|Subject: LUSA: Bishop Belo Taking Home
Replica of Our Lady of Fatima
Portuguese Catholic relic in Timor for pre-independence tour
DILI, East Timor, April 27 (AFP) - About 2,000 people turned out for the arrival here Saturday from Portugal of a Catholic relic to go on tour for three weeks as part of celebrations ahead of independence next month.
The statue of the Virgin Mary was escorted by East Timor's Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a Nobel peace laureate, from the international airport to Dili Cathedral for a blessing ceremony.
On Wednesday, the statue, Our Lady of Fatima, is scheduled to travel to the Oecussi enclave in Indonesian-ruled West Timor, Chris Fontaine, a spokesman for the UN administration in East Timor told AFP.
It will then tour East Timor's 13 districts and return to Dili for independence celebrations on May 19.
Some 15 heads of state are expected to attend the independence handover which will mark the official birth of the first new nation of the third millennium.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will declare the territory independent in a lavish fireworks ceremony on the night of May 19 as the clock strikes midnight.
President-elect Xanana Gusmao, who led the guerrilla resistance to Indonesian rule, will be sworn in by Annan just before midnight, following his landslide election on April 14.
The UN took over the administration of East Timor in November 1999 after anti-independence militias laid waste the territory after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to break from Jakarta rule in a UN-administered referendum.
Saturday 27 April 2002 - For immediate release
THOUSANDS GATHER TO GREET OUR LADY OF FATIMA
Traditional dancers, singers, and thunderous applause signaled the arrival of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima at Dili's Comoro Airport today.
Formally welcomed by Bishop Belo, Bishop Nascimento and a number of religious representatives, the statue was taken via ?open-air? motorcade to Dili Cathedral.
Hundreds of people waited at the Cathedral for several hours to catch their first glimpse of the statue - with crowds swelling to over 1000 upon her arrival.
As the Patron Saint of East Timor, Our Lady of Fatima holds special significance for the nation?s predominately Catholic population.
"Our Lady has come to help us celebrate our independence with peace and happiness." said Independence Day Celebration Spokesperson Maria Gabriela Heard-Carrascalao.
The miracles of Fatima refer to the 1917 apparition of Our Lady to three shepherd children in the Portuguese village of Fatima.
The first International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was commissioned by the Bishop of Fatima in 1947. As part of a continual international pilgrimage, the statue previously visited East Timor in 1951
A key feature of the Independence Day Celebrations, the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima will tour East Timor?s 13 districts ? starting with Oecussi on 1 May. Our Lady of Fatima returns to Dili on 19 May.
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22 Apr 02 12:28
Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, East Timor´s religious leader, received a replica of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima at Portugal´s holiest Catholic shrine Sunday, saying he hoped the image would serve as a catalyst for "unity" among all East Timorese.
Bishop Belo said he had requested a replica of the statue, which will be kept at Dili´s Immaculate Conception Cathedral, at the suggestion of the East Timorese government.
The territory´s foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, also attended the Sunday ceremony at Our Lady of Fatima shrine in central Portugal.
Noting the importance of the Catholic Church during East Timorese resistance to Indonesian rule, Ramos Horta said his people had "never lost hope of being free" because of their "faith, hope and prayers".
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