Vatican honors missionaries in Timor-Leste

Pope Francis bestows the Decoration of Honor award on four priests and a nun for their contributions to the Church
Vatican honors missionaries in Timor-Leste

Bishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili presents medals to Father Francisco dos Santos Fatima Barreto, center, Father Eligio Locatelli, left, and Sister Maria Chioda at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Dili on March 19. (Photo by Thomas Ora/ucanews.com)

The Holy See has honored four priests and a nun for their distinguished service to the Catholic Church in Timor-Leste.

Holy See representative, Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, presented them with the Decoration of Honor, which is given by the pope to laypeople and clergy for outstanding contributions to the Church.  

The recipients were native-born Timorese Father Francisco dos Santos Fatima Barreto and Father Francisco Tavares, Italian Father Eligio Locatelli, Portuguese Jesuit Father Jose Alves Martins, and Canossian Sister Maria Chioda.

"They have dedicated their lives to the Church for decades," Msgr Sprizzi said when he and Bishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili presented the medals at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Dili on March 19.

Pope Leo XIII introduced the award in 1888 to honor those who participated in his golden sacerdotal jubilee. It later became a permanent papal distinction.

“This honor is given so that people continue to believe in the Catholic Church and faithfully follow Christ," the Vatican’s representative said.

Father Barreto, who was ordained in 1977 — two years after Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste — said the award came as a complete surprise.

“I just work according to the Gospel, even if it means risking my life,” said Father Barreto who became known for trying to prevent Indonesian soldiers harming people during years of repression prior to independence in 2002.

"This award is a surprise and for me, this shows that the Vatican cares about Catholics in Timor-Leste," said Father Barreto who is a chaplain at Guido Valdares National Hospital and Becora Prison, both in Dili.

Sister Chioda, 79, who arrived in Timor-Leste from Italy when she was 27, said she appreciated Pope Francis’s recognition of priests and nuns in the country.

Soon after arriving in Manatuto district in 1966, she was instrumental in establishing the Canossian College where she taught various skills to women such as sewing, embroidery and other pastoral skills.

"It was not easy because we started from zero,” she told ucanews.com on March 22.

Conditions deteriorated during Indonesian rule following the 1975 invasion, but she and her colleagues managed to establish similar colleges in other districts.

Estanislau de Sousa Fatima, who works at Fatumaca College founded by Father Locatelli in Baucau district, 149 kilometers east of Dili, said the Italian priest fully deserved his award.

Father Locatelli arrived in Timor-Leste in 1964 while it was still under Portuguese colonial rule, and Fatumaca College was among his first ventures.

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Many Timor-Leste priests graduated from this college including Nobel Peace Prize lauraete Emeritus Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Bishop Virglio do Carmo da Silva of Dili.

According to Fatima, the 82-year-old Father Locatelli, has worked tirelessly to help the people of Timor-Leste since his arrival more than fifty years ago.

"He helps farmers, such as by giving them tractors to cultivate land where they can plant rice, corn and other crops,” Fatima said.

“He routinely visits people by traveling on horseback, even today,” he said.

Father Martins arrived in Timor-Leste in 1974 and has spent much of that time helping improve educational standards in the country

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