Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – The Timor-Leste government and the bishops' conference have renewed a cooperation agreement that extends a concordat stipulation between the Catholic majority country and the Vatican, which provides millions of dollars in funds to assist the Church's services.
Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and conference president Bishop Norberto do Amaral of Maliana, inked the new agreement on May 17.
Cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister, Rui Augusto Gomes, were also present, as well as Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili, Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, the charge d'affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in Dili and several other Church officials.
The agreement carries on a concordat signed between the Vatican and Timor-Leste during a visit by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin in 2015 when the Catholic-majority country celebrated 100 years of evangelization.
It established the legal framework for bilateral relations between the Vatican and Timor-Leste and became the basis for an agreement spanning a five-year period (2017-2022), which stipulated annual contributions, subject to government financial availability, for social activities, education and ecclesiastical governance for the Catholic Church.
The amount and method of granting the subsidy are regulated annually by a separate agreement between the government and the bishops' conference.
The signing of the agreement renewal which will be valid for another five years (2022-2027) was accompanied by the submission of US$15 million for this year, the same amount as last year.
Some 50 percent of this total will go to education, 25 percent to social purposes, 15 percent for ecclesiastical government purposes and 10 percent will go to managing the fund.
Archbishop Da Silva, who is also vice president of the bishops' conference, said this year's budget was focused on schools, including the construction of classrooms and social assistance for children who had not been covered by such aid in previous years.
Prime Minister Ruak said the renewal of the agreement took place on a special occasion as the country was preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence on May 20.
"It is a great honor for me to be able to mark the 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence with the signing of this agreement which aims to renew the legal framework of our relationship, but also to recognize, once again, the social, cultural and humanitarian aspects that the Catholic Church has always played within Timorese society," he said.
He said the cooperation was a form of acknowledgment of the important role of the Catholic Church during the period of occupation and the struggle for the defense of human rights without compromise.
He acknowledged the role of the Catholic Church, which is present throughout the country, "in various educational and health services, in supporting the needy, vulnerable and disadvantaged, with great love."
"We hope that this agreement that we have signed can be multiplied in thousands of improvements for the welfare of our people," he said.
Timor-Leste has a population of 1.3 million, 97 percent of them Catholic.