Subject: UCAN: EAST TIMOR Mountain 'Camp' Offers Young People A Chance To Reflect On Peace

ET01161.1412 September 29, 2006 73 EM-lines (826 words)

Mountain 'Camp' Offers Young People A Chance To Reflect On Peace

BAUCAU, East Timor (UCAN) -- Matebian, a jagged and thickly forested 3,400-meter peak that has been a place of refuge for local people in times of crisis, looms over Baucau diocese.

Its name, meaning "mountain of the dead," also reflects times when no refuge was to be found. Rusting fragments of bombs litter the slopes 140 kilometers east of Dili, remnants of heavy bombing by the Indonesian Air Force during the early years of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1975-99). The rough terrain and forests made Matebian a natural base for the armed resistance.

For 500 young Catholics from the diocese who climbed five hours to get to the top Sept. 16, it was a place to review their young nation's ongoing travails and look to the future prospect of peace.

Four priests and 20 seminarians, most of them Salesians, led the "exploratory camping," an overnight stay on the summit of Matebian on a cool evening that included Mass and a reflection on the recent political crisis.

In May, 600 of the 1,400-strong army in the largely Catholic country mutinied, claiming they faced discrimination as easterners in a power structure dominated by westerners. Street clashes ensued between groups aligning themselves along this communal divide, resulting in the destruction of homes and other property and the deaths of 21 people. The violence occurred mainly in Dili. Baucau is 120 kilometers to the east.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who claimed the mutiny was part of a coup attempt, resigned June 26 after being broadly blamed for the violence. He has since been succeeded by interim Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, who says he will serve until elections are held in 2007.

The U.N. Security Council on Aug. 25 authorized an international peacekeeping force to help stabilize the fledgling country officially known as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor).

During the Mass celebrated by Father Deonisio Sarmento, 30, head of the diocese's youth commission, the priest spoke of the victims of the recent violence and asked for God's help in resolving the country's ongoing problems.

Afterward, as the young people shivered in the chilly evening air, the priest told them the aim of the camping was "to allow a deep reflection on the East Timor crisis and together explore ideas on how the youth could contribute to promote peace and unity in our troubled nation."

Listening intently in the light of a fire were about 450 young men and 50 young women aged 15-35 from the diocese's 16 parishes. They belonged to groups such as Catholic Youth Scouts; Tunggal Hati Seminari-Tunggal Hati Maria, a group that focuses on physical exercise and the Bible; Mudika Salesian Don Bosco, a Salesian-run youth group; and parish youth organizations.

In reflecting on the situation, the priest told them that the violence in the country stemmed from people seeking justice. "People are fighting each other because the legal and judicial systems have not meted out justice to those who committed crimes. So people decided to take things into their own hands," he said.

He added that some politicians might have instigated young people into destabilizing the country, and he urged the Baucau Catholic youth not to be misled into such activities.

Anjelita Lopes, 21, from Manatuto parish, agreed with him. She shared with her fellow campers that although young people might view each other as easterners or westerners, they nevertheless are united as Catholics.

"We must not fall into a political trap," she said, adding that violence "is just something to ruin our sense of family and friendship as children of God." She pledged, "I will commit myself to help others understand how peace is important" in the country.

Baucau diocese covers the eastern part of the country.

Julieta Freitas, 19, from Baucau parish, told UCA News that the young people in her parish welcome westerners. She regretted that both western and eastern youths in Dili "had been used by some irresponsible politicians as an instrument to defend political interests."

She identified a need to help young people become more aware of the situation, suggesting a peace campaign in which youths would say to each another, "My friend, violence is not good. Let's forgive each other."

The reflection concluded with the young people agreeing to establish a peace group that would travel from parish to parish promoting peace among youths and other parishioners. They also planned to recite a "youth oath" for unity during Easter, and to carry a cross from district to district in the country to promote peace and reconciliation.

Father Sarmento told UCA News that young people of Dili diocese were supposed to participate in the camp, "but due to the ongoing crisis, the delegation could not come." Violence has decreased greatly but not stopped in the capital, where street gangs continue to clash intermittently.

The youth commission head added that a diocesan meeting would be held to discuss the plans raised during the camp "and where we can start."


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