Ryan Dagur – Timor-Leste is celebrating the appointment of Archbishop Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili as the Catholic-majority country's first-ever cardinal.
The 54-year-old archbishop was one of 21 new cardinals announced by Pope Francis on May 29 and will receive the red hat on Aug. 27. He is one of six new cardinals from Asia – five archbishops and one bishop.
President Jose Ramos-Horta, as well as Catholic and other government officials, congratulated Archbishop Da Silva on his appointment, calling it an honor for Timor-Leste, a country that is 97 percent Catholic out of a population of 1.3 million.
"Congratulations Cardinal-elect Dom Virgilio do Carmo Da Silva, Congratulations Timor-Leste and thank you Pope Francis," President Ramos-Horta wrote on his official Facebook page.
Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said in a statement: "The Timor-Leste Catholic Church is proud after hearing the good news of this appointment."
"Given that he is the first cardinal, this appointment is an honor for the Catholic Church in Timor-Leste," Father Angelo Salshina, from the social services division of Dili Archdiocese, told UCA News.
The Timor-Leste parliament said the news was "a joy for all Timorese and a moment that enhances the name and history of Timor-Leste."
"The appointment of Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva as cardinal is an acknowledgment of his personality and humanist qualities, but also of the presence and importance of the Catholic Church in Timorese society throughout our history," it said.
"In the position in which he has served, Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva stands out for his humility, knowledge and peaceful spirit."
Meanwhile, Timorese Catholics expressed their excitement at the appointment on social media.
"Finally, Timor-Leste, a land of the holy cross, receives a gift from God, that a son of his land... was announced as a cardinal," Marcal Avelino Ximenes wrote.
Being under 80 years of age, Archbishop Da Silva, vice president of the Conference of the Timorese Bishops (CET), will join the ranks of cardinal electors able to take part in a conclave to select a new pope.
Born on Nov. 27, 1967, in Venilale, he attended a Salesian-run primary and secondary school in Fatumaca, 140 kilometers east of Dili.
He was ordained a priest on Dec. 18, 1998, after studying philosophy and theology in Manila, Philippines. In 2005, he studied at the Pontifical Salesian University, Rome, and obtained a licentiate in spirituality.
From 1999 to 2004 and again from 2007 to 2014, he served as formation director and novice master for the Salesians, and concurrently as director of the Salesian-run technical school in Fatumaca from 2009 to 2014.
In 2015, he was elected as the superior for the Salesian Province of East Timor and Indonesia.
A year later he was appointed by Pope Francis as bishop of Dili and ordained on March 19, 2016, succeeding Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva who died in April 2015.
On Sept. 11, 2019, in conjunction with the promotion of Dili Diocese to an archdiocese, he was appointed an archbishop.
Timor-Leste, which on May 20 celebrated its 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence, has three dioceses – Dili, Baucau and Maliana.