According to the bishop of the largest diocese in Timor-Leste, or East Timor, the youngest Asian nation has the potential for a fourth diocese to care for its growing Catholic population.
Salesian Bishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of the capital Dili, spoke about the possibility of a new diocese in four to five years. Dili Diocese, that was established in 1940, alone has over half-million Catholics in its 28 parishes. Dili serves six districts, while Baucau and Maliana Dioceses serve four and three districts, respectively. According to Bishop Virgio, some parts of his diocese require further development.
Out of East Timor’s 1.3 million population, 97 percent or some 1.26 million are Catholics, making it the most Catholic nation in Asia, ahead of the Philippians where Catholics form nearly 81 percent.
Pope Francis appointed Bishop Virgilio the bishop of Dili on Jan. 30, 2016, after the post was vacant for about a year following the resignation of the late Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva.
Growth in vocations
Dili Diocese has a minor seminary, and its national major seminary serves Baucau and Maliana dioceses. Bishop Virgilio, 49, said that the number of seminarians has continued to grow, with three to four new ordinations each year.
Our Lady of Fatima Minor Seminary, established in 1936, currently has 254 students, slightly up from 250 in 2016. In 2015, Dili Diocese had 149 priests, 646 religious men and women, and 90 seminarians. Noting the high level of priestly perseverance, Bishop Virgilio said the country’s 3 dioceses currently have 120 seminarians in the major seminary.
The Church for the people
Dili Diocese has always sought good relations with the government. Bishop Virgilio, who studied philosophy and theology in the Philippines, said that the East Timorese government recognizes the Catholic Church as a civil society group.
The Church stood up 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," Bishop Virgilio said, adding, “they felt more like being part of the Catholic Church."
East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 following a 1999 United Nations-backed referendum. "Now the government recognizes the Catholic Church as its partner in serving the people for development," Bishop Virgilio said. “In times of political tension, political leaders listen to the voice of the Church,” he added. (Source: Ucanews.com)