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Catholics expect ‘period of political stability’ in East Timor with election of Ramos-Horta

"The Catholic Church is inseparable from the history of our small nation," said Father Bento Barros Pereira, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in East Timor

A Catholic priest welcomed the election of Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta as president of East Timor last month as the start of a new “period of political stability.”

“This is a good omen,” said Father Bento Barros Pereira, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in East Timor.

The priest told the Catholic news agency Fides that the Catholic Church “will make its valuable contribution to the spiritual, cultural, economic and social growth of the nation.”

“The Catholic Church is inseparable from the history of our small nation,” said Father Pereira, noting that the country’s population of about 1.3 million is 98 percent Catholic.

“We can say that the Gospel is that spiritual and ideal heritage that has impregnated and permeates our national life, and is well present in the collective conscience,” said the priest

Ramos-Horta was inaugurated as East Timor’s president on May 20, pledging to break a longstanding political deadlock in Southeast Asia’s youngest country.

The 72-year-old revolutionary hero, himself a former president of East Timor, defeated incumbent Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres in the April 19 run-off vote, securing 62 percent against the former guerrilla fighter’s 37 percent.

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In his inaugural speech, Ramos-Horta called for national unity between rival parties that have had a tumultuous relationship in recent years.

“I will fulfil with loyalty the functions that have been invested in me… and will dedicate all my energies and knowledge to the defence and consolidation of independence and national unity,” the bespectacled leader said.

“Peace will only be real and lasting when it is achieved through dialogue and mutual respect in which neither party feels coerced and humiliated,” he added, addressing a crowd of military and diplomatic personnel.

Catholic religious leaders in the country noted the “strong enthusiasm” of the Timorese people for the new political season, said the Fides report.

Sister Tina, an Ursuline nun who works in the education sector, expressed hope that “more and more secondary and preparatory schools will be established in rural areas to face the educational urgency.”

Another Catholic nun identified only as Sister Imelda who serves in Manulete, 70 kilometers south of the capital Dili, said she hopes that a new policy can give a boost and resources to civil society and Catholic religious communities to support their work of “integral human development,” especially with children and young people.

Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his efforts in facilitating conflict resolution in East Timor. In 2008 he survived an assassination attempt by rebels.

The new president will have to help develop the country’s economy, which has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and where the World Bank has said 42 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

Ramos-Horta also wants to push for East Timor to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and said in his speech he expects the country to eventually become ASEAN’s 11th member. – with a report from Fides and AFP

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