Three Jesuits awarded Timor-Leste’s highest honour

The Government of Timor-Leste has conferred the country’s highest honour on three Jesuit priests.  Fr Tarcisius Dewanto SJ, Fr Karl Albrecht (Carolus Albrecht Karim Arbie) SJ and Fr Jaime Coelho SJ were awarded the Ordem de Timor Leste (Order of Timor-Leste), in two ceremonies held in May to recognise the contribution of priests, religious men and women and missionaries to the country’s struggle for peace and independence.

In a ceremony held at the Presidential Palace in Dili on May 12, then President Taur Matan Ruak, whose term ended on May 19, paid tribute to priests, and religious men and women who died in the East Timorese crisis in 1999.

Fr Tarcisius Dewanto SJ“With a grateful heart and on behalf of the whole nation, I express profound acknowledgment for the role and other great contributions of the late Monsignor Don Martinho da Costa Lopes and other religious men and women,” said President Ruak adding, “They deserve to receive the reverence and gratitude of every East Timorese.”

Fr Dewanto and Fr Albrecht were both killed during the 1999 crisis when an overwhelming vote for independence was met with violence by anti-independence militants who attacked civilians and caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

Fr Dewanto, a native of Magelang in Central Java, Indonesia, was killed together with two diocesan priests Fr Hilario Madeira and Fr Francisco Soares in Santa Maria Parish in Suai on September 6, 1999 when armed militiamen attacked the people who had taken refuge in the church. Five days later, on September 11, German-born Fr Albrecht was shot dead in front of Residencia Santo Inacio de Loiola in Taibesi, Dili, which was then being used as a Jesuit refugee centre.

Fr Karl Albrecht SJIn May 2011, Fr Dewanto and Fr Albrecht were posthumously granted East Timorese citizenship for “risking their lives so many times for a people, who, although not theirs, they treated like brothers”.

In another ceremony at the Presidential Palace on May 17, President Ruak honoured living citizens and non-citizens for their part in the country’s fight for independence. Among them was Fr Jaime Coelho SJ, a Portuguese missionary in Japan since 1960, who joined a group of activists in 1992 on the Lusitania Expresso boat to promote a peace initiative in response to the Santa Cruz massacre a year earlier, when Indonesian troops fired on thousands of Timorese in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili.

Fellow Portuguese Jesuit Fr José Alves Martins, who has lived in Timor since 1974, received the medal and certificate on behalf of Fr Coelho who was not able to travel to Timor.

In his speech, President Ruak expressed his deep gratitude for all the citizens and non-citizens who contributed to the country’s independence, which was finally achieved in 2002. “With a humble heart, I would like to thank everyone for their sacrifices and other humanitarian contributions that have greatly benefited this nation.”

Main image: Fr Jaime Coelho SJ with Japan Provincial Fr Renzo de Luca SJ and Fr Yoshitaka Ura SJ who brought the award to Japan from Timor-Leste