Hundreds of students and teachers from Catholic schools run by the Kristal Foundation visited prisoners in Becora prison in Dili on May 20 as part of celebrations to mark Timor-Leste's Independence Day. Kristal, one of the largest Catholic education institutions in Timor-Leste was founded in June 1984 by 10 alumni from Salesian schools. It manages elementary and junior high schools, a university, and caters to more than 4,000 students. Agostinho dos Santos Goncalves, Kristal's executive director, told ucanews.com that the prison visit was meant to teach the students about Jesus' message of love "to share with the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison." The prison visit program included prisoners and students singing and dancing. Arcenia Martins, 14, a junior high student, said the visit gave her a moment for reflection and also allowed her to give the prisoners a message of hope through a song. "Through the song I encouraged them not to give up, that prison is not a place for punishment, but a rehabilitation facility that will change their past and allow them to start a new life," she said. "It also encourages them to walk the path and always be thankful to God, because there is always a way out." Cornelio Freitas Ribeiro, 24, a Kristal university student, said the visit enabled him to meet former high school friends who fell afoul of the law. "I cried when I met them and when they told me to be a good man," Ribeiro told ucanews.com. Meeting the inmates was a good learning experience, an opportunity for young people to learn to deal problems peacefully, without violence, he said. Becora prison currently holds 522 inmates, including 12 Indonesians, five Filipinos, three Chinese, one Singaporean, and an Australian, according to prison director Joao Domingos. Inmates receive instruction in handicrafts, music and languages, with English and Portuguese courses available. "Inmates also receive regular visits from priests to enhance their spiritual life," he said. Frederico Almeida Santos da Costa, 89, a Kristal co-founder, joined the students during the visit. He was a political prisoner during the Portuguese colonization period and was exiled to Angola between 1959-1964.
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"Always have love in your heart and forgive one another," Da Costa told the prisoners. President and co-founder of the Kristal Foundation, Frederico Almeida Santos da Costa, right, gives sporting equipment to Becora prison director Joao Domingos on May 20. (ucanews.com photo by Thomas Ora)