Subject: UCAN: Dili bishop stresses peace, unity for 2008

January 21, 2008 Dili bishop stresses peace, unity for 2008

DILI (UCAN): Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili has invited Catholics to reflect and be grateful to God as they welcomed in the New Year, even though they suffered badly from violence in 2007.

"We need to reflect on the negative things we have done due to our ego, which have to be thrown away, and immediately apologize and ask for God's pardon," Bishop da Silva said. He also expressed hope that the good things they experienced in 2007 would continue into 2008.

Self-reflection, peace and unity were the themes the bishop emphasized to about 2,500 Massgoers at Immaculate Conception Cathedral here in the capital of Timor Leste, or East Timor, on New Year's Eve.

In his homily just before the clock struck 12 a.m. on Jan. 1, he also stressed the importance of family in pursuing peace and lifting the country from the quagmire of violence. "The family has the biggest role in forming a person to be a good person," he said. All members of local society, he continued, must live as one family in one home, Timor Leste, so they should start the year by renewing their commitment to live peacefully.

"Let's shake hands and forgive each other in order to find a way to return to justice and peace, which is needed in building a peaceful life," he said.

Maria De Jesus Barreto, a 32-year-old mother, told UCA News at the cathedral, "I am still grateful to God, though my house was burnt down during the riots, because I still have my life to do my daily duty as a teacher better."

Barreto is one of thousands who live in refugee camps in the Dili area, where violence the last two years was concentrated. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor and Solidarity reports 64,367 people remain in 44 refugee camps. Barreto and her family live with 1,000 other displaced people in the compound of St. Joseph College in Dili. Like most, she said she was still too afraid to leave, and like some others, she has no home to return to.

Communal violence erupted in Timor Leste in April 2006 in the wake of the dismissal of more than one-third of the army. The dismissed soldiers, from the western part of the country, alleged discrimination by easterners, who claim to have been the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

Tensions sparked by the soldiers' dismissal degenerated into clashes between groups claiming to represent easterners and westerners. At least 20 people died and more than 100,000 were displaced at the height of the crisis. They took refuge in camps, many of which were set up in Catholic churches and centers. Riots continued to break out sporadically during 2007.

Also in 2007, youths in the Baucau area went on a rampage after the party they supported won the most seats in parliament but the second-place party formed a coalition government. They burned homes and attacked Church and government buildings Aug. 7-9. Then, on Aug. 10, a gang raped nine young girls at the Salesian-run convent school in Baguia subdistrict. [PLEASE NOTE: only a single rape occurred at the school according to follow-up reports, see for example - .htm - JMM] More than 3,000 people fled their homes.

Timor Leste, which gained full independence in 2002, after more than two years under a transitional administration set up by the United Nations, has a population of about 1 million, more than 90 percent of whom are Catholics.

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