Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from