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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 5, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 11Oakland, CA

Bishop, priests aid victims of East Timor crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI appealed for calm and peace in East Timor, marked by sporadic rioting and violence for more than a month, and an Australian aid worker said at least one bishop was working behind the scenes to help resolve the situation that has left more than 25 people dead.

At the end of his May 31 general audience, the pope praised the local church, Catholic agencies and other international organizations that were helping people displaced by the violence and asked the estimated 35,000 people at his audience “to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary so she would support with her maternal protection the efforts of those contributing to the pacification of souls and the return to normality.”

The violence began in late April after the government dismissed about one-third of its army.

The dismissed soldiers, who come from the western part of the country, claimed they were being discriminated against. The majority of the army is made up of men from the eastern part of the country.

Gangs claiming to represent the two factions and armed with weapons have been responsible for much of the violence.

Meanwhile, Bishop Alberto da Silva of Dili, East Timor, was working to help find a peaceful resolution to the violence, said Jay Maheswaran, Caritas Australia’s East Timor director, who left Dili May 28.

Maheswaran said the bishop was “playing a background role” in trying to bring the parties together for reconciliation talks.

East Timor’s population of about 800,000 is more than 90 percent Catholic.

Maheswaran said he and about 50 colleagues were pulled out of the country because of the violence.

“Our local staff members had to take refuge as well; our capacity to do much on the ground was limited,” he said.

Religious orders, particularly the Salesians and Canossians, were spearheading Catholic efforts to house the displaced, Maheswaran said. Thousands were being housed and cared for at a Salesian seminary, which had been turned into a makeshift refugee center.

Once Australian troops had secured the Dili airport, it also became a gathering point for the homeless.


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