Subject: CNS: Nascimento on Muslim-Christian relations



East Timor bishop optimistic on nation's Muslim-Christian relations

By Catholic News Service

DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- An East Timorese bishop said he is optimistic about the development of democracy and relations with Muslims in his overwhelmingly Catholic country.

Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, apostolic administrator of Dili and Bacau, spoke to UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, in late December after receiving a seasonal visit by three representatives of East Timor's Muslim community.

Catholics comprise 93 percent of East Timor's 750,000 people, making it the most densely Catholic country in Asia. Muslims account for 2 percent, but East Timor's only land border is with Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

Bishop do Nascimento said Christian-Muslim relations in East Timor have been built over a period of nearly 40 years, with Christian and Muslim leaders regularly visiting each other during religious festivals.

When he visited a Dili mosque in November for the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr, he met the Malaysian ambassador to East Timor. The ambassador remarked that he was very surprised to see a Catholic Church leader in the mosque and contacted the Malaysian media to report the event, Bishop do Nascimento said.

Bishop do Nascimento pointed to the fact that the country's first prime minister is a Muslim as an indication that democracy in the newly independent country is "running well."

East Timor formally became an independent country in May 2002.

In assessing the government's performance in 2003, Bishop do Nascimento cited "better coordination among the president, the prime minister and his Cabinet, and the legislators." In comparison, he said, during 2002 "they each worked in their own stable and only empowered their own stable."

This year he would like to see those in power "really work for the interests of the East Timor people (and) not for their personal or political group's interest." He said that "in a democratic state a political party is only a bridge to gather and channel people's aspirations."

However, the bishop said that although the people hoped government officials would address national problems as soon as possible "we must be realistic." People should "keep striving" to achieve their hopes, and "work together with the government, church leaders, the whole East Timor people and international community to bring improvement to our lives," he said.

Bishop do Nascimento said the East Timorese are beginning to realize that they cannot fully depend on the government or other people's support, nor sit back and wait for a miracle from God. They are coming to understand that they must participate fully in building a democratic country, he said.

"I also see improvements in stability, security and the economy. The mentality of self-reliance must be enhanced," he said.

Both before and after the August 1999 vote for independence, anti-independence militia gangs backed by the Indonesian army went on a rampage, killing up to 2,000 civilians, burning and looting houses and driving 250,000 people from their homes.

The United Nations then put a transitional administration in place to prepare for independence.


Copyright (c) 2004 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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