What place does East Timor occupy within the Jesuit
landscape? First of all, let’s remember that this country won its independence
twice: in 1975 from Portugal, then in 2002 from Indonesia, which had annexed it
in 1976, without UN recognition. This independence came at a high price for the
people, as it was marked by large-scale massacres and ransacking by the
Indonesian army. These recent historical facts explain why East Timor, even if
it counts only about forty Jesuits, is an independent Region. It would not be
appropriate for it to be dependent on the Jesuit Province of Indonesia.
In connection with the aforementioned history, Father
General, having just arrived in the country, went to visit the Museum of
Resistance and then - a rare occurrence during his visits - met the country’s
Prime Minister, Mr Xanana Gusmåo, himself a Jesuit alumnus.
Here are a few more facts about the Society of Jesus
over there: out of just over 40 Jesuits, around ten are applied to East Timor
and come mainly from the Philippines, but also from Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam.
A dozen scholastics are studying abroad. The novitiate welcomes up to a dozen
novices, a good number considering the total population of 1.4 million. It
should be pointed out that this is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region,
along with the Philippines, where the majority of the population is Catholic.
The Region (ETR) has a
brand new Superior, Erik John Gerilla - better known by his initials “EJ” - who
took office on 3 January 2024. He is originally from the Philippines, but has
worked for several years in East Timor. We asked him a few questions.