Subject: UCAN: Pope awards Monsignor title to two foreign missioners

Also UCAN: Pope urges East Timor leaders to work for security, wellbeing of people

May 23,2007

Pope awards Monsignor title to two foreign missioners

DILI (UCAN) -- Two long-serving foreign Catholic missioners who witnessed the conversion of East Timorese to Catholicism during Portuguese and Indonesian rule were awarded the honorary title "monsignor" by the pope.

Diocesan priests Fathers Jose Nolasco Santimano Meneses e Monteiro, 84, who is Indian, and Jose Antonio da Costa, 73, who is Portuguese, were awarded the title by Pope Benedict XVI in April.

"Monsignor" is an ecclesiastical honorific title for a priest of the Catholic Church. These honors are bestowed upon a priest directly by the pope, most often in consultation with the local bishop. A monsignor is also referred to as a "Chaplain of His Holiness."

During the celebration Mass in Dili on May 3, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili said the award is an honor for the East Timor Catholic Church, in addition to being special for the two priests.

Father Apolinario Aparicio Guterres, vicar general of the diocese, told Massgoers the award was a sign of the pope's attention to East Timor.

After the Mass, Monsignor Jose Antonio da Costa told media he was grateful to receive the title. "It is a grace of God and also the symbol of attention and tribute of the pope to the East Timor Church," he said.

A layperson at the Mass, Jose Viegas, hoped the awards will motivate local Catholics to develop their Church.

Monsignors Monteiro and da Costa came separately to East Timor in 1954, then under Portuguese rule, when there were 40 foreign missioners but no local priests. Father Monteiro recalled that only 450 people were baptized out of a total population of 50,000, most of who were animists. Today over 90 percent of the country's 1 million people are Catholics. He said this growth was part of the "successful mission" of Catholic missioners.

However, Monsignor Monteiro made clear the award was not only for him but also for all the missioners in East Timor. According to 2006 diocesan statistics, there are 113 Timorese priests in East Timor and 150 foreign missioners.

Father Monteiro now chairs the economic department of Dili diocese, which analyzes the diocese's economic situation. He works with national and international Catholic aid organizations on projects to help the poor.

Over the last 50 years Monsignor Monteiro told UCA News he spent many years teaching in the major seminary in Dili, and spent time as a parish priest in several parishes in the diocese.

Monsignor da Costa, who preferred not to be interviewed, is now the superior at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Dili. He was described by Monsignor Monteiro as "a hard-working priest" who spent time in rural areas evangelizing and baptizing people.

East Timor was a Portuguese colony for centuries before Lisbon withdrew in 1975. Indonesian troops invaded shortly thereafter, annexing the territory in 1976. Large numbers of people died under a repressive Indonesian occupation.

During Indonesian rule, everyone was obliged to belong to one of these five religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. That is why most of the people who were animists were forced to convert to one of these religions, according to Romana Alves, a 54-year-old catechist from Sacred Heart Jesus Parish, in Dili.

She told UCA News May 18 the Catholic belief was widely chosen by the indigenous people and this had a big impact on the conversions to Catholicism, since the majority converted to it. There were some who converted to Protestantism or Islam, which were brought in by the Indonesians.

She said that under Portuguese rule, conversions were different than under Indonesian rule. Under the Portuguese, the people did not feel the pressure of a colonial power to convert. Free from this, they learned that there is a creator of the universe "so people got to know that there is God," Alves said.

East Timor is divided into two dioceses, Baucau and Dili. The Church plans to establish one more diocese to cover the southern part of the country.

UCAN: Pope urges East Timor leaders to work for security, wellbeing of people

By Gerard O'Connell


UCANews (>

VATICAN CITY (UCAN) ­ Pope Benedict XVI has made a passionate appeal to the authorities in Timor Leste "to do everything possible to restore public order effectively, using legal means, and to ensure security for citizens."

He made his appeal on May 21, when welcoming Ambassador Justino Maria Aparicio Gutteres, 61, the first ambassador from the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste (East Timor) to the Holy See.

The pope commented positively on the "enormous turnout" in the May 11 election that brought President Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to office. He said this "demonstrated the great civic maturity of the Timorese people, and the hope they have in the process of constructing a democratic state."

He prayed that the new "representatives and servants" of the Timorese people ­ both the president and lawmakers to be elected in June ­ "would commit themselves to the progressive democratization of society, seeking to increase the participation of all the groups in public life."

Recalling recent violence, which he called a "grave crisis created by the desperation of the one side and the impatience of the other," he said these dynamics caused upheaval "and made reappear in the collective soul the ghosts of the past, in the forms of fear, suspicion and division."

He hoped that the government and the opposition would embrace dialogue and collaboration, "avoiding the temptation to abandon themselves to confrontation with the political adversary."

Any such confrontation, he continued, besides being morally unacceptable, would "be prejudicial to the consolidation of a correct democratic dialectic and the integral development of all the citizens of the country."

About 96 percent of the people in the former Portuguese colony, which was under Indonesian rule 1975-1999, are Catholics. Timor Leste officially established diplomatic relations with the Holy See on May 20, 2002, the day it became an independent nation. Pope Benedict delivered his address welcoming Gutteres in Portuguese.

The pope acknowledged that besides the divisions that have troubled Timor Leste, its "resources are insufficient to answer the many needs of health, education and employment."

He assured the government, through the ambassador, that the people's 400-year-old history of Christian faith, together with their church's pastoral guidance, will encourage them "to collaborate in favor of progress and the common good," without neglecting "the poorest and least privileged."

The 80-year-old pope added approvingly that the Timor Leste bishops have not ceased to tell their people that "the high road to a future of peace and prosperity lies in the rejection of violence and resentment, and the offering of pardon and reconciliation."

He said that on Easter, May 8, he had joined his voice to theirs in asking the risen Christ to help this country which needs "peace and reconciliation."

Pope Benedict went on to appeal to Timor Leste authorities "to do everything possible to restore public order effectively, using legal means, and to ensure security for the citizens in their daily lives."

Noting that the state is called to be "the primary guarantor of the freedoms and rights of the human person," he told the Timorese authorities that they would instill confidence among their citizens by "paying attention to human rights" and ensuring that these are protected.

The theologian-pope explained that the church works for human development primarily "by enlightening the moral conscience of political, economic and financial leaders," and by highlighting "the principle of solidarity as the basis for a true economy of communion and distribution of wealth."

This solidarity is shown "by means of technical assistance and appropriate training," he added. "It is vital to help those countries that are coming out of difficult periods to support democratic institutions, and to use their wealth for the good of all the inhabitants."

He appealed to the United Nations as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations "not to abandon" Timor Leste's people.

Pope Benedict assured the government that the church in Timor Leste ­ bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople ­ "will tirelessly continue their mission of evangelization, assistance and charity," including educational services "to those who are most in need."

The ambassador, in his address, invited Pope Benedict to visit East Timor, which he said "would be an immeasurable joy for our people." - - -

Gerard O'Connell is special UCA News correspondent in Rome.

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Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency>  

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