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Missionaries in Timor-Leste honoured by Vatican

DILI (UCAN): The Holy See honoured 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 with the Decoration of Honour for their distinguished service to the Catholic Church in Timor-Leste.
The recognition is given by the pope to laypeople and clergy for outstanding contributions to the Church.  
“They have dedicated their lives to the Church for decades,” Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, the Holy See representative, 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 honour those who participated in his golden sacerdotal jubilee. It later became a permanent papal distinction.
“This honour is given so that people continue to believe in the Catholic Church and faithfully follow Christ,” Monsignor Sprizzi 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,” Father Barreto, who became known for trying to prevent Indonesian soldiers from harming people during the years of repression prior to independence in 2002, said.
“This award is a surprise and for me, this shows that the Vatican cares about Catholics in Timor-Leste,” Father Barreto who is a chaplain at Guido Valdares National Hospital and Becora Prison, said.
Seventy-nine-year-old Sister Chioda, 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 said 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.
Father Locatelli arrived in Timor-Leste in 1964 while it was still under Portuguese colonial rule and Fatumaca College was among his first ventures.
Many priests of Timor-Leste graduated from this college including Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, the former bishop of Dili, and Bishop da Silva.
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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