The 54-year-old archbishop of Dili is one of the new cardinals announced by Pope Francis, an acknowledgment of faith in a land where the Gospel arrived 500 years ago. President-elect José Ramos-Horta congratulated the new cardinal. The new cardinal will serve a small country with a large Catholic majority where children and young people represent half of the population.
Dili (AsiaNews) – “I am convinced that Pope Francis did not offer this to me, Virgilio, but rather to the Church and the people of Timor-Leste,” said Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili, upon hearing that his name was among the 21 new cardinals Pope Francis will create in the consistory set for 27 August.
The prelate expressed his surprise in a statement made during a meeting with José Ramos-Horta. The latter, who was re-elected president of Timor-Leste a few weeks ago, went to personally congratulate the country’s first cardinal in its short history as an independent nation.
For the new cardinal, “the people and Church of Timor-Leste deserve this grace as an acknowledgment of God through the Pope, who has been evangelising for 500 years and celebrated the 20th anniversary of independence on May 20”.
A member of the Salesian order, Archbishop Carmo da Silva has been at the helm of the Church of Dili since 2016.
At 54, he will be one of the youngest members of the College of cardinals, along with the Apostolic Vicar of Ulaanbaatar Giorgio Marengo, who will receive his purple robe at the age of 48 at the next consistory.
A very poor country whose divisions have slowed down its quest for development, Timor-Leste is one of two Asian countries with a Catholic majority (the other is the Philippines). About 98 per cent of its population of 1.3 million is Catholic.
Pope Francis has shown great interest in Timor-Leste on two other occasions. In September 2019, he decided to elevate Dili to a metropolitan see, attributing it the rank of archdiocese, with Baucau and Mailana as suffragan seats, and announced a visit for 2020, later postponed to a later date due to the pandemic.
Conscious of the great challenges posed by poverty in a country where more than half of the population is made up of children and young people, the local Catholic Church has paid particular attention to education.
The inauguration of the Catholic University of Timor-Saint John Paul II (Universidade Católica Timorense (UCT) São João Paulo II) on 8 December in Dili is part of this.
On that occasion, Archbishop Carmo da Silva said: “The Catholic University of Timor must provide a world-class education in all areas of human activity inspired by Catholic intellectual, moral and spiritual traditions”.