Catholics perform a traditional dance to welcome Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Joseph Salvador Marino (center), Bishop Norberto do Amaral of Maliana (right) and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau during the opening of St. Joseph Seminary in Maliana on Sept. 26. (Photo by Thomas Ora)
Asia's most Catholic nation, Timor-Leste, has a new seminary to tap the growing number of young people who want to study to become priests after finishing junior high school.
The St. Joseph Seminary in Maliana Diocese is the country's second minor seminary after Our Lady of Fatima in Dili, which has been the only place of study for young people aspiring to become priests.
Every year, at least 300 young people, including from Maliana, try to enroll at the Our Lady of Fatima, which can only accept 90 people.
"I hope it responds to the expectation of Pope Francis for more vocations from Timor-Leste," the apostolic nuncio to Malaysia and Timor-Leste, Archbishop Joseph Salvador Marino, said on Sept. 26 at the opening ceremony for the new seminary in Maliana.
The nuncio called on Catholics to support the bishops in their efforts to upkeep the country's seminaries — including Sts. Peter and Paul major seminary in Dili — which also lacks facilities.
Timor-Leste has total population of 1.3 million and 97 percent or about 1.26 million are Catholics. Only about 220 priests in three dioceses serve them.
"We still need more diocesan priests to serve [a huge number of] people," Bishop Norberto Do Amaral of Maliana said, hoping that some will come from the first batch of 22 students admitted to the seminary this year.
Father Pascoal dos Santos Marques, rector of the new seminary, said that the diocese did not build a new building for seminarians; instead they will occupy a renovated building owned by diocesan Colegio Infante de Sagres.
The seminarians, he said, will study as regular students at the college, and in the afternoon they will follow seminary formation.
Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau believed that future leaders of the Timor-Leste Church will come from this new seminary.
"I'm proud that this place has become a seminary and the hope of the Timorese Church," said the prelate, who was a student at the college.