Subject: Timor remembers priests of freedom struggle
September 15, 2008
Timor remembers priests of freedom struggle
COVALIMA, Timor Leste (UCAN) -- Catholics in Timor Leste have
commemorated the ninth death anniversary of three priests whom
anti-independence militias murdered along with people they were
sheltering in a church.
Eyewitnesses said pro-Jakarta militiamen and Indonesian army personnel
killed Fathers Tarcisius Dwanto, Hilario Madeira and Francisco Soares on
Sept. 6, 1999, at Ave Maria Church in Covalima, 100 kilometers south of
The priests were protecting hundreds of people sheltering there at the
Suai parish church. Survivors said the militiamen and soldiers killed
more than 100 people in the incident.
The anniversary Mass took place on Sept. 9 at Father Soares' hometown in
Catrai Kraik village, 60 kilometers west of Dili.
Father Lorenco de Jesus, the parish priest who celebrated Mass, called
the slain priests martyrs for defending people against violence and
intimidation by military and paramilitary groups. "They followed the
path of Jesus by giving their lives to save other people," he said in
Trouble began in the area on Sept. 4, 1999, the day the results of the
Aug. 30 U.N.-sponsored independence referendum were announced. Almost 80
percent of East Timor (Timor Leste) voters chose independence from
The priest recounted how people had fled to Ave Maria and Nossa Senhora
de Fatima Churches, both in Covalima, after Laksaur (eagle) pro-Jakarta
militia members and Indonesian security forces killed a high school
student that day, and burned homes and government buildings in Covalima
the following evening. Militia members attacked Ave Maria Church the
Domingos Sousa, a parishioner, told UCA News he and others took refuge
at the church because "we were scared of the militia." He said he saw
about 50 people murdered that day. "Father Hilario was shot in the
chest, Father Francisco was stabbed and Father Tarcisius was hacked to
death in the church."
After the commemorative Mass, the congregation placed flowers on the
graves of Fathers Madeira and Soares in the village. Father Dwanto was
buried in Atambua in western Timor, Indonesia.
The remains of the three priests were among the 26 bodies exhumed on
Nov. 25, 1999, from three mass graves in Alas Selatan village, three
kilometers from the border in western Timor. The Indonesian government's
Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Abuse in East Timor
exhumed the bodies and identified the three priests. "The rest could not
be identified yet, but it is sure that some of the victims are women and
children," it said in a statement at that time.
Locally recruited militia groups linked to the Indonesian military were
active in Timor Leste at the time of the 1999 referendum on whether the
former Portuguese colony should remain part of Indonesia, which had
taken control in 1975 and integrated East Timor as a province the
following year. The militias responded to the pro-independence vote by
killing hundreds of people and destroying much of East Timor's
Timor Leste, which became fully independent on May 20, 2002, after more
than two years under a transitional U.N. administration, has a
population of about 1 million, 95 percent of whom are Catholics.
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