|East Timorese Appeal to Cardinal O'Connor in Struggle
By Stephen Steele
Catholic New York, May 20, 1999
Cardinal O'Connor promised a delegation of East Timorese Catholics that the U.S. Church will do what it can to help the troubled island of East Timor.
The two men-one a victim of the April 6 massacre in Liquica, East Timor, and the other a university professor whose name has appeared on a death list of Indonesia-backed militias-traveled to New York to seek an audience with the cardinal and to appeal for increased attention and humanitarian aid from the Church in the U.S.
Speaking in his native Tetun language, Francisco de Jesus da Costa recounted for the cardinal the events of April 6 when militias ambushed a Catholic church where refugees had found sanctuary.
''I was a witness to the massacre at Liquica where I saw many people killed,'' de Jesus said. He disputed official reports that ''at least 25'' people were killed in the attack, placing the number at more than 200.
Vincente Soares Faria, a teacher at the University of East Timor, was staying in the residence of Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili, a 1996 Nobel Peace laureate, when he escaped from the island.
''Bishop Belo asked me to leave for my own safety,'' said Soares, whose name appeared on a militia death list.
Serving as interpreter during the meeting with the cardinal was Constancio Pinto, a Timorese resistance leader living in exile in New York (CNY, Feb. 18). Pinto was an organizer of the November 1991 demonstration at a cemetery in Dili, in which 271 Timorese were killed when Indonesian soldiers opened fire on the unarmed crowd. The massacre thrust East Timor back into the international spotlight.
Also present for the meeting, which took place at the cardinal's residence, was Msgr. Ferdinando D. Berardi, archdiocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
The May 17 meeting was the cardinal's first with native Timorese. ''I am very sympathetic to the situation in East Timor. I have read about East Timor for years, but this is my first opportunity to have direct, first-hand information,'' he told the men.
''The Church will attempt to do what it can. I will appeal to the various Catholic agencies and urge them to do what they can'' to help East Timor, he said.
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and annexed the tiny Catholic territory to the world's largest Islamic nation in a move never recognized by the Vatican or the United Nations.
After 23 years of a military campaign against the East Timorese guerrilla separatist movement, Indonesia agreed in May to hold a U.N.-monitored ballot that will determine independence or integration with Indonesia.
The United Nations sent a small advance team to East Timor and in June is to send approximately 300 U.N. police advisers that may or may not be armed.
The Indonesian military must secure the ballot, despite its failure to stop a three-month terror campaign by pro-integration militias. Though Bishop Belo has welcomed the U.N.-monitored ballot, he has cautioned that violence will continue until more U.N. security units are brought in.