Subject: FC: Maliana Priest's Calls for Forgiveness, Justice

Florida Catholic Sept. 21, 2000

Freedom’s heavy toll

Timorese priest says forgiveness ‘is the only way’ after losing seven siblings in struggle for independence.

Stephen Steele
MALIANA, East Timor

When Father Sancho Amaral preaches reconciliation and forgiveness, he knows what he’s talking about. Seven of the priest’s siblings were killed during East Timor’s 24-year occupation by Indonesia.

His oldest sister, Maria, was among the several hundred people killed at the Catholic church in Suai, East Timor, on Sept. 6, 1999. Six brothers were killed while hiding in the mountains surrounding Suai in March 1976 during a bombing raid by Indonesian forces.

“Reconciliation is difficult, but it is the only way. We are a Catholic country and we must replace hate with love,” he said.

Jose Barros Soares, 13, was killed at the police station in Maliana when the militias couldn't find his father, an independence leader. "My son sacrificed his life for me," said Augustino Barros Soares. "I want the world to know who he is." 
Photo by Stephen Steele.

Father Amaral said East Timor is at a difficult crossroad, as it decides what direction the new country will go.

“How to use this freedom is the question. We got this freedom, this victory. Now the task is to help the people live this freedom as Christians,” he told The Florida Catholic.

Father Amaral escaped the fate of his brothers because he was studying at a seminary in Dare in central East Timor. He was a classmate of Father Hilario Madeira, pastor of the Suai church who was also killed in the 1999 massacre there (TFC — Sept. 14).

He traveled to Suai Sept. 6, where he concelebrated a memorial Mass with Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili, East Timor, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient, for victims of the massacre at Suai. Three days later, he celebrated Mass for victims of the Maliana massacre.

His younger brother, Simplicio, was also enrolled in the Dare seminary at the time, but went home for vacation and was killed. Father Amaral chose to remain at the seminary.

“When I learned my six brothers had been killed, my heart sank, I did not know what to do,” he said. “But the rector told me, ‘Now is not the occasion to solve your problems. Let time go on to think better.’”

It is nearly impossible to find an East Timorese family that didn’t have someone killed or died from starvation or disease during Indonesia’s often-brutal 24-year rule. Still, his family stands as an example of the heavy price East Timor paid for its freedom.

“Suffering is a consequence of war,” the priest told The Florida Catholic following morning Mass in mid-September in his Maliana church.

During his homily that morning, Father Amaral told parishioners that suffering is part of the Christian condition, that in order to achieve their long-sought independence, they had to clear a final, violent hurdle.

“Some must suffer. As Christ suffered for us, we must also. For something good to happen, we need to suffer,” he said.

An East Timorese mother holds her child during a Sept. 6 memorial service for victims of 1999 massacre at a Catholic church in Suai, East Timor. Memorial services were held throughout East Timor, honoring those who died in the country's struggle for independence.
Photo by Stephen Steele.

The son of a catechist, Father Amaral was raised in southwest Suai with his 12 siblings. Two others died of illness prior to Indonesia’s 1975 invasion. “Now there are only three of us left,” he said.

“My family was not involved in politics. We are not politicians, but I accept this as the consequence of our struggle,” he said.

His father died in 1990. His mother suffers from mental illness.

“Six sons killed, one daughter. For one mother, this is difficult to bear,” he said.

As he reflected on his past, the 44-year-old priest chose his words carefully. He avoids eye contact as his eyes fill with tears.

“Sometimes, I have feelings of sadness, great sadness. But the people, many of these people have suffered also. So we suffer together,” he said.

Father Amaral was also the targets of death threats. In the months leading to the referendum, he instructed the Timorese to “vote with your conscience, not the way someone tells you to vote.”

He fled the parish in Ermera, East Timor, where he was residing, Sept. 6 a few hours before militias stormed the church looking for him.

“The militias were coming to assassinate me,” he said. He remained in the mountains until Oct. 5.

He said another challenge for the new country and the international community is to ensure that justice is served.

“We need justice in East Timor. Punishment for crime is good. If we leave it like this, then on another occasion this will happen again,” he said.

“The makers of good will get something good. The militias will get something for their own deeds. It is a long process,” he said.

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