Subject: UCAN: East Timor awards medal of honour posthumously to bishop, priests, nuns

May 26,2007

East Timor awards medal of honour posthumously to bishop, priests, nuns

DILI (UCAN): The government of Timor Leste (East Timor) has awarded the Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes Medal to several deceased Catholic clergy and Religious in recognition of their contributions to the liberation of the country.

The honor named after the late administrator of Dili diocese, its first native prelate, was conferred posthumously on Monsignor da Costa Lopes; Father Hilario Madeira of Dili diocese's Nossa Senhora de Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima) Church in Suai; Father Mario do Carmo Lemos Belo, former vicar general of Baucau diocese; local Canossian Sister Maria Celeste de Carvalho; and Italian Canossian Sister Erminia Cazzaniga.

In one of his last official acts as president, Alexander Xanana Gusmao presented the medals to representatives of the honorees at the state palace in Dili on May 19. President Jose Ramos-Horta was sworn in as Gusmao's successor the next day. Also present at the ceremony were Bishops Albertus Ricardo da Silva of Dili and Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau.

In his speech, Gusmao said the state honors for the Church people were based on the country's constitution, which recognizes and appreciates the participation of the local Catholic Church in the liberation of Timor Leste. The state established the Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes Medal to honor the meritorious services of the clergy and Religious, he continued.

"The state gives this honor to heroes and heroines who have given their lives for the liberation of the country from colonialism," Gusmao said.

According to the citation, Monsignor da Costa Lopes, who was apostolic administrator of Dili from 1977 to 1983, was exiled to Portugal due to his frequent denunciations of the violations of people's rights during Indonesia's occupation. He died in Portugal in 1990.

Father Belo was honored for his efforts to hide members of Falintil (Portuguese acronym for Armed Forces for the National Liberation of Timor Leste), the military wing of Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor), during the independence struggle against Indonesian forces.

Father Madeira was among 26 people, including three priests, whom pro-Indonesia militia killed in a massacre at Dili diocese's Suai church on Sept. 6, 1999. About 200 people had sought refuge in the church during militia-led violence after about 80 percent of people voted for independence in a referendum on Aug. 30. Father Madeira was cited for his continuous support for guerrillas who were fighting for liberation.

Canossian Sisters De Carvalho and Cazzaniga were killed on Sept. 25, 1999. The bodies of the two sisters, and that of a Japanese journalist, were found in Lautem district in Baucau diocese.

Speaking with UCA News after the ceremony, Bishop do Nascimento said, "The Church did not ask the government to recognize what the Church people had done, those who had sacrificed their lives for the defense of human dignity."

The Church, the prelate continued, was grateful that the state recognized the meritorious services of those who had contributed to the people's struggle for freedom.

Bishop da Silva agreed. "The state gave the medal of honor to Church people out of its goodwill. And we receive the medal but with no intention to seek popularity," he said.

Brigida da Silva Pinto, who received the medal on behalf of Sister Carvalho, told UCA News her family was sad about the nun's brutal death at the hands of pro-Indonesia militia. "But we are happy and proud of the state's recognition and honor given to our family member and others who sacrificed their lives," the late nun's sister-in-law added.

Carlos de Jesus, brother of Father Madeira, told UCA News he appreciated the state recognition but hoped the state would also provide economic assistance to the families of those who sacrificed their lives.

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