Subject: UCAN: Grateful Nation Erects Pope John Paul II Monument

EAST TIMOR Grateful Nation Erects Pope John Paul II Monument

June 18, 2008 | ET05204.1502

DILI (UCAN) -- The government of Timor Leste (East Timor) has erected a statue of Pope John Paul II to honor the late pontiff's moral support for the country's self-determination.

The six-meter-tall concrete statue was inaugurated on June 14 in Tasi Tolu, on the western outskirts of Dili, the same place where Pope John Paul celebrated Mass on Oct. 12, 1989, during the Indonesian occupation.

Tasi Tolu was notorious as a site where Indonesian soldiers allegedly dumped the bodies of many young people during the independence struggle. Catholics form an estimated 96 percent of Timor Leste's 1 million people.

The statue, which overlooks the capital's western fringe and faces the sea, stands next to a chapel for Sunday Mass, also built in the late pope's honor.

President Jose Ramos-Horta of Timor Leste inaugurated the statue in the presence of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the Jakarta-based apostolic nuncio to Timor Leste.

"Pope John Paul was a figure who inspired peace and justice in the world. He also fought for the right of Timorese people to be recognized by the world and in its fight toward self-determination," Ramos-Horta said in his address.

Around 1,000 people dressed in tais, hand-woven cloth worn as a wrap, attended the event, which included an open-air Mass filled with traditional dance and song, and an offertory procession with local food and fruits.

The nuncio, who led the Mass, said Pope John Paul's visit to Timor Leste showed solidarity with the suffering of Timorese. "During his leadership Pope John Paul paid great attention to justice, human rights and reconciliation," Archbishop Girelli told Massgoers. "Pope John Paul taught us to respect the dignity and the lives of people."

The Vatican diplomat also read a message from Pope Benedict XVI's secretary thanking the government for building the statue and chapel. The letter conveyed Pope Benedict's promise to pray for peace and justice in the country.

Ramos-Horta explained that Pope John Paul made a big contribution to the country's freedom and this was the people's expression of gratitude to the late Church leader.

The president also thanked former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who he said had proposed the idea of building the statue at Tasi Tolu when Pope John Paul died in April 2005, after a 26-year pontificate. Alkatiri, a Muslim, had said then that the statue would remind people of a figure identified with human rights and justice. In 2007, he commissioned the statue, made locally by Indonesian sculptors.

Filomena Soares, 35, told UCA News on June 15 that she was delighted to see the statue of Pope John Paul. "It reminded me of the time he came here. I can recall his coming to East Timor and reviving our struggle to gain self-determination." She added, "Timorese people should be proud of it and should also pray and thank the late pope, because he gave us courage and hope."

During Pope John Paul's visit, police reportedly seized young men after they approached the altar at the end of the Mass to draw the pope's attention to the plight of local people under Indonesian rule. International media reported the demonstrators were beaten during the commotion and later tortured, a charge Indonesian officials denied.Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili 1988-2002, told UCA News the day after Pope John Paul died that the Holy Father maintained a close relationship with the East Timorese from the time of his visit. During the ensuing years of struggle and violence, the pope sent representatives as well as letters to comfort the East Timorese people, the Salesian prelate said.

Indonesia "integrated" the former Portuguese colony of East Timor as a province in 1976, after taking control the previous year, when the Portuguese colonial administration withdrew amid mounting political tensions. During Indonesian rule, up to 200,000 East Timorese died due to famine, armed resistance and reprisals.

A large majority of East Timorese voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum on Aug. 30, 1999, after which pro-Jakarta militia went on a rampage that left hundreds dead. A transitional U.N. administration took over until the formal emergence of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste in May 2002.

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