New York (Fides Service) – On June 12, in New York President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor received the Path to Peace award promoted by the Holy See’s mission of permanent observation to the United Nations. Among those present Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Holy See’s permanent Observer to the UN, Cardinal Michael Egan, Archbishop of New York, and Archbishop Renato Martino, for many years Holy See UN Observer and now President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The award goes to President Gusmao for the determinant role played in the process of peace and reconciliation in East Timor, a former Indonesian province.
On May 20 East Timor marked the first anniversary of its independence solemnly proclaimed in 2002. The country is engaged in “national dialogue” on justice and reconciliation at which President Xanana Gusmao is personally present. The dialogue involves members of parliament, socio-political groups, representatives of the Catholic Church and the UNMISET , a UN Mission of Support set by the United Nations’ Security Council for a ten year period to flank the passage of administration from the UN to East Timor authorities.
“Through dialogue we learn to forgive crimes of the past, we strengthen national unity and help the progress of democracy” said Father Jose Antonio Da Costa, vicar of the diocese of Dili. “The Church supports constructive dialogue because its helps people understand one another. A wrong impression or attitude can threaten harmony, stability, justice and peace”.
East Timor’s reconciliation process is difficult and slow because some people supported the pro-Indonesia militia which engaged in massacres following the referendum vote for secession from Jakarta in August 1999. At present those suspected of being involved in the massacres are being tried by a Special Court of Justice. Even today many East Timor people who fled to West Timor, still under Jakarta, refuse to return fearing lynching or other acts of retaliation.
The Democratic Republic of East Timor was officially installed on 20 May 2002 after a period of UN administration. With 95% of the population declared Catholics, East Timor is the most Catholic nation in Asia. This means the Church can play an important part in forming the consciences of citizens and promoting national reconciliation.
Besides attending to the spiritual needs of more than 665,000 Catholics in Dili and Baucau dioceses, the Church in East Timor is involved in providing various services, social assistance, health care, development projects for farmers. In fact one of the main challenges facing the new nation is reconstruction of infrastructures, schools, hospitals and efficient bureaucracy for every sector of public life.
The award presented to Xanana Gusmao is promoted by the Path to Peace Foundation established in 1991, presided by Archbishop Celestino Migliore. The Foundation aims to spread a message of universal peace. It distributes information and documentation on initiatives undertaken by the Pope and Catholic organisations to build a world of more justice, charity and peace. In this endeavour it organises seminars and cultural and study meetings on the Church’s Social Teaching and supports projects of reconciliation and humanitarian assistance in various parts of the world.
Previously the Award was assigned to Boutrous-Ghali (1993), Corazon Aquino (1995) Carlos Menem (1999) Saxe-Coburg Gotha (2002). PA (Fides Service 11/6/2003 EM lines 50 Words: 572)