05/01/2007, 00.00
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President invites Pope to visit East Timor and “help establish peace”

At a ceremony commissioning East Timor’s first ambassador to the Holy See, President Gusmao invites Benedict XVI and remembers John Paul II. Dili bishop adds his voice to invitation, saying the Holy Father can help “restore peace and unity in our country."

Dili (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Outgoing East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit East Timor, just as Pope John Paul II did in 1989. The invitation was made April 12 at the presidential palace in Dili during a ceremony at which he officially commissioned Justino Maria Aparicio Guterres as East Timor's first ambassador to the Holy See.

President Gusmao told the Pope through the new ambassador that "[w]e would be honoured and are waiting for your visit to our country, to help establish peace in the hearts of Timorese people and thereby strengthen national reconciliation.”

During the ceremony, Mr Gusmao also said, appointing an ambassador was important to strengthen relations with the Vatican, which has been a pillar of support for East Timor during difficult times. He specifically recalled Pope John Paul's brief visit when East Timor was still under Indonesian occupation.

Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili added his voice, calling upon the faithful to support the new ambassador with their prayers.

“We hope the pope will accept our invitation because it would have huge impact and help restore peace and unity in our country,” the bishop said.

In its brief history, the small nation—independent from Indonesia since 2001—has experienced bloody inter-ethnic violence and political repression.

In April 2006, communal violence broke out (with 37 dead and 150,000 refugees) after 600 army soldiers mutinied after being dismissed for protesting alleged ethnic discrimination.

Presidential elections took place on April 9 of this year in a peaceful atmosphere. Outgoing Prime Minister and Nobel Prize laureate José Ramos-Horta is set to square off against Fretilin leader Francisco Guterres in a run-off election on May 8.

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