Reaching Out to a New Nation

Reaching Out to a New Nation

University administrator brought ministry to war-torn East Timor

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

A Boston College Jesuit traveled halfway around the globe this past summer to bring the ideals of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education to the potential future leaders of the world's newest nation.

Rev. Julio Giulietti, SJ, director of the University's Center for Ignatian Spirituality, presented a week-long seminar in July for the two Jesuit and 18 senior lay faculty members of St. Joseph's Jesuit High School in Dili, East Timor.

Fr. Giulietti's six-day ministry in Dili came at a critical time in East Timor's brief history as a nation. That country, which Fr. Giulietti describes as "the newest, smallest and poorest nation in the world," recently held their first democratic elections after obtaining independence from Indonesia in August of 1999.

A period of violent unrest followed the independence, with Indonesian militia units and local militia causing widespread death and destruction throughout East Timor. Fr. Giulietti said that St. Joseph's School was used as a sanctuary during that time, with more than 5,000 residents of the region seeking refuge in the school's complex of five small buildings in the 12 hours after violence began.

During the ensuing weeks of conflict and peace negotiations, local militia backed by Indonesian soldiers killed two Jesuits. One Jesuit lived at St. Joseph's and was seeking food and supplies for the refugees. The second, newly-ordained, was ministering to refugees in the nearby parish. The two are buried on the campus.

Rev. Julio Giulietti, SJ, with students from St. Joseph's Jesuit High School in Dili, East Timor, where he visited this past summer.

The violence and eventual move toward nationhood had a particular impact on East Timor's young people, Fr. Guilietti noted, making the role of teachers and mentors even more important. "There isn't a student at St. Joseph's who did not lose a family member, neighbor or friend to the violence. They needed adults to talk to," he said. "It's similar to what happened to families after Sept. 11 in this country."

During his time at Dili, Fr. Giulietti focused on the Jesuit qualities of educating the whole person and developing the teachers' ability to make effective personal connections with the school's 280 students, some of whom may well become East Timor's future leaders.

"St. Ignatius taught the early Jesuits that they must not only be competent and good examples in the classroom," Fr. Giulietti said, "but they also should be attentive, reverent and devoted to their students as individuals.

"Nowadays, we must be attentive to the students' experiences," he explained. "We must listen to their experiences with reverence, believing in what they are saying and learning how the experiences affected them.

"Devotion," he said, "comes from listening and getting to know the person and their experiences. It can reveal to us how God is at work in their lives and through them in our lives."

Fr. Giulietti said that he urged the teachers to talk with one another about these days and their memories, fears and hopes. "They began to tell each other their own stories. I believe that helped them to grow together as a faculty and as friends," he said. "Then they were ready to explore these same events with their students, as they have experienced the healing effects of sharing their own memories with each other."

Fr. Giulietti traveled to East Timor at the request of his longtime friend and St. Joseph's headmaster, Fr. Ageng Marwata, SJ. This year's visit was his third trip to the nation that is located just south of the equator and north of Australia.

Fr. Marwata and Fr. Edu Dopo, SJ, who is pursuing graduate studies at Boston College this year, were instrumental in negotiating the safety of the 5,000 refugees who sought shelter at the school during the violent unrest, Fr. Giulietti said.

"It was a deeply moving experience," Fr. Giulietti said. "I feel an immense sense of satisfaction in both my professional and personal life for having been with the faculty at St. Joseph's."


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