Tomorrow we will reach the century mark to the century. Let's clarify that. Tomorrow we will have exactly 100 days left until not only the end of the century, but the end of the millennium. It's time to follow what the Holy Father is asking - reconciliation with God and our neighbors; it's time to consider others; it's time to help others for the sake of Jesus and His children, especially in East Timor; it's time to comprehend today's Gospel in which Our Lord says in Matthew 9: 12, "It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick." Presently those most in need of a physician and a piece of bread to gain peace of mind are the poor people of East Timor who have been devastated over this past month, not to mention the past three decades. True, we are not doctors, but we can provide so much comfort and consolation and help them to regroup through our giving and merciful prayers. After all it's the thought that counts...thoughts and deeds that come from the heart!
In the most recent issue of that excellent monthly publication The Catholic World Report, the editor Phil Lawler wrote an eye-opening editorial entitled "The Second Collection" in which we need to take note of where our donations are going. This editorial is not about that so much as the fact that a few weeks ago parishes in every diocese took up a second collection for the victims of the Turkish earthquakes and that is commendable. In keeping with this spirit, we encourage the NCCB to take up another second collection in the near future for the poor people and Church in East Timor. We doubt few have had their population so depleted as in this far eastern island in the Indonesian archipelago where Saint Francis Xavier brought the faith in the sixteenth century. The people there were weaned on the faith by the Portuguese over the centuries while all the other islands were building a Muslim monarchy, if you will, to become the largest contingent of Islam in the world. Like the middle ages and the Saracens' slaughter of thousands of Christians which prompted the Crusades, the infidel's scythe of terror has raised its ugly head again in East Timor, not only suppressing, intimidating and denying the people there of their God-given right to freedom, but annihilating over a third of the entire population. In addition, the pro-Jakarta militia, aided by many in the Indonesian military who were trained by the U.S., have wreaked havoc on the people and the Catholic Church, persecuting many priests and religious and uprooting hundreds of thousands forcefully deporting them to West Timor where they are forcing them to either forsake their Catholicism or face the consequences of death and destruction.
As we near the third millennium we, as a society, have not really improved much have we? Consider that a little less than 2000 years ago the Romans were persecuting the Christians in similar fashion, deporting them to islands off the Italian coast, slaughtering them in the Circus Maximus, persecuting them by trying to find their hiding places in the catacombs and hunting them down. Now fast forward to the early evening years of 1999 and there is little difference. Catholics are being hunted down as anti-Independence guerrillas try to ferret out those Timorese Catholics hiding in the mountains. Priests and nuns are being executed, villages set ablaze, half the population left homeless. Had it not been for Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo alerting the world a few years ago no telling what worse dangers would have befallen these poor people; though it's difficult to imagine anything worse than what has happened to date. Had it not been for Pope John Paul II entreating the world and the United Nations to respond to the plight of East Timor, who knows how many might have been killed. The Holy Father remains the lone voice of reason, hope and trust in a world besieged by the culture of death. And as death visits East Timor in the aftermath of the people's overwhelming vote for freedom, praise God the Australians have arrived to save the day. They have been at the ready for a month but weren't given authorization to land in Dili, East Timor until the damage had been done. How many leaders from Indonesian President B.J. Habibie to Kofi Annan to Bill Clinton will have to answer for the delay and answer to God for the tens of thousands more killed because they dilly-dallied, playing politics with a corrupt Indonesian military while priests, nuns and laity were slaughtered, churches and homes torched to the ground.
To their credit, Australia has been the lone dissenting voice that has steadfastly refused to recognize East Timor as part of Indonesia, always opposing the forced annexation of East Timor several decades ago. Now Australia has finally taken action, albeit it late, but as they say better late than never! In the days ahead East Timor faces the monumental task of rebuilding both their lives and hopes, not to mention buildings - homes and churches. Crops have been destroyed, rice is scarce. Water is contaminated by the blood of the martyrs. The United Nations and other countries need to subsidize East Timor in every way they can. And the Church in America that has funded dissident groups, partisan political causes and many organizations not compatible with Church Doctrine, needs to take note and focus their efforts on helping fellow Catholics on the other side of the world; far away in distance but close to our hearts and thoughts. After all the Catholic Church is universal. That means helping Catholics universally. Isn't it time to take up a second collection and fill the coffers with generous love offerings for the survivors of the martyrs of East Timor? We ourselves can't afford much, but whatever widow's mite we can spare we will gladly give to keep the Faith alive for though man cannot live on bread alone, it is vital that they have the Bread of Life. Besides rice and relief, the Bread of Life is what East Timor longs for and needs! Our prayers and offerings will help provide nourishment for the body and the soul for these poor, persecuted brothers and sisters. It's the least we can do to help East Timor! Now it's time for the Bishops to begin the campaign and pass the collection plate! As members of the family of the Church militant the hurts that East Timorese have endured hurt all of us, so with just 100 days left, let's live our faith and give until it hurts!