By Darren Hercyk
During the first week of Lent, Catholic Relief Services in East Timor, along with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission in Dili, launched a program called “111 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful and Democratic Election in Timor-Leste.”
Our goal is to provide Timorese society—which is 96% Catholic—with daily prayers and reflections before and during the upcoming national elections in March and June. This nation has seen its share of violence in the past. With prayer, we hope never to go backwards.
To kick off the campaign, we helped organize a march in the capital of Dili, and thought that maybe a thousand people would show up. It was so overwhelming to see almost 10,000 Timorese turn out—in the heat of the day under threatening skies—for the two-and-a-half-hour “Journey for Peace” walk that day.
It was just as uplifting to see Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva, one of only two bishops in the country, lead the peace walk from start to finish. At the opening ceremony, Bishop da Silva said, “ The people of Timor-Leste are going to make these coming months a good time for all the people in our country. We will make a closer, more prosperous, thriving nation. Progress in Timor-Leste begins with the spiritual.”
To put this program in perspective, it’s helpful to know a little about Timor-Leste. The nation was originally comprised of different kingdoms with their own linguistic, ethnic, geographic and political systems. These divisions were reinforced over the years by successive colonial powers—each with its own interest in keeping local divisions alive.
Despite these differences, all Timorese came together during the Indonesian occupation and won a hard-fought battle for independence—commemorated on May 20, 2002. Still, Timor had to face a major internal crisis as some political parties took advantage of old divisions in society, resulting in 150,000 internally displaced people during the last election. Currently, there are 26 diverse political parties and 13 presidential candidates competing in the June election. The winners will rule for the next five years and have a major impact on molding the national identity of the 1.1 million people who live here.
As the Episcopal Vicar of Dili diocese, Father Gabriel Suban SVD, said during the Journey for Peace march, “This is part of the transformation the Catholic Church hopes to carry out in Timor-Leste. It is not only to heal the collective memory of trauma with messages of forgiveness, but also to overcome local tribal mentality, which creates enemies and divides the country. It is time for us to embrace the people and not exclude any parties.”
Richly diverse groups of people, including government ministers, members of the main political parties, the United States Ambassador, as well as representatives from the Muslim and Protestant communities, are supporting our program. Father Gabriel noted, “This is the first time in our nation’s history that all the religious orders came together for something like this.”
We’ve seen the power of prayer at work in Sudan. I was CRS’ country representative there during the peaceful elections last year that created the world’s newest country: South Sudan. I was honored to be part of the “101 Days of Prayer” campaign, started by Sr. Cathy Arata. Our program in East Timor is similar, and we pray that it will lead to the same peaceful outcome.
To join us in prayer and reflection during these 111 days, please download our program.
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