Timor-Leste independence leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta. Timor-Leste independence leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta. 

Holy See reaffirms post-election relations with Timor Leste

Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, chargé d'affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in Timor-Leste hopes the country under the new president will maintain and build further ties with the Holy See for the common good.

By Robin Gomes

The Holy See’s mission to Timor-Leste, or East Timor, has commended the Catholic-majority country for holding a peaceful and democratic presidential election, hoping the good relations between the Holy See and the south-east Asian nation will continue to grow. 

The common good

Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, chargé d'affaires at the apostolic nunciature in the capital Dili, expressed satisfaction over the April 19 election, saying it “was realized in a very democratic and peaceful way.”

“We hope that in the future and the following months the political life and public institutions in Timor-Leste would continue to function efficiently for the service of the people,” he told reporters in Dili on April 25 after holding talks with Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhaes, chairman of the Council of Ministers.

The election

Incumbent president Francisco Guterres sought a second term in the March 19 presidential election. As none of the presidential nominees received at least 50% of the votes cast, a runoff was held on 19 April 2022 between the top two candidates, Guterres and José Ramos-Horta, the 72-year-old former prime minister and president.

Ramos-Horta won the runoff with 62.1 per cent of the votes. Guterres issued a statement on April 22 accepting his defeat, which was welcomed by many as a democratic gesture.

The campaign was described as "largely peaceful and competitive" by EU electoral observer Ruiz Devesa.

Independence leader Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Noble Peace Prize with Salesian Bishop Ximenes Belo of Timor-Leste for working "towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor," served as president from 2007 to 2012, and prime minister and foreign minister before that. He will be sworn into office on May 20, the 20th anniversary of Timor-Leste’s independence.

Asia’s most Catholic nation

With over 98 per cent of its 1.3 million population professing Catholicism, Timor-Leste is Asia’s most populous Catholic nation after the Philippines, which is some 86 per cent Catholic. However, with 84 million faithful out of a total population of some 109.6 million, the Philippines is home to Asia’s largest Catholic population in absolute numbers.

A Portuguese colony since the 16th century, Timor-Leste declared independence when the Portuguese left on 28 November 1975. However, neighbouring Indonesia invaded and annexed it on 17 July the following year. An often violent 24-year resistance movement led Timor-Leste to independence on 20 May 2002 following a 1999 United Nations-backed referendum. 

Saint Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit Timor-Leste in October 1989, when the country was still under Indonesian control.

Holy See-Timor-Leste ties

The Holy See has long been considered one of Timor-Leste’s closest diplomatic partners. Their relationship was strengthened by the signing of a concordat in 2015, when Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited the country on the occasion of 500 years of the Catholic Church in the country.

The agreement defines specific areas in which the Church can serve the country’s people freely and openly, including providing spiritual assistance in prisons, hospitals, clinics, and orphanages, doing charity work and establishing schools at every level.

Monsignor Sprizzi stressed that Timor-Leste and the Holy See will continue maintaining strong diplomatic ties for the good of the nation.

Reiterating the stand of the East Timorese bishops in the 5th election of the nation, the Vatican diplomat stressed that the Holy See never favoured a particular candidate.  “Both candidates were Catholics and we express our great appreciation for both of them.”

“We will continue cultivating these relations in the same spirit, and the Holy See is always there to support the government of Timor-Leste to have better development," East Timorese state news agency Tatoli quoted Msgr. Sprizzi as saying. "Our only interest is for the common good of the people,” he stressed.

The Catholic Church

Meanwhile, Salesian Archbishop Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili commended the people for their participation in the election and that "the new president will work hard to get the country out of poverty."

Some 42% of East Timorese live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank's report. This is a result of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Archbishop da Silva asked the new president to stand above vested interests and act "as a universal leader." "We must maintain the Constitution and instil discipline in all residents to permanently convert our nation into a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society," he said. (Source: UCANEWS)

26 April 2022, 15:12