by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Why did you attend the Pontifical Lateran University?
Marcello: I have asked myself many times how can I, as a layman cooperate to the edification of the kingdom of God on Earth? Because of this, I decided to receive a strong Catholic education. I went to the Pontifical Lateran University to study Law, and combined my studies with Theology in the Gregorian University. I rapidly found the nexus between human rights and Catholic Social Teaching. I understood that studying International Law can be an authentic Christian vocation. The Catholic Social Teaching provides a different view regarding common good and the laws in general, because it put the human being at the center, because the Law is not in itself a way for salvation. I achieved my master’s degree in Law last summer.
Gordon: When did you attended the Summer School in the Australian Catholic University, what did you study and what did you like the most about being in Australia?
Marcello: In the summer between my second and third year at University, I attended a summer school in the Australian Catholic University, in Sydney, very beautiful city built in harmony with the wonderful nature that only Australia can give. There, I studied indigenous people’s rights. The fight for the freedom and emancipation of aboriginal peoples in Australia was long and goes on up to this day. Today the situation is more complex than it might look like. Some aboriginal families are integrated and are working in the tourism industry, other families live in the peripheric cities, others are in very poor condition in the inner territories. That is the great dichotomy of Oceania, often described as the last frontier of the Western world. In reality it is a land with by two faces: one of rich and developed cities or vacation islands and villages, and one of marginalization pressing especially for indigenous people living in the inner territories of Australia or in most of the forgotten islands of the Pacific Ocean. The labor of the Church in this second environment is fundamental.
Gordon: At the end of your university studies, you were admitted to the Hague Academy of International Law, based in the Peace Palace. What did you study and what are your favorite memories in the Hague?
Marcello: I took the Public International Law Summer Course at the Hague Academy, with a colleague of mine from the Lateran university. In the Hague I enjoyed a very stimulating environment of lawyers and scholars from all over the world. More than 100 countries were present. I took very interesting class about general principles of International Law, the work of the international courts, International Law of the Sea and the relations between Islamic culture and International Law. I also had the chance to visit some international institutions like the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. The Peace Palace is a magic place, but the best thing was meeting other people from cultures very different from mine and discovering that we are all members of the same family, despite the division, often created by a distorted use of law.
Gordon: Please share with our readers what you did as a Volunteer in East Timor. Approximately what percept of East Timorese are Catholic?
Marcello: The destination of my missionary journey was Maubisse, a village in the center of the island of East Timor, in the Lesser Sunda Islands, at the north of the Australian coast. I lived in a village with the parish priest, helping the parish community and teaching Portuguese in the local high school. I have seen children ravaged by disease going to schools that barely stand, I have listened the tales of sorrow of people who survived through a cruel and devastating war just to decades ago, but who know how to leave behind their hatred for their neighbors.
East Timor, suffered in fact more than 20 years Indonesian occupation which a real genocide took place against the East Timorese population. With the intervention of the United Nations, the country held a referendum in 1999 and in 2002 achieved independence.
The Catholic Church suffered alongside of the population under the occupation. Many priests and nuns were killed hiding leaders of national liberation movement. The visit of Pope St. John Paul II in 1989 awoke global consciousness about the East Timorese massacre. By the end of the conflict, the Catholic Church was actively involved in the employment of transitional justice, especially in the work of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation.
The East Timorese people have recognized this and are now very attached to the Catholic Church Almost the entire population (over 95 percent) is baptized, making it the most Catholic country in the world.
Gordon: What impact has poverty had upon the population? If you could be an advisor to the East Timor government, what recommendations would you make to reduce poverty?
Marcello: Nowadays, the economic relations between East Timor, Indonesia and Australia are peacefully and many young people travel to Jakarta to study. East Timor remains, however at a rather backward stage of development, the United Nations consider it part of Least Developed Countries. Most of the population is still involved in the primary sector, growing coffee and rice. Electricity, running water and sewerage are not widespread throughout the territory. For the most part, roads are unpaved and the pandemic limited mobility even more. To address the current challenges in East Timor’s development policy I would like to highlight three aspects.
The challenge of economic development - East Timor is a country with a very small territory, predominantly mountainous, with many areas covered by jungle. Agriculture is precarious and natural resources are scarce. The gas reserves in the Timor Sea, for which the small State had to fight hard for, represent an important opportunity for the future.
The challenge of ecologic transition- East Timorese still lack ecological awareness, and climate change and rising sea levels endanger the entire Pacific. Tourism to which East Timor aspires should necessarily be sustainable tourism.
The challenge of education - The country's official language, along with Tetum, is Portuguese and this is the language with which East Timor communicates with the world, but there are few East Timorese able to speak and understand Portuguese correctly. School books are published directly by the Ministry of Education and are written in Portuguese, but most students and even many teachers do not master this language at all. Schools also teach English and Bahasa Indonesia, which are useful for trade relations with the neighbors. The National University present in Dili has been joined by the Timorese Catholic University since 2021. From this point of view, East Timor, has great opportunities of cultural development if it first properly trains its teacher, scholarships and exchange programs with Portugal are an important resource.
Gordon: You are currently an intern at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. What are some of the major lessons you learned?
Marcello: I am now serving as an Intern at the Permanent Observer Mission of The Holy See to the United Nations, which enables me to be fully engaged in the work of UN bodies. I am having a firsthand experience of how the Holy See works in the family of nations. The Holy See has very different interests from States, that normally pursue geopolitical goals. In this context it is difficult to raise a different voice. Sometimes it feels like St. John the Baptist who “crying out in the desert”.
However, the diplomacy of the Holy See is appreciated on many occasions and many times gives voice to those who do not have one. The labor of the Mission shows that religious communities can lead peace processes. With the light of Catholic Social Teaching the presence of the Holy See in the United Nations is an important contribution in the search of sustainable peace among the nations. International relations must be based on dialogue and respect, not in force. That is the major lessons that I have earned: the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church is not an utopia, it is a reality that could transform the human being.
Gordon: Thank you for a fascinating interview.