Subject: 'New York Will Pray' Cardinal phones nuns in East Timor making pledge of support in crisis

September 23, 1999 
Catholic New York

Cardinal O'Connor placed a call to a Salesian nun trapped inside a convent in Dili, East Timor, and pledged that he would do everything he could to ensure the safety of the 105 nuns and refugees residing in the convent since early September.

''I told her that I would do everything in my power to ensure her safety, and that I and the entire Church in New York would be praying for them,'' the cardinal told CNY Sept. 17. 

He spoke Sept. 16 with Salesian Sister Marlene Bautista, of Long Beach, Calif., the only American religious remaining in East Timor. During their half-hour conversation, the cardinal expressed his concern about the attacks against the Church and said he would begin lobbying his contacts on the nuns' behalf for an immediate solution to the humanitarian crisis in East Timor. 

The cardinal learned of the sisters' plight through a reporter who was in East Timor in March and April and remained in contact with Sister Marlene. 

In the days following an Aug. 30 U.N.-sponsored referendum on independence, East Timor descended into a fiery nightmare, with pro-Indonesia militia groups shooting, burning and looting throughout the country. At least 700 people are reported dead in the two-week killing spree. Among the dead were four priests.

Reached by telephone Sept. 21, Sister Marlene told CNY the cardinal's call lifted the spirits of the nuns and refugees. ''We're pretty isolated here. But to receive a phone call from Cardinal O'Connor shows that the world has not forgotten us,'' she said.

She said the cardinal told her that ''if there was anything else he could do for us, that we were to contact him immediately, any hour of the day or night.''

Sister Marlene learned only after his call that the cardinal has been undergoing radiation treatment after surgery for a brain tumor.

''Please let him know that the children are praying in a special way for him, that he recovers quickly and that God protects him,'' she told CNY.

She said that the children made a card for the cardinal with the inscription, ''Thank you for helping to save our lives.''

The cardinal asked for prayers for the nuns and refugees at Sunday Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral Sept. 19 and at a Mass Sept. 17 at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie marking the start of the academic year.

The arrival of peacekeeping troops in East Timor Sept. 20 may mean an end to the death and mayhem of recent weeks. The first ship carrying troops arrived at 4:15 a.m. The noise woke the 105 nuns and refugees residing at the Salesian convent.

''It's earlier than we normally get up, but everybody in the house woke up smiling. Our lives have been saved,'' Sister Marlene said.

''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 heavily armed international troops landed at dawn Sept 20. By Monday afternoon, 2,500 soldiers, helicopters and armored personnel were on the ground in Dili, East Timor's capital, charged with restoring order to the troubled territory.

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