Dili (AsiaNews) – The Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Cardinal Parolin signed this morning an historic agreement between the Holy See and the Democratic Republic of East Timor. The Concordat establishes the legal framework governing the activities of the Church in the Southeast Asian nation. An ad hoc group had been working on the deal since 2006.
Leading up to this visit Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo noted "The Catholic Church, over 500 years, has provided a great spiritual, human and material support to the Timorese People, and also contributed decisively to the liberation process of Timor-Leste."
The preamble of the Constitution of Timor-Leste recognises that “In its cultural and humane perspective, the Catholic Church in East Timor has always been able to take on the suffering of all the People with dignity, placing itself on their side in the defence of their most fundamental rights.”
In fact, during the struggle for independence, the Church encouraged the people of Timor Leste to resist and legitimised the international goal of the Resistance.
The Vatican Secretary of State arrived in Dili Wednesday evening, after visiting Indonesia. Yesterday at 5.30 pm, he went to see the statue of John Paul II erected in Tasi Tolu.* At 6:30 pm, he travelled to the major seminary of Fatumeta in Dili, where he celebrated Mass.
"I cannot express the depth of the joy that is my heart to be with you this evening, to celebrate Mass for the first time in this beloved country, Timor-Leste,” said the prelate
Speaking directly to the seminarians present, he said that “Discipleship is not merely a private relation” with God. “On the contrary, the deeper our relation with Christ is, the more we are compelled to go forth, to be missionaries, to bring what we have received, namely God’s love and mercy, to others especially to those who live on the periphery of society, those who are marginalized, those who are forgotten.”
The cardinal is scheduled to celebrate Mass at Tasi Tolu tomorrow, feast day of the Assumption of Mary. The service will commemorate the landing on the island of Portuguese missionaries who started East Timor’s evangelisation 500 years ago.
Speaking about the Church, Prime Minister de Araújo, said that, given the commitment it continues to “show in the area of development in the nation, especially in education,” the “Catholic Church remains a fundamental reference for the population".
Originally, East Timor gained its independence from Portugal on 28 November 1975; however, after civil war broke out, the United Nations allowed Indonesia to occupy territory. This was followed by 25 years of violence and war against Indonesian rule.
During that period, the Vatican refused to place the local Church under the jurisdiction of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference. Catholics are 96 per cent out of a population of 1.2 million.
Finally, the tiny country, which occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, became independent in 2002 as the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste.
(Mathias Hariyadi contributed to this article)
* The Polish pontiff visited the territory on 12 October 1989.