A Little Piece Of Peace

Sister Clare Garcillano SPC

On Saturday, 19 May, I arrived in Dili, East Timor, with so much anxiety. I had finally arrived in my new mission, after waiting for three months. Thinking of what awaited me in this war-torn area and not knowing the main languages made me a little worried. However, I felt some confidence coming to this former colony of Portugal knowing Portuguese. Truly, I did not feel lost at Dili Airport upon arrival. The people there spoke Portuguese, if not that fluently, at least well enough to carry on a conversation. Later I discovered that only those Timorese educated during the colonization by Portugal, which ended in 1975, spoke Portuguese. It is used in government offices and in the business sector and is one of two official languages, the other being Tetum, the national language. Most people can speak Bahasa Indonesia, the result of 27 years of Indonesian occupation. A few speak English, especially UN personnel and the staff of NGOs, many of whom are from Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

Present state of affairs

Until now the political situation is still unstable. At the invitation of Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenez Belo SDB, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in l996, the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres came here in 1993 to open a hospital in Suai, Covalina. There was relative peace that time under the Indonesian Government, in spite of the unrest of some Timorese desiring independence. In 1999 a referendum was held and the people voted for independence from Indonesia. This resulted in war and violence. The UN Peacekeeping Force and the Australian soldiers came to help and administered the country under Sérgio Vieira de Melo, a Brazilian diplomat, who was UN Administrator from 25 October 1999 till independence on 20 May 2002.

There was violent resistance from the Indonesian Military, joined by some Timorese ‘Militias’. Many Timorese citizens, including priests and men and women religious, were killed. Churches, offices and houses were burned. Our SPC sisters took refuge in West Timor, part of Indonesia, and then went to Darwin, Australia, but returned to Dili two months later. When more UN forces came the violence stopped and the people celebrated officially their independence from Indonesia.

In April 2006 a rift broke out between the members of the Armed Forces of East Timor, those from the west and those from the east, allegedly because of discrimination. This caused great tension among the people. Once again there was burning of houses, business centers and offices, and harassment by youth street gangs. Between 1999 and 2006 these cruel acts against humanity resulted in thousands of internally displaced persons who lived in tents in Dili, in the compounds of churches, convents of religious, seminaries and in city parks.

Violence erupted again among groups of youths, who were, it was said, manipulated by or connected with certain political parties. These were very visible during the election of a new president and of new members of the parliament. After the proclamation of the new Prime Minister, violence caused by discontented parties broke out, like the burning of houses, offices, charitable institutions, kindergarten schools, stoning of cars, the beating of persons believed to be supporters of the new government, the burning of tires in the streets, and so on. Thanks to the UN Peacekeeping Forces and Australian soldiers, who until now are trying to maintain peace and order in the country. [Editor’s note: from 20 May 2002 until 20 May 2005 the foreign soldiers were part of the UN Mission of Support to East Timor (UNMISET) and since then of the Multinational Force in East Timor (MNF).] Again there is relative calm in the city, but only God knows how long it will last. It is my hope that the new government that took over on 8 August will be given a chance to bring the country to peace and progress.

Contrasting ways

As I immerse myself in the culture of East Timor, I cannot but compare the vivacity of the people of Sr Clare with a Timorese boy Brazil, where I worked before, with the tired and sad faces of the persons I meet in the streets of Dili and in some other parts of East Timor. I cannot forget the warm respect that I received from the Lagopratenses in Brazil, in contrast to the ‘reserved respect’ of the people I meet and work with here. But, I admire the enthusiasm of the East Timorese children to learn new things and to meet persons who are for them foreigners. In one of the meetings with the children – not exactly a catechism class – that I organized recently, I taught the children to embrace the ‘madre’, religious sister, after their ‘mano po’, a custom the Timorese share with Filipinos. And they liked it! Embracing is a common practice of greeting in Brazil, while in the Philippines, the common greeting is a handshake and the ‘mano po’.

The ‘mano po’ is very common in East Timor, especially towards the priest and religious. Even elderly men and women practice it towards younger persons of authority, priests, religious men and the ‘madres’ when they meet us in the streets, in the church, in the market, anywhere. The form they use is kissing the hand, not putting it to the forehead. The practice is also common within the family, something that is, sadly, diminishing in the Philippines, especially in the big cities.

The East Timorese people hold close to their hearts their traditions and customs, while even in the interior of Brazil, modernity has made in-roads in society through TV and other forms of the media.

In the Church in Brazil, the participation of the laity, working hand in hand with the clergy and religious, is way ahead. In East Timor, the laity are still priest-oriented and look up to religious men and women . . . ‘Amo said so . . . Let us wait for Amo . . . Amo told us to do this!’

Timorese also practice the 'Mano Po'

Work in the Timorese vineyard

At the request of the Bishop of Dili, SPC Sisters help in the Diocesan Curia: in the secretariat, in the Financial Office and in the Commission on Education. Our response is in line with the prayer that we recite everyday for the coming SPC G e n e r a l Chapter. . . ‘Send us your Holy Spirit that we may recognize the new paths you want us to take . . . make us attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters and go in haste to help them’. Thus, we work with our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Dili using our professional training and expertise towards better organization and competency. Aside from our congregational outreach work to the people, we request the prayers of all that peace may reign in this country and for the Timorese to be able to accept their new identity as citizens of East Timor! GOD BLESS EAST TIMOR

You may email Sister Clare at
irmaclara2000@yahoo.com or write
her at St Paul of Chartres Convent,
Kuluhun Kraik, PO Box 79, Dili, East