03/20/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA

Pope blesses three Catholics condemned to death

Benteng Reges

Yesterday, the bishop of Manado, northern Sulawesi, visited Tibo and his friends in prison, as "special envoy" of the Vatican. Benedict XVI invited the three convicts, victims of an unfair trial, to pray the rosary with him during this difficult time.

Palu (AsiaNews) – The Pope is close to the three Catholics condemned to death and he has sent his blessing to them in prison. The Pontiff, through a local bishop, invited the convicts to pray the rosary together with him, so that through prayer, they may "bear" this difficult moment. This was revealed by Mgr Joseph Suwatan, bishop of Manado (northern Sulawesi), who met Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu in prison yesterday. The three men have been condemned to death for the massacre of Muslims during inter-religious clashes in Poso in 2000. The bishop said he had undertaken the visit to the Palu prison in the capacity of "special Vatican envoy". He said Benedict XVI wanted to share the men's pain and to express his solidarity for the legal injustice suffered by the three Catholics during their trial. Many Indonesians claim that the trial was controversial: its proceedings were marred by large-scale intimidation by Islamic fundamentalists.

Mgr Suwatan gave Tibo and his companions a cross and rosary beads; at the exit of the prison, he told journalists what his mission was: "The Holy See charged me with visiting these Catholic brothers, because the Pope wanted to express in person his deep closeness to the condemned men. Benedict XVI has asked the three Catholics to have patience in these difficult times, and to share their feelings with Our Lady and to recite the rosary together with him."

Tibo, speaking also in the name of da Silva and Riwu, said he was strongly moved by the considerable interest shown by the Vatican in their case. "This helps us to have courage in facing the death penalty," he said.

The parish priest of the Church of St Paul in Palu, Fr Melky Toreh, and some PADMA lawyers – who are presenting Tibo and his friends - accompanied Mgr Suwatan on the prison visit. PADMA recently appealed to the Supreme Court to review the case on the basis of new witnesses who would clear the three men. The group coordinator, Roy Stephen Rering, said if the Attorney General's Office of Central Sulwesi (AGO) did not review its decision, PADMA would ask that the case of Tibo be referred to an international court.

Meanwhile, on 17 March, after Friday prayers, the Central Sulawesi Police Chief, General Oegroseno, reiterated that all was ready for the execution of the three men, although the time and the place have not yet been announced. Rering said:

"If the sentence is carried out, the Poso conflict will remain a mystery and no one will ever know the truth."

Between 2000 and 2001, more than 1000 people died in clashes between Christians and Muslims in Poso. No Muslims have been tried for their part in the clashes as yet.

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