Subject: Dili Youth Begin Evangelizing In Remote Oecusse

TIMOR LESTE Dili Youth Begin Evangelizing In Remote Oecusse

November 12, 2008

OECUSSE, Timor Leste (UCAN) -- Young Catholics in Dili are helping to strengthen the faith of people living in Oecusse, a coastal enclave within Indonesian West Timor that is part of their diocese.

"Oecusse is a difficult place to go to, since it is surrounded by Indonesia. But our presence there was very important to share the joys, experiences, and knowledge of the Bible," Agapito Lopes told UCA News on Nov. 4.

The 20-year-old Catholic was one of 100 youths who traveled 240 kilometers west of Dili to teach the Bible to local Catholics in their homes. Dili diocese's youth ministry organized the Oct. 4-10 excursion as part of its outreach program to the most remote territory in the diocese.

"What we did for the people there was just a very little thing. There is still a lot to do," Lopes said, explaining that people in Oecusse need attention and support in almost all areas including health care, food security and infrastructure.

The Dili youth focused on the Bible, since Oecusse has just one parish with one resident priest and 10 Franciscan nuns who serve about 47,000 Catholics.

The visitors arrived in Oecusse town, the district capital, also known as Pante Makassar. Staying with the families, they mostly talked about the life and death of Jesus in the Gospels, and encouraged people to pray daily, attend Sunday Mass. They also highlighted the importance of confession.

Father Angelo Salsinha, head of Dili diocese's youth ministry, led the group. He told UCA News on Nov. 7 that the young evangelizers were trained in leadership and pastoral skills, such as relating Bible passages to life events.

Denis da Conceicao de Jesus, who received some of the youths at his home in Oecusse, told UCA News the visitors helped him understand more about the life of Jesus and how to follow him. "The way these young people conveyed the Bible opens my heart and mind on how to be a good Catholic." He suggested that the diocese expand the program by training Catholics in Oecusse on Bible sharing.

Father Salsinha explained that the October visit was a pilot program for evangelization involving young people. "Before we expand the program, we need to find out if young people in rural places are in need for such Bible sharing or teaching. Then based on the results we will plan ahead future actions."

Even though the evangelization program has just started, he is optimistic it will continue well. "I'm happy the teams were well-accepted by the local Catholics. This gives them the spirit and courage to keep going," he said.

"The results show that people were very enthusiastic about the home visits. Young people were delighted to be involved and want to continue it," the priest added. He said the youth ministry will make a concerted effort to coordinate youths from all parishes in Dili diocese to help in Oecusse.

Father Salsinha also hopes to start other programs in Oecusse. "We are also planning to organize vocational skills training for young people in Oecusse, but this is still to be discussed," he elaborated, pointing out that people in Oecusse need help in almost all aspects of life.

Libertio Sasi, a member of the pastoral council of the enclave's Nossa Senhora do Rosario Parish, told UCA News it is very important to deepen the faith of local Catholics, because they live in very remote rural areas and it is rare for them to listen to the word of God.

Joao Paulo, 20, who visited Oecusse, told UCA News he felt spiritually fulfilled in helping local Catholics come closer to God, and discerning with them their role and obligation as Catholics.

Oecusse district has no road connection with the rest of Timor Leste. It is only accessible by helicopter or a twice-weekly ferry from Dili. Roads in this district are in poor condition. The present border was the product of struggle between the Dutch and Portuguese, who colonized the western and eastern parts of Timor Island, respectively. The Portuguese first established themselves on the island in Oecusse. They also colonized much of Indonesia before the Dutch drove them out and replaced them as colonial rulers.

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