The Holy See and Timor-Leste have signed a concordat that sets another milestone in bilateral cooperation between both countries. Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who arrived in Dili Aug. 12 to celebrate 500 years of the Catholic Church in Timor, said the agreement aims to boost “mutual collaboration for the integral development of the people in justice, peace and the common good.” According to the cardinal, the concordat rests on two fundamental principles — the values and principles of international law in the matter of religious freedom and the guarantee of the freedom to profess and practice the Catholic faith publicly. “It also offers space and opportunities for the Catholic Church to act in society, in accord with its mission of service to the people and in line with constitutional norms and local legislation,” he said. The agreement defines specific areas where the Church can serve the people freely and openly, Cardinal Parolin said. These include providing spiritual assistance in prisons, hospitals, clinics and orphanages, performing works of charity, establishing schools at every level and assisting Catholic parents in the education of their children in their own faith. In the 500 years since the Portuguese came to Timor Island in 1515, the Catholic Church has placed itself in the defense of the most elementary rights of the people, undertaken a role in serving the development of the human person, spiritually, socially, culturally and in the area of education, consolidating moral principles in society, he said. "From the very beginning the Catholic Church has been radically rooted in the history of the Timorese people who embraced the Catholic Church, not by the force of the sword, but by the openness of their heart," Cardinal Parolin said. Timor-Leste Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo said the concordat sets another milestone in the “special relationship” between the Vatican and Timor-Leste. He said it was special because it was not signed at the Vatican but in Timor-Leste itself, which shows the Church's love for the country. Timor-Leste, he said, recognized the significant contribution the Catholic Church has made to its people. “The people of Timor-Leste have known that the Catholic Church has played a significant role in the past 500 years, much more during our struggles for independence. The Catholic Church has helped in moral and religious education of the people and provided them with spiritual and material assistance during the liberation process,” Araujo said. During the fight for independence, the Catholic Church worked hard to bring the voice of the people to international attention, he said. Timor-Leste became an independent nation through a U.N.-monitored referendum in 1999 that led to its recognition in 2002, ending a 25-year occupation by Indonesia. Meanwhile, Father Julio Crispim Ximenes Belo, lecturer on law at the National University of Timor Lorosae and director of the justice and peace commission of Baucau diocese, told ucanews.com that the concordat provides a legal framework for cooperation between the Church and Timor-Leste. "It protects people to exercise their religious freedom, such as the right of worship and to freely perform Church activities. It will be very important for the Catholic Church in the future," Fr. Belo told ucanews.com
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It also strengthens the Church's status as a legal entity in Timor-Leste, he added.