Subject: UCAN: Catholic Church welcomes new 'driver' for embattled East Timor

UCAN: Catholic Church welcomes new 'driver' for embattled East Timor


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DILI, East Timor (UCAN) ­ Catholic Church leaders in East Timor have endorsed Jose Ramos-Horta as the country's new prime minister, calling his leadership a step toward ending violence and political uncertainty.

Ramos-Horta, who was sworn in July 10 as prime minister at the presidential office in Dili, promised close collaboration with the Catholic Church and an end to the violence that forced 150,000 people to flee their homes.

"I think this is a good step forward to solve the crisis," Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili told press persons outside the presidential palace after the swearing-in, for which he was present. "The church fully supports the effort of the government, and the church is also available to work together with the government to build this country."

Ramos-Horta was foreign-affairs minister under former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who resigned June 26. His failure to stop violence that erupted in the capital following his dismissal of more than 40 percent of the country's army led to mounting calls for his resignation. President Jose Alexandre Gusmao had threatened to resign if Alkatiri did not do so.

Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau, also speaking with journalists outside the presidential palace after the swearing-in, compared the country to a vehicle and the prime minister to its driver. If the old driver is not able to steer the vehicle, he said, "we have to find another driver."

Alkatiri, East Timor's first prime minister since it achieved independence in 2002, became unpopular after his dismissal of more than 600 protesting soldiers from western districts set off communal fighting between security personnel, which later spilled into gang warfare, looting and arson that left at least 21 people dead. Foreign troops were invited to help end the violence.

"My main task and priorities are to restore the security in Dili to enable those in refugee camps to go home," Ramos-Horta said after he was sworn in.

He then invited the church "to a partnership with our young state, (to) help us get out of this crisis, heal the wounds, help us better serve the people in all the areas -- social, educational, cultural, spiritual and moral."

He said his government would make available to church institutions the financial means needed for this church-state partnership to become a reality.

Ramos-Horta also invited the Catholic Church to assume a bigger role in education, human development and the fight against poverty. Muslims and Protestants, although small in number, would also be asked to play an important role in education and human development, he added.

The new prime minister spoke of his friendship with the two Catholic bishops and paid tribute to Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, with whom he shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. As apostolic administrator of Dili, Bishop Belo, who retired in 2002, defended human rights and became a symbol of resistance to Indonesia's rule over East Timor from 1974.

Salesian Father Agostino Soares, head of Dili diocese's justice and peace commission, told UCA News he believes Ramos-Horta has a lot of experience and influence in the country and abroad. "This country needs a person who can listen and discuss with other elements of the country when he wants to take a decision. I believe Mister Horta can do that. I have already seen how he appreciates and works together with the church."

Father Soares pointed out that the church and people of East Timor cannot be separated from each other.

Alkatiri, a Muslim, had at times directly confronted the Catholic Church in a country where Catholics form more than 90 percent of the 1 million population. Church-led protests in 2005 led the government to back down on a proposal to make religion an optional, rather than compulsory, school subject.

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