Subject: UCAN: Prime minister invites Pope Benedict to visit East Timor

UCAN: Prime minister invites Pope Benedict to visit East Timor



DILI, East Timor (UCAN) ­ During his recent visit to the Vatican, Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit East Timor and discussed the appointment of an ambassador to the Holy See.

Ramos-Horta told media on Oct. 31 at the Dili airport, upon his return from Europe, that he had invited the pope to visit Timor-Leste, or East Timor, as he felt this would greatly help to promote unity, peace, tolerance and reconciliation in the Catholic-majority country. The prime minister headed a delegation that visited Pope Benedict on Oct. 27 at the Vatican.

"The pope is very concerned about our situation, but he could not immediately answer our request. However the pope will always pray for peace for our country," said Ramos-Horta, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

Knowledge that the prime minister would visit Pope Benedict spurred hopes of a papal visit. Juliana da Costa, 45, told UCA News on Oct. 30 that such a visit could bring peace among Catholics. "I hope the pope can come and bless this country, since it is now full of sin," said the mother of five, who has been living in a refugee camp in Dili.

According to da Costa, East Timorese now possess a mentality of violence and have forgotten about human dignity. "I hope the pope will decide to visit East Timor to help reconcile Catholics, who are now enemies," she said.

The country has been plagued by unrest since machete-wielding gangs began clashing in the streets and destroying property in the capital in April, after the government sacked 600 members of the 1,400-strong army. The violence took a communal color since the dismissed soldiers, who had complained of discrimination against them, were from the eastern part of the country.

The U.N. Security Council on Aug. 25 authorized an international peacekeeping force to help stabilize the fledgling nation, which gained full independence in 2002 after almost 25 years under Indonesian rule following more than four centuries as a Portuguese colony.

Ramos-Horta suggested the pope could include a stopover in East Timor during his scheduled trip to Australia in July 2008 for the next international World Youth Day celebration. "We have to understand and consider the age and tight schedule of the pontiff. However, his holiness has asked his envoy, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to East Timor and Indonesia, to visit us regularly," he told media.

The prime minister also said the government would nominate an ambassador to the Holy See very soon, since the proposal was welcomed at the Vatican.

At the end of the meeting with Pope Benedict, the East Timorese delegation visited the tomb of Pope John Paul II.

Father Apolinario Aparicio Guteres, vicar general of Dili Diocese, told UCA News on Nov. 1 that Ramos-Horta had consulted with Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau prior to his trip. He discussed with the country's two bishops his ideas for appointing an ambassador to the Holy See and inviting the pope to visit.

"I think it was a great idea to invite the pope, but it will depend on the Vatican," Father Guteres said. "The East Timor Catholic Church hopes the Vatican will arrange a time for the pope to visit East Timor. The Catholic Church has been making efforts to restore peace and calm in the country, and a visit by His Holiness would strengthen" such efforts, Father Guteres added.

Antonio Cabecas, 56, a lay Catholic, told UCA News on Nov. 2 that such a visit would "touch the soul" of people in predominantly Catholic East Timor and help create peace.

East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a United Nations-backed referendum in 1999. Hundreds died following the vote in violence blamed on local militias that favored Indonesian rule and who were supported by some elements in the Indonesian military. The country became fully independent in May 2002 after a period of U.N. stewardship.

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Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (<> 

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