Subject: UCAN: Children Get Serious Message Through Fun And Games

ET03803.1471 November 16, 2007 55 EM-lines (628 words) EAST TIMOR Children Get Serious Message Through Fun And Games

DILI (UCAN) -- More than 600 children gathered at Dili's cathedral for two days of fun and games in a program that stressed love and respect for one another.

Kids for Christ held the Oct. 29-30 program. The theme, As I have loved you, so you must love one another, was taken from Saint John's Gospel.

The children, aged 4-12, came from the cathedral and four other parishes of Dili diocese and from Baucau, the other diocese in Timor Leste, or East Timor.

Members of Youth for Christ and Couples for Christ, as well as priests and nuns, foreign missioners and government officials took part in the program. Jose Turquel represented the president's office.

Kids for Christ is part of Couples for Christ, which began in 1981 in the Philippines as a local initiative to evangelize married couples. The movement expanded, and it came to East Timor in 2001, a year before the country achieved full independence. According to its website, Couples for Christ now has more than 1 million members in 160 countries.

The Dili program was designed to provide a fun-filled time for the children, but all activities stressed love for one another, according to event coordinator Nirva de la Cruz.

The children prayed and also took part in dances, songs, drama and poetry reading, individually and in groups, for which they received prizes. But whatever the activity or competition, organizers stressed "no hitting each other, teasing or being rude," de la Cruz told UCA News on Oct. 30.

The 29-year-old Filipina said Kids for Christ focuses on deepening children's Catholic faith and preparing them to be responsible and productive citizens. "Criminals are not born but bred," she asserted, explaining that the "youths who throw stones and burn houses are precisely the kids who grew up without parental guidance." For her, "everything starts in childhood."

Clashes erupted in Timor Leste in April and May 2006 following the dismissal of nearly half the army, mostly from the western part of the country. Up to 37 people were killed and about 150,000 displaced by the violence, mostly in and around the capital, which pitted "easterners" against "westerners."

Clashes continued sporadically but eventually subsided until this August, when youths in the Baucau area went on a rampage after the party they supported won the most seats in parliament but was outmaneuvered by the second-place party, which managed to form a coalition government.

De la Cruz described Timorese children as having a "precocious innocence that makes them very inclined to either genuine goodness or extreme violence." She added that "because of the violent history of Timor and because of the example of their elders, they are also the first ones who reap the ill consequences of domestic violence and poverty."

Sister Amalia Barreto, a Timorese nun who works in Baucau diocese, told UCA News the program was a good opportunity for the children to experience something new, increase their creativity and transform their way of thinking.

Turquel told the children's parents that their role is important. He asked them to work with the government and especially with the Church to bring up the new generation to develop the country, especially in the fields of economics, science and technology.

According to de la Cruz, although Couples for Christ came to East Timor in 2001, Kids for Christ only started to take off this year. It has established a presence in almost all Dili parishes and some in Baucau diocese.

More than 90 percent of the almost 1 million people of Timor Leste, a former Portuguese colony that was under Indonesian occupation 1975-1999, are Catholics. Their five-year-old country continues to face major security, humanitarian and economic challenges. It has significant offshore oil and gas reserves, but unemployment hovers at around 50 percent.

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