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Mass begins East Timorese independence celebrations

East Timorese crowded into the garden of a Nobel Peace Prize winning bishop Sunday to celebrate a Mass hours before their troubled territory was to declare itself independent, becoming the world's newest nation.

Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, who shared the 1996 Nobel prize with fellow East Timor independence activist Jose Ramos-Horta, received about 500 guests in his garden to hear the Mass. He called for peace and forgiveness and blessed East Timor's new leaders.

The worshippers prayed in silence during the service. But smiles and laughter following the Mass revealed their joy at becoming independent following three centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation and 2 years of U.N. administration.

"My message for this morning's service is peace, tolerance and forgiveness for our independence tonight," Ramos-Horta, who is East Timor's foreign minister, told The Associated Press at the Mass. "We are very happy. We are a proud and simple people who deserve peace, who deserve freedom," he said.

Security forces blocked off roads and staged drills to prepare for Sunday night's celebration, which featured an elaborate fireworks display and the raising of the East Timorese flag, a white star on a background of red, yellow and black.


20 May 2002