Subject: CNS: Democratic ideals, nationalism emerge in East Timor, bishop says

May 10, 2002

Democratic ideals, nationalism emerge in East Timor, bishop says

By Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- A "new consciousness of democratic ideals" and "assertive nationalism" is emerging in East Timor, said Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili, East Timor.

In a statement presented to a group of religious leaders in New York May 6 prior to the U.N. General Assembly's Special Session on Children May 8-10, Bishop Belo said the citizens of East Timor, which receives full independence May 20, are determined to run their country after some 400 years of colonial rule and occupation.

"Today, we are witnessing an emergence within our country's various subcultures (of) a new consciousness of democratic ideals and a new self-understanding expressed in a new form of assertive nationalism and a determined gaze toward the future, with a steadfast will to take up the life and destiny of our nation," said Bishop Belo, co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

The bishop said a recent report by global development organizations concluded that the East Timorese people are determined to control the country's vast natural resources with "modest help from the outside."

However, despite the hope and optimism from their upcoming independence, a harsh reality of East Timor is that most citizens are impoverished, with nearly 60 percent underfed, the bishop said.

"The quality of life for most people is far, very far from what it should be," he said.

The two-day symposium addressed by Bishop Belo was sponsored by UNICEF and the New York-based World Conference on Religion and Peace.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, along with Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu representatives, also participated in the symposium.

Bishop Belo said East Timor is still recovering from the destruction that occurred after the 1999 U.N.-sponsored referendum in which the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. Armed militias, sponsored by the Indonesian military, destroyed most of the country's infrastructure and killed about 1,000 people.

The bishop also addressed what he described as the "feminization of poverty." He said East Timorese culture forces women into an often brutal, subordinate role.

"There are still women in remote villages who have to stay indoors after sundown. To me, this is a way of saying that because women cannot do much, she is poor -- yes, sometimes she is the poorest of the poor," he said.

Bishop Belo said the church's justice and peace commission, along with UNICEF and other nongovernmental organizations, have been working at raising awareness on issues affecting women and children and at eradicating poverty.

"As a result, a relative awakening among our people is beginning to emerge, to lessen, if not bring to a close, long years of surrendering to fatalism and to passive acceptance of poverty, and to expose and bring to justice perpetrators of violence against women," he said.

The bishop called on religious leaders to initiate programs that promote the dignity of women and their role in society.

"Let us not become stumbling blocks to the promotion of women and women's rights, but instead become signposts toward giving them their share of responsibility and participation in society and in religious circles," he said.

In a separate speech at the symposium May 7, Bishop Belo spoke of a 15-year-old girl he knows who does not attend school, comes from a poor family, yet is rarely seen without her cell phone.

"You wonder where she gets the money for the load on her cell phone? From the customers who patronize her. For her, the cell phone is her lifeline to economic means. It is how she sets up her appointments," he said.

"She is one of the unfortunate young people of our land, and to my great pain, the number seems to be growing," the bishop said.

Bishop Belo provided other examples of children who yearn to become police officers in order to protect their country from "bad people," and of Muslim children who co-exist peacefully with their Christian neighbors.

"Being a pastor of a very oppressed people was a very difficult task, but with the grace of God, we survived it all," he said.

Bishop Belo said a diocesan assembly in January placed the formation of children and families as the diocese's top priority. He said the church decided to focus on children in order to shield them from the pain of the past.

"My generation has suffered enough violence. We have so much work to do to heal our very violent past. I pray our children will be spared," he said.

He said that the East Timorese, who at independence will become the poorest country in Asia, possess a wealth of spirit often absent in the industrialized countries of the West.

"When almost everyone had a relative that was killed or did the killing, we held on to our faith that one day we will overcome all sufferings," he said.

"When there were many women in almost all our villages who are widows and victims of rape, and children orphaned, we held on to our faith that one day, the world will be safe and beautiful again," he said.

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