Subject: etpost - CNS: Massachusetts Catholic students adopt East Timor cause
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:41:54 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>


Massachusetts Catholic students adopt East Timor cause
By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS)

There they stood on a drizzly lunch hour on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, hundreds of miles from their home, putting into words and actions what they felt in their hearts.

White House demonstrations are usually done by an older generation of protesters. But grade schoolers from St. Mary School in Danvers, Mass., near Boston, knew they had to speak up for their convictions. So, during their school holiday week, 17 of them, accompanied by five adults, drove to Washington to promote the cause of peace and independence for East Timor.

The White House protest April 21 was just one stop in their journey. Their first taste of protest was in front of the Indonesian Embassy in Washington the day before. Indonesia's annexation of East Timor in 1976 has sparked a sustained outcry and won a Nobel Peace Prize for Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximines Belo of Dili, the East Timorese capital. The students say they weren't looked down upon or condescended to because of their youth, but because this was the first trip to Washington for many of them, there was a bit of an intimidation factor. "A lot of the cops were laughing" during the embassy protest, said eighth grader Dave Soter. Eighth-grader Kendra Smith took credit for the idea of a trip. "I started the whole thing," she said -- a fact corroborated by St. Mary teacher Bob Doolittle, who with his wife, Katherine, helped chaperone the trip. The students also had meetings scheduled with Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and with Reps. John Tierney and Thomas Capuano, all of whom are Democrats, to discuss the East Timor situation.

Brittany Clifford, a sixth-grader, said the students had collected 218 signatures on a petition to ask for peaceful change in East Timor. As for White House and museum tours, "we don't like that boring stuff," said seventh-grader Jenn Hudon. She said Indonesians at the embassy waffled during a conversation after the student protest. "We asked them simple questions, and they talked for hours trying to cover for themselves," Jenn said.

While outside the embassy, students met a couple of adults protesting the East Timor situation who got arrested for civil disobedience. The students' demonstration took the form of a 10-minute drama, with a couple of students serving as narrators and the rest about evenly split between Indonesian soldiers and East Timorese. "We speak for them because they are our friends," one of the student narrators said. "We speak for them because they are our heroes." Using wooden sticks for rifles, they re-enacted beatings and massacres carried out against the Timorese by the Indonesian military.

The violence continues, Doolittle said after the performance. He said he could not reveal the names of Timorese with whom he has been in contact, but said a Timorese priest told him, "We're in danger day by day." "We think some of them are dead," Doolittle said. "They were activists. They had a list of 250 (Timorese) leaders" to be executed by Indonesian paramilitary forces, he added. "Beaten, dying, brave. East Timor is still not silent," a narrator intoned near the end of the drama. The group closed with a chant: "Send the U.N. Send food. Send medicine."

The children headed back to Danvers April 22. That day, as talks were held at the United Nations to find a political solution, pro-Indonesian militias broke a day-old cease-fire and effectively sealed off the Timorese capital of Dili.

END 04/22/1999 4:26 PM ET Copyright c 1999 Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference CNS-04-22-99 0432pET

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