As Timor Leste (East Timor) gears up for a parliamentary election on June 30, President Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta has called for the state to collaborate with the church to maintain peace and national unity.
The president spoke to media after attending Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Becora, Dili, on June 15. "The state must collaborate closely with the Catholic Church, because only the church and state together will maintain peace and national unity in this country," he said.
Strong moral values endure in the violence-plagued country because the Church has taught them for many centuries, he affirmed. If the nation is to regain peace and stability, and prosper, he continued, the church must play an important role today and in the future.
According to Ramos-Horta, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, young Timor Leste needs the church's support in developing morality.
Catholics comprise 96 percent of Timor Leste's 1 million people, who have faced decades of violence. Several centuries of Portuguese colonial rule ended in 1975, but shortly after the Portuguese withdrew in 1975, Indonesia sent in troops. In 1976, Indonesia annexed the territory.
Indonesian occupation continued until 1999, when a referendum resulted in an overwhelming consensus for independence. Following the vote and violent reprisals from pro-Jakarta militias, a United Nations administration took charge until the country emerged as a fully independent nation in 2002.
Ramos-Horta emphasized that the state should not deny or forget the church in pursuing development, because many nuns and priests were active in the independence movement. Some even died in defending the rights of the people.
The president promised he will ask the new government and parliament to look to the church as a partner in both spiritual and material development. He characterized last year's violent crisis as a consequence of disharmony between the church and the state.
Communal violence erupted in May 2006, after former prime minister Mari Alkatiri of the Fretilin-led government dismissed more than a third of the army.
The dismissed soldiers, from the western part of the country, had protested alleged discrimination against them by easterners who considered themselves the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule.
Clashes between groups claiming to represent easterners and westerners resulted in at least 20 deaths and displaced 100,000. The displaced took refuge in camps, many of which were set up at Catholic churches and centers.
After Alkatiri's resignation in June 2006, he accused the church of being involved in a series of coup plots against his government. Ramos-Horta, then foreign minister, took over as prime minister. He was elected president over the Fretilin candidate in the presidential election on May 9 this year.
The church had bitterly opposed the Alkatiri administration's attempts to establish a clear separation of church and state, and to restrict the role of religious education in public schools.
Meanwhile, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili urged political leaders not to insult each other when presenting their election platforms while campaigning.
Speaking to media on June 15, the church leader urged people to participate in the parliamentary election and respect one another's choice.
Timor Leste's first parliamentary election was held under the United Nations transitional administration.
For the coming first parliamentary election as an independent country, 12 parties are competing for 60 seats.
The law requires parliament to have between 52 and 65 seats, with members elected by popular vote to five-year terms.
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