Timor-Leste government sees the Church as a partner


“The government of Timor-Leste recognises the Catholic Church as its partner in serving the people for development,” says Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, the Bishop of Dili.

He said that, at times of political tension, political leaders listen to the voice of the Church.

The government has recognised the Catholic Church as a civil society group, said Virgilio.

He pointed out that the Church took a stand against brutal occupation after the Indonesian military invaded in 1975 when longtime Portuguese colonial rule ended.

“The Church suffered with the people, struggled with them, journeyed with them, identified itself with them. So, they felt more like being part of the Catholic Church.”

Formerly known as East Timor, Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 following a 1999 United Nations-backed referendum.

Timor-Leste is Asia’s most Catholic country. With a population of 1.3 million, 97 percent — or about 1.26 million — are Catholics.

Virgilio is a Salesian and was named as the bishop of Dili in January 2016. He succeeded the late Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva who had resigned in February 2015.

The diocese of Dili serves six districts, while another two dioceses — Baucau and Maliana — serve four and three districts respectively. Virgilio sees a potential for a fourth diocese as the number of Catholics grows.

In 2015, Dili Diocese had 149 priests, 646 religious men and women, and 90 seminarians. There are 120 seminarians in the major seminary from all three dioceses.

Virgilio said that, although the level of priestly perseverance is high, a number of seminarians had left their studies and ended up working for government institutions and non-governmental organisations.

“Maybe the reason is the screening process itself,” he said.



Jesuit Australia

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News category: Asia Pacific.