Subject: UCAN: Church urges reconciliation, but soldiers boycott Mass for victims

July 27,2006

Church urges reconciliation, but soldiers boycott Mass for victims

DILI (UCAN) -- The Mass at Dili cathedral was meant to express national reconciliation, but some East Timorese apparently were not ready for that.

The choir sang Goodbye My Dear Friend as Leonia Falcao, dressed in black, carried a bundle of flowers and her father's photo up the aisle. Tears ran down her face as she placed them on the altar.

The 25-year-old woman's father was Martinho Falcao, 43, a police officer who was gunned down with eight other policemen by soldiers on May 25 in Dili.

About 1,000 Massgoers, including government officials, attended the Mass on July 25 to remember the 20 or more people killed in recent months of violence, that nearly tore this young, largely Catholic nation apart.

During the memorial service, President Jose Alexandre Gusmao placed flowers on the altar beside those of Leonia's.

The service marked a formal end to hostilities that began in April after former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri sacked about 600 soldiers from East Timor's western side who had complained of discrimination. The ensuing mutiny of nearly half the army resulted in armed clashes and gang violence, pitting locals from eastern and western sides of the country against one another.

Alkatiri, who claims the mutiny was an attempted coup, resigned on June 26 after he was blamed for the violence. Jose Ramos-Horta has replaced Alkatiri and will continue as prime minister until elections are held next year.

The noted absence of army personnel at the Mass led some observers to doubt whether the army is willing to accept responsibility for the chaos.

As the cathedral service took place, Australian troops stood guard outside. They are part of a 2,000-plus international peacekeeping force the government invited in to restore peace after weeks of chaos in which 100,000 people were displaced. Tens of thousands continue to take refuge in camps.

Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili, 63, who celebrated the Mass, urged the congregation to pray for those who had died due to the country's political and leadership crisis. He said a person's destiny is not determined by humans but by God, "so we have to respect each other; if we don't, evil will always dominate." Many things had happened due to human error, the bishop added, and this remains a major lesson for the country to learn.

The Church leader also criticized the absence of members of the army, saying it set a bad example and did not contribute to the reconciliation process.

Outside the cathedral after Mass, President Gusmao told journalists the state wishes to pay homage to those who died, but he acknowledged that this is small consolation for grieving family members. "It is the state's fault," the president acknowledged, "and the state will look into that."

As for absent army members, Gusmao said, "The army may have something else to do." He noted that he was "representing the state, and there are also two vice prime ministers, and some members of parliament" present at the Mass."

The Massgoers then went a kilometer east of the cathedral to place flowers at the site of the May 25 killings, outside police headquarters in Dili.

Tears flowed freely as some women whose husbands died in the shooting hugged their president. They beseeched him: "Do not forget us who have been left behind! We lost the ones who fed us. Who will find food for our children?"

The congregation also threw flowers into the sea in front of the government palace for all who died in the months of violence.

East Timor has seen many Church services for people killed violently. It had been a Portuguese colony for centuries before a revolution in Lisbon in 1975 gave it a brief taste of freedom. Indonesian troops invaded a few days later, however, and Jakarta annexed East Timor in 1976. Thousands died under Indonesian rule.

A referendum on independence in 1999 sparked violence that was blamed mainly on pro-Jakarta militia with ties to the Indonesian army. An international force of peacekeepers then moved in, ushering in a transitional period of U.N. administration. East Timor became a full-fledged nation on May 20, 2002.

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