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Church in Timor-Leste steps up Covid-19 assistance

Pastoral task force to provide spiritual, material aid as social distancing measures are extended
Church in Timor-Leste steps up Covid-19 assistance

Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, watched by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak (right) and the Covid-19 Pastoral Support Team, speaks to media after their meeting in Dili on April 28. (Photo: Thomas Ora/UCA News)

Published: April 29, 2020 08:48 AM GMT
Updated: April 29, 2020 09:02 AM GMT

Dili Archdiocese in Timor-Leste has ramped up efforts to reach out to residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic by forming a special pastoral task force.

The formation of the team came after the government extended emergency social distancing restrictions for another 30 days.

Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva revealed the formation of the Covid-19 Pastoral Support Team during a meeting with Prime Minister José Maria Vasconcelos, popularly known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak, on April 28.

In an hour-long meeting, the prime minister gave his full support for the move and called on the Church to continue to provide spiritual, psychological and material assistance to the poor directly affected by the pandemic.

"The initiative was taken as a response to the calls of the Integrated Crisis Management Center Covid-19 for cooperation and support for those who are quarantined or in isolation," Archbishop Da Silva told reporters after the meeting.

The government has extended the state of emergency from April 28 to May 27.

Archbishop Da Silva said the pastoral team of priests and members of religious orders will work with Caritas in providing spiritual and material aid for poor families subjected to quarantines and lockdowns.

The prelate said it would also redirect funds donated by the Korean Church for a new nunciature to help in the fight against the pandemic.

"The funds will be used to buy basic food supplies for poor families," Archbishop Da Silva was quoted as saying on the diocese's website.

The prelate said the church was committed to supporting the government following a spike in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases since the first case was discovered on March 21.

Archbishop Da Silva urged citizens in predominantly Catholic Timor-Leste, especially in Dili Archdiocese, to help the government in dealing with Covid-19.

"If everyone has the awareness and discipline to maintain their health, we will be able to break the chain of the spread of this deadly virus," he said.

The archbishop also called on the government to keep its promise to provide US$100 in aid to every family affected by Covid-19. "It will help ease the burden on families staying at home during the pandemic," he said.

President Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo said extending the state of emergency was not an easy decision but was necessary.

"I know it greatly affects families, especially those who have to make a living from their own businesses and those at risk of losing their jobs," Lu-Olo said on April 28. "However, we need to extend the state of emergency because we want to save our most valuable asset — people." 

Father Angelo Salsinha, who heads the pastoral support team, said it consisted of dozens of priests and nuns who specialized in psychology and medicine.

"There are many sisters at medical clinics who will facilitate the provision of spiritual assistance as well," Father Salsinha told UCA News.

Dili Archdiocese also has six tons of rice, cooking oil and milk to be distributed to poor families in more than 30 parishes.

The rice will also be given to disadvantaged people such as widows on the outskirts of Dili and vegetable and fruit traders who usually sell their produce by walking dozens of kilometers to and from the capital. The rest will be distributed to five parishes near the border with Indonesia and other parishes that are experiencing difficulties.

Meanwhile, Canossian Sister Guilhermina Marcal said many people are not social distancing and not wearing masks.

"I’m sewing masks and encouraging people to wear them. Every day we produce 50 masks," Sister Marcal told UCA News. "We have distributed more than 1,000 to people … including reporters."

As of April 28, Timor-Leste had recorded 24 confirmed Covid-19 cases but no deaths.

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