Subject: JRH to thank pope for concern

Shot ETimor president to thank pope for concern

by Chris McCall Fri Jul 18, 10:33 AM ET

SYDNEY (AFP) - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta said Friday he would use a personal audience with Pope Benedict XVI to thank him for his concern after an assassination attempt earlier this year.

The Timorese leader and Nobel peace laureate is in Sydney for the Catholic church's World Youth Day and is scheduled to have an audience with the pope on Sunday, the final day.

It will be his third meeting with the pope, but the first since February's assassination attempt.

"It is only to thank the pope for his loving concern," Ramos-Horta, 58, told AFP. "The Vatican phoned the hospital in Darwin many times -- I was told, every day -- to enquire about my situation.

"I am Catholic, very Catholic and very respectful of the pope. I am head of state but I consider him to be my superior, plus I want to thank the holy father for praying for me and for his concern when I was shot."

He narrowly survived the rebel assassination attempt and was flown to the northern Australian city of Darwin for treatment.

At the time, he said, doctors had only given him a 50 percent chance of survival.

Asked if he believed God had saved him, Ramos-Horta said he thought so.

"I believe so because I was shot from less than 20 metres -- a powerful rifle, two bullets and the doctors said no one sustained (and survived) such an assault because I lost so much blood."

Ramos-Horta said he intended to see out his term, which expires in 2012, and that earlier reports of him seeking to step down and take a job at the United Nations were "exaggerated."

Timorese wanted to see an end to violence, which erupted again in 2006, Ramos-Horta said.

"Over 99.99 percent of the people are with me. They totally oppose the violence," he said. "I owe it to them to continue my job."

Ramos-Horta said he was "physically 95 percent recovered" and 100 percent mentally.

The president said he thought he was the only head of state who had travelled to Australia for World Youth Day, and that he had come with a contingent of more than 300 of his countrymen.

Most East Timorese are Roman Catholic, although their religion is often mixed with indigenous beliefs. The church played a crucial role in a 24-year resistance to Indonesian occupation, which ended in 1999.

During the occupation, Ramos-Horta was the resistance's overseas spokesman, for which he won the Nobel peace prize in 1996, jointly with Bishop Carlos Belo, then the region's spiritual leader.

Despite deep desire in East Timor for a papal visit, Ramos-Horta said he had invited the pope during an earlier meeting but did not believe he would ever go there.

"He said 'I am not John Paul II who was young and able to travel everywhere'," Ramos-Horta said, adding that the suggestion of a stopover en route to Sydney had also been ruled out.


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