Subject: UCAN: Youths reflected on past actions in preparing for Christmas

December 28, 2007 Youths reflected on past actions in preparing for Christmas

DILI (UCAN): Young people were called to renew their lives and prepare themselves spiritually for the birth of Jesus, and not be lured by the materialistic trappings of the holiday.

Father Guilhermino Barros, parish priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the Becora section of Dili shared this message with 50 young retreatants in a school hall on Dec. 16.

The theme of the retreat was "Jesus comes to the world because He loves us."

Father Barros has made it his mission to visit every area of his parish to interact with local youths through retreats and offer them a special opportunity to make sacramental confessions.

During this retreat, Father Barros told the participants, "It's the time to reflect on your past life and think of the future."

Young people must leave behind what is negative in their life and treat others with love and respect. We are all children of the same creator, he said.

Father Barros told UCA News after the retreat that his special ministry to youths is only "a small" contribution to the Church and nation. He said he has seen many young people get involved in looting, arson, gang fighting and even killings, and it is important to change the mentality behind such actions.

The priest clarified that not all young people are involved in such violence, but he hopes through his ministry to reach some that are involved and contribute to putting things right again. "But it depends on everyone's love and consciousness from the family, neighborhood and the community," he acknowledged.

Participant Sinto Parada, 32, said it is important for all young people to realize that human beings need to love each other. "As young people, we need to know the meaning of Christmas and why Jesus came to the world," he told UCA News.

Youths, the hope of the country, should fill their daily activities with positive things, Parada added. He called for fellow youths to follow God and be agents of peace in their own families, neighborhoods and communities.

Meanwhile, high school student Beatrix Paula, 20, saw the retreat as a good chance for personal reflection. She said she was inspired by the love that God showed the world by sending his son to save it.

"I was very inspired by that, and I have chosen Jesus as my role model," she told UCA News.

Brother Evaristo da Costa, who accompanied the young people during the retreat, told UCA News many youths need a change in their life. He hoped the spirit of Christmas would help bring peace and prosperity for the people of Timor Leste, or East Timor. Through the newly born Jesus, he added, all people can have a fresh mind to solve the country's crisis.

Communal violence erupted in East Timor in April 2006 in the wake of the dismissal of more than one-third of the country's army. The dismissed soldiers, from the western part of the country, alleged discrimination by easterners, who claim to have been the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

Tensions sparked by the soldiers' complaints and dismissal degenerated into clashes between groups claiming to represent easterners and westerners. At least 20 people died and 100,000 were displaced. They took refuge in makeshift camps, many of which were set up in Catholic churches and centers.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor and Solidarity reports 64,367 people still living in 44 refugee camps in the Dili area, where violence was concentrated. Some remain out of fear that violence awaits them should they return home. Others cannot return, since their homes were burned in the rioting, mostly committed by young people.

Timor Leste has a population of about 1 million, more than 90 percent of whom are Catholics. Besides security matters, the country faces economic challenges including an unemployment rate of 50 percent.

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