Peace and reconciliation in East Timor
On August 30, 2001, the East Timorese people participated in their first free elections since independence from Portugal and Indonesia. The elections, which were held to choose representatives of a Constituent Assembly that is tasked with drafting a constitution for the territory, represent a major step in East Timor's move to build an independent and peaceful nation after years of conflict. Despite fears of violence, the elections proceeded in a peaceful manner. The United Nations estimated that more than 90% of the territory's 425,000 voters turned out for the elections and officially proclaimed the elections "free and fair."
As East Timor embraces the challenges of reconstruction and reconciliation, Catholic Relief Services continues to work closely with church and local partners to promote civic education and reconciliation work across communities. Through the Catholic Church's East Timor Initiative for Peace, Reconciliation, and Dialogue (ETPRIDE), CRS staff works with two Justice and Peace Commissions (in the Dioceses of Dili and Baucau) to support initiatives and capacity building. CRS also supports a citizenship project, which includes education on human rights, tolerance and democratic processes. Working with other organizations to support civic participation, CRS provided logistical support to the United Nations' Civic Education Unit for the national political debate staged in Baucau and CRS staff participated as international observers for the August elections.
Inter-Religious Summit Will Encourage Tolerance
The Justice and Peace Commissions in East Timor, strongly supported by CRS, have been gearing up for an Inter-Religious Summit on Peace and Tolerance aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation among different faiths in East Timor. The Summit will bring together Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim leaders from around the country to talk about the challenges and opportunities of reconciliation and reconstruction work in East Timor.
In preparation for this summit, CRS is helping to organize a series of peace building and inter-faith workshops. In conjunction with the ETPRIDE program, CRS helped Muslim and Protestant communities develop proposals for the workshops. East Timorese activists who participated in the Mindanao (Philippines) Peace Building Institute (co-sponsored by CRS and the Mennonite Central Committee) will organize these workshops, and participants from the workshops will attend the Inter-Religious Summit on Peace and Tolerance. The end goal is the formation of an inter-religious group that will help promote tolerance and settle conflicts that may arise due to religious differences.
In the first working group for the Inter-religious Tolerance project, CRS together with its major stakeholders and partners in ETPRIDE, listened to East Timorese like Madre Esmeralda tell the stories of their lives. Madre Esmeralda of the Canossian Sisters grew up unaware that there was a huge difference between Muslims and non-Muslims or between Catholics and Protestants. She remembers having playmates and knowing that they did not share the same religion, but that it did not matter "among friends". This is the future that the Catholic Church in East Timor and CRS envision--a future where religious differences will be a strength, not a weakness. The Inter-Religious Summit is one of the important first steps toward that goal.