Subject: Nuncio Presents Credentials, Asks Local Church And Gov't To Work Together

ET02028.1434 March 1, 2007 54 EM-lines (578 words)

EAST TIMOR Nuncio Presents Credentials, Asks Local Church And Government To Work Together

DILI (UCAN) -- The apostolic nuncio to Timor Leste has urged the local Church and government to work together in creating peace and stability to free its people from conflict.

Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli presented his credentials to Timor Leste (East Timor) President Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao at the presidential palace in Dili on Feb. 28.

Archbishop Girelli's Feb. 26-28 pastoral visit to Timor Leste was his first since he took office as apostolic nuncio to both Indonesia and Timor Leste in 2006. He celebrated Mass at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Dili, visited camps for displaced people in and around the capital, and visited Our Lady of Fatima Minor Seminary in Dare, a village of Dili. He also met with leaders of Baucau and Dili dioceses, which cover the predominantly Catholic country.

After the meeting with Gusmao, the Jakarta-based nuncio told the media that throughout his three-day visit he asked the Church and the government to build peace and stability in Timor Leste. "I bring also Pope Benedict XVI's blessing and prayer that Timor Leste be free from crisis as soon as possible," he said.

Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili accompanied Archbishop Girelli to the meeting.

Archbishop Girelli said that aside from talking about Church participation in the fields of education and health, they also discussed long-term cooperation between the Vatican and Timor Leste in order to create peace. "The president told us that Timor Leste really needs the diplomatic relations with the Vatican," the nuncio added.

Bishop da Silva, who also spoke to the press, said that during the meeting "the nuncio asked the president to work together with the Church to quickly solve the crisis."

The Dili bishop added, "To end the crisis I ask all Catholics to unite and pray that God gives them a way to restore peace in the country."

A mutiny in April 2006 led to months of arson, looting and gang violence, pitting locals from eastern and western parts of the country against one another. At least 20 people died and 100,000 were displaced, taking refuge in camps, many of them in Catholic churches and centers.

About 25,000 people still stay in 26 camps in and around Dili, according to the country's interior ministry.

During his Feb. 26 visit to some of these sites, Archbishop Girelli told people at Metinaro Camp, 20 kilometers east of Dili, "I believe your government will solve the problem and you will go home."

Jose Soares told UCA News he was "so glad" the nuncio visited them in their tents despite the rain. "We hope he will pray that peace is restored in our country and we may go home," he said.

Archbishop Girelli visited Baucau diocese Feb. 28.

He is visiting Atambua diocese in West Timor, the Indonesian part of Timor Island, before returning to Jakarta.

Timor Leste, where Catholics officially form 96 percent of the population of about 1 million, has faced decades of violence. It was a Portuguese colony for centuries before Lisbon withdrew in 1975, affording a brief taste of freedom. Indonesian troops invaded shortly thereafter, however, and Jakarta annexed East Timor in 1976. Large numbers of people died under a repressive Indonesian occupation.

A referendum on independence in 1999 sparked violence that was blamed mainly on pro-Jakarta militia with ties to the Indonesian army. An international force of peacekeepers then moved in, ushering in a transitional period of United Nations administration. Timor Leste became a full-fledged nation on May 20, 2002.


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