Subject: UCAN: Parish Holds Soccer Competition To Promote Peace Among Youth

ET04291.1482 January 31, 2008 64 EM-lines (643 words)

EAST TIMOR Parish Holds Soccer Competition To Promote Peace Among Youth

LAUTEM, East Timor (UCAN) -- After distrust and incidents of violence among youth in East Timor, Father Mateus da Cruz is organizing a series of soccer games to promote peace.

Seeking to encourage youths to let off steam on the soccer pitch rather than in street fights, the Christ the King parish priest in Lautem has launched a series of soccer tournaments that pit village against village in friendly matches.

Father da Cruz, 32, has seen gangs of youths battling, sometimes with swords and stones, on the streets of Lautem town, 250 kilometers east of Dili. The clashes are partly a result of the low-level civil war sparked by an army mutiny in 2006, and partly rivalry among so-called "martial arts groups" out to prove their superiority.

Now, however, the priest has youths battling it out on a rehabilitated soccer field in Lautem. Eight teams of 11 players aged 16-35, representing the villages of Baduro, Maina I, Pairara and Parlamento, played Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in the first of a series of tournaments Father da Cruz plans this year for Lautem subdistrict.

In the first series, Pairara emerged the champions after defeating Maina I in the final.

According to Anibal Fernandes, 34, of the soccer championship committee, "Christ the King Parish took the initiative to unify the youths, who belong to different groups and political ideologies, through pastoral activities including these games."

The committee has harnessed the youth to clean up soccer or football pitches in their villages, with the aim of establishing sports as a more peaceful pastime for players and spectators.

Youth are the foundation of the future, he said, and "when there is no peace among the youth, there is no stability in a country."

Salesian Brother Abilio da Costa, 24, told UCA News he is happy with the games and especially proud of the parish priest's initiative in organizing them and lessening the problems the youth and community are facing.

Through such activities, friendships are formed and youths from different walks of life come to know about one another's situation, he said. "It changes their approach to the Church," he continued, explaining that "many communities already understand the church generally, but we want to know how to make them really understand the Church's roles and activities."

Special guests for the first-round final included local government officials, police, respected elders called lia-na'in, youth group leaders and Church representatives.

The Lautem subdistrict administrator, Angelo Fernandes Xavier, said in his speech that the event was "very positive." Such activities empower and strengthen unity and peace in society, he affirmed.

"We talk about development, but development comes not only from the government, but also NGOs and other institutions, including the Church," Xavier said. "All the benefits are going to the community, providing advantages and motivating youth and young children to improve their talents and unity."

The local official said people should appreciate the work of the Church and especially the efforts of Christ the King Parish in organizing the youth and the community.

"As government officials, we should collaborate with the Church," he added. "When we do, we unify and create peace in society and also develop all sectors of our country.

Cornelio Eugebio Ribeiro, 37, head of Maina I village, told the players and spectators that through the soccer games and related activities, the youths and communities experience friendship, unity and peace.

"This is very good in that it improves the community and youths' creative capacity, and changes their mentality toward becoming a good generation that abides in God's love, peace and will," he said.

East Timor, officially the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, has a population of about 1 million, more than 90 percent of whom are Catholics. The former Portuguese colony gained full independence in 2002, after 24 years under Indonesian rule and a two-and-a-half-year transitional period under United Nations administration.

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