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Ramos-Horta to adopt papal document for Timor-Leste schools

President-elect wants to maintain interfaith harmony and peace in the Catholic-majority country
Ramos-Horta to adopt papal document for Timor-Leste schools

Timor-Leste's former president Jose Ramos-Horta with Pope Francis at the Vatican in October 2021 with the judging committee for the 2022 Zayed Prize for Human Fraternity. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: April 30, 2022 06:15 AM GMT
Updated: May 02, 2022 03:43 PM GMT

Timor-Leste's president-elect Jose Ramos-Horta says he will adopt a papal-endorsed document on human fraternity into the school curriculum to maintain interreligious harmony and peace in the Catholic-majority country.

He said he had discussed the issue with Aniceto Guerres Lopes, national parliament president, who gave his support.

“This document will be approved by the national parliament for inclusion in the primary and secondary school curriculum,” Ramos-Horta told reporters in Dili on April 29.

“Timor-Leste will be the first country in the world to adopt the document into the school curriculum.”

The Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, which seeks to be a guide to promoting a “culture of mutual respect” between Christians and Muslims, was signed on Feb. 4, 2019, by Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi during the pope's visit to the United Arab Emirates. The document is also known as the Abu Dhabi Declaration.

In a Facebook post, Ramos-Horta said he had discussed his plan with former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, a Muslim, during their meeting on April 28. "Mari received the plan with positive reactions," he said.

"We see that this step will strengthen the good relations that have been established between us as Muslims and other religions, especially Catholics"

Alkatiri is general secretary of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), which supported Ramos-Horta's rival, incumbent President Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres in the presidential election on April 19.

Ramos-Horta said the document would "teach schoolchildren about religion, ethnicity, social class and political tolerance in society."

He said it was important for Timor-Leste as a Catholic-majority country in Asia to maintain its reputation “as a country free from religiously motivated violence.”

Ramos-Horta is also a committee member for the 2022 Zayed Prize for Human Fraternity, an international award established to mark the historic meeting of Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar.

In October last year, he had a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican where he received a copy of the document directly from the Holy Father.

The meeting was also attended by other jury members including Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Holy See's migrants and refugees’ office; H.E. Mahamadou Issoufou, former Niger president and winner of the 2020 Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African leadership; and H.E. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former deputy president of South Africa and former UN undersecretary-general.

Haji Abduullah Inacio Antonio Soares, vice-president of the Timor-Leste Muslim Community, welcomed Ramos-Horta's plan.

"We see that this step will strengthen the good relations that have been established between us as Muslims and other religions, especially Catholics," he told UCA News on April 30.

He said good relations between Christian and Muslims were maintained because "we have a lot of common backgrounds, including in terms of history of involvement in the struggle for independence.”

Of Timor-Leste's 1.3 million population, Catholics make up 97 percent while Muslims comprise under 1 percent.

Ramos-Horta will be sworn in as president on May 20, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the country's restoration of independence.

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