Subject: CNS: Priests, nuns discovered alive
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 10:57:06 -0400

20 Sep 1999

Peacekeepers arrive in East Timor; priests, nuns discovered alive By Stephen Steele

NEW YORK (CNS) -- When the first ship of U.N. peacekeeping troops arrived in Dili, East Timor, at 4:15 a.m., it wakened nuns and refugees residing at a Salesian convent.

''It's earlier than we normally get up, but everybody in the house woke up smiling. Our lives have been saved,'' said Salesian Sister Marlene Bautista, the only U.S. nun who remained in Timor throughout several weeks of anarchy and violence.

''I feel safe and I feel confident. Now there are people here who can protect us, and we feel confident that they will protect us,'' she said.

The first batch of international troops landed at dawn Sept 20. The peacekeeping force, led by Australia, will eventually number about 7,500 troops from more than 20 nations. The force was created with a U.N. mandate to use ''all necessary means'' to assist distribution of humanitarian aid and to end the killing that began after 78 percent of voters in East Timor favored independence from Indonesia.

As the troops moved in, new details emerged on the number of casualties suffered among the clergy and church workers. Father Francisco Barreto, the head of Caritas East Timor, reported dead Sept. 9, is alive and residing in the hills surrounding Dili, said Sister Bautista. The announcement reduces the number of confirmed killings of clergy to four.

Sister Bautista said Mother Matilde, the 80-year-old mother superior of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, also is alive.

''She visited here yesterday, which made us all very happy because we heard that she was killed,'' Sister Bautista told Catholic News Service.

Mother Matilde, who worked for Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, told the Salesian nuns that she was residing alone in a portion of Bishop Belo's house that was not destroyed when militias attacked the residence in early September.

''She said she's `standing guard,''' Sister Bautista said.

Bishop Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, said in Portugal Sept. 19 he would return to Dili ''when the U.N. force is in all towns and cities (of East Timor) and when Dili is calm.'' He celebrated Mass that day in Fatima, the site of church-recognized Marian apparitions to three children in 1917.

Bishop Belo was evacuated to Australia in early September following a militia attack on his residence.

The bishop met Sept. 13 with Pope John Paul II at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to discuss the situation in East Timor. Priests and dozens of pastoral workers were killed in what Vatican officials described as deliberate attacks against the Catholic Church.

Of the 10 priests reported missing, six priests, including Father Barreto, were believed to be residing in the hills outside Dili. Father Francisco Tavares dos Reis was said to be alive, while a Father Francisco Soares was believed dead, said a church official.

Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, apostolic administrator of Baukau, East Timor, was also in hiding in the mountains surrounding Baukau, said Father Reinaldo Cardoso of Providence, R.I., a priest from the Azores who served in East Timor prior to the 1975 Indonesian invasion.

Many of the refugees at the Salesian convent wept during a Sept. 19 Mass, which was the first Mass held at the convent in more than two weeks, said Sister Bautista. The refugees had been trapped in the convent by the violence that broke out in the wake of the Aug. 30 referendum.

''When you think about it there is a lot to cry about. But the priest told us that as Christians there's also a lot to be joyful for. All the evil and bad in our society for the past 24 years has been burned clean, and now we can start rebuilding something pure, just and good,'' Sister Bautista said.

Meanwhile, a ship carrying 1,200 tons of rice provided by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, arrived on Timor island, bound primarily for the more the 60,000 refugees in the Atambua Diocese.

Vennera Pancho, CRS logistics manager, told UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, that about 115 tons of the rice would be given to refugees sheltered in the Kupang Archdiocese.

World Leaders Contact List The East Timorese need you to speak out for them

Back to September Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
Search Postings
1998 (+January & February '99) Postings