Subject: Catholic Lay Group Uses Sports To Bridge Youth Divide

TIMOR LESTE Catholic Lay Group Uses Sports To Bridge Youth Divide

July 23, 2008 | TL05395.1507 | 481 words Text size 

DILI (UCAN) -- A Church group in Timor Leste has organized a sports fest to help young Catholics heal divisions caused by violence between factions from the eastern and western parts of the country.

The 578 Catholic youths, missioners and nuns from different places in the country met July 18-19 in Baucau, 120 kilometers east of Dili, for the event organized by Youth for Christ. The lay ministry, which pursues a vision to renew society in Christ through young people, is part of Couples for Christ, the Philippine-based international family evangelization movement.

"I really enjoyed the activities, because this helped me make friends with people from other places," 37-year-old Salvador Maria Pereira told UCA News.

Belarmino da Costa, 27, said he was very happy to participate because it gave him an opportunity to know youths from across the country and "deepen good relations with each other."

Such a friendly attitude was not so prevalent after communal violence erupted in Timor Leste in 2006 following the dismissal of more than one-third of the country's army. The dismissed soldiers, from the western part of the country, alleged discrimination. Tensions sparked by the dismissal degenerated into clashes between groups claiming to represent "easterners" and "westerners."

Most members of the groups armed with machetes, swords, knives, sticks and catapults fighting on the streets were youths. At least 20 people died and 100,000 were displaced, taking refuge with relatives or in makeshift refugee camps, many of them set up at Catholic churches and centers.

The situation calmed before the general election in June 2007, but violence erupted again two months after the polls, this time around Baucau, the other main town in Timor Leste. Up to 6,000 people fled into the jungle after youth gangs went on the rampage, burning at least 600 homes and setting up roadblocks. Church and government properties also were burned, and nine girls at a convent school were raped.

Fear of youth violence haunts many of the people still living in refugee camps set up in the Dili area during the 2006 clashes. These people say they worry that violence awaits them should they return home, if their house was not burned in the rioting. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor and Solidarity counts 64,367 people living in 44 camps.

Aleixo Pereira, head of the organizing committee for the Baucau sports event, told UCA News on July 18 that the goal was to attract young people, change their attitudes, and teach them ways to love and respect each other, and to create peace in their family, society and country.

The festival involved two types of activities -- sports such as volleyball, football and basketball, and competitions involving traditional dance, singing and drama.

"Through these activities youths create good relations, even if they come from different places," Pereira said.

Timor Leste has a population of around 1 million, about 95 percent of whom are Catholics.


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