Hodge, “The Catholic Church in Timor-Leste”

Hodge, Joel.  2013.  The Catholic Church in Timor-Leste and the Indonesian occupation: A spirituality of suffering and resistance.  South East Asia Research 21(1): 151-170.

Abstract: During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste (1975-99), the Roman Catholic Church grew in importance to the East Timorese people. This is demonstrated by the large increase in Timorese affiliation to the Church: 25-30% of the populace were baptized Catholics in 1975 compared with over 90% in the 1990s. Various explanations have been offered for this growth, many of which identify ‘extrinsic’ factors such as the religious prescriptions of Indonesian law or the pressures of Islamization. While acknowledging the importance of these factors, this paper argues that certain intrinsic factors substantially influenced the identification of the Timorese experience of occupation with Catholic faith and solidarity. An understanding of these intrinsic factors can provide a more expansive understanding of Timorese culture, experience and history. Drawing on original research into the faith and experience of Timorese people during the occupation, the author explores the relationship between suffering, resistance and the Catholic faith of the Timorese in four areas: language; ‘a spirituality of resistance’; martyrdom; and sanctuary and advocacy for the persecuted. The paper draws on the insights of French philosopher and literary critic, René Girard, regarding the importance of Christianity in the context of violence. Girard has argued for a particular understanding of the centrality of the victim in human culture and of how Christianity helps to reveal this centrality. Girard’s perspective sheds light on how the Timorese came to terms with their experience of suffering and violence under Indonesian occupation through their identification with Jesus Christ and the Church.

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