Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope’s secretary of state was given a festive welcome by joyful crowds when he arrived in Dili at the start of a visit which coincided with the 500th anniversary of the evangelisation of East Timor, Timor-Leste.
For most of this period, East Timor was a Portuguese colony. The process of evangelisation accelerated dramatically during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation (1975-99), at the end of which the country of just over 1 million people was overwhelmingly Catholic.
Apart from the indigenous clergy, many religious orders have been active in East Timor, and are the key to the provision of health, education and other services to the people.
The central event of the visit was the signing of a Concordat between Timor Leste and the Vatican, followed by a Mass celebrated at Taci Tolo, the same place visited by Saint Pope John Paul II 25 years ago in 1989
Coinciding with the much loved feast of the Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the visit marked the first time that the Catholic Church signs a Concordat outside the Vatican and also because the visitor, Cardinal Parolin is the highest Catholic Church authority to visit Timor-Leste since the visit by Pope John Paul II on 12 October 1989.
For Bishop Basilio Nascimento, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Timor-Leste, apostolic administrator of Dili and Bishop of Baucau, the event is a historic for Timor-Leste and for the local Catholic community.
In a message released last week, Pope Francis recalled the many missionaries who had the courage to go to Timor-Leste.
Timor-Leste government said in an official statement the “the Catholic Church for 500 years has provided great spiritual, human and material support for the people of Timor, making a decisive contribution towards Timor-Leste’s process of liberation”.