Materially Poor but Spiritually Rich

The people of Timor-Leste might be materially poor, but buoyed by their Catholic faith, they are spiritually rich. The Portuguese initially brought Catholicism to the East Timorese. However, the Catholic faith truly became a central part of their culture and its influence began to strengthen during the Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999. Predominantly Muslim, the Indonesian state required adherence to one of five officially recognised religions and did not recognise traditional animist beliefs. The Church was seen as a safe haven and became a refuge for East Timorese seeking sanctuary from persecution. The Catholic Church remained directly responsible to the Vatican throughout Indonesian rule.


Despite the Timorese peoples growing allegiance to the Catholic Church, there is also a long tradition of animist spiritualism in Timor. Animist beliefs and practices provide the background for the creation of legends and myths passed on from generation to generation. Animist rituals and traditions coexist peacefully with the Catholic Faith, contributing to the Timorese people’s rich cultural palette. Only a minority of local Christians can be considered as having no animist beliefs. Animist religion in Timor-Leste revolves around the spirits of the dead who are both feared and worshipped. These spirits are materialized through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious magical powers that can be either good or evil. In Timor these are called ‘Luliks’, which means sacred and intangible


All over Timor Leste there are beautiful religious statues, shrines and grottos. In almost every village you will find crucifixes marking the Stations of the Cross. These very Catholic monuments are often situated near areas that already had spiritual significance for the Timorese. The most well known is the massive 27 metre tall statue of Christ, the Cristo Rei, just outside of Dili. In an effort to demonstrate religious tolerance and goodwill Indonesia erected the massive statue of Christ as a gift to the East Timorese people. It was built by Indonesian army engineers and officially unveiled by Suharto in 1995.


The statue and the globe on which it rests is high on Cape Fatucama a hill at the eastern tip of Dili Harbor which can be reached by climbing around 600 steps. The walk up to the top of the hill is lined with the 14 Stations of the Cross. It has been noted by some that the statue does not face Catholic Timor Leste, but looks west with open arms in the direction of Jakarta. The statue is one of the main tourist sites in East Timor. The view is spectacular and, once at the top, you can see over Dili and across to Atauro Island. On the way down at one of the designated rest points, you can see way, way down the coast towards Manututo and the jungle covered cliffs that lead to Soibada.


Tetum Words of the Week

Bailoron    dry season

Tempu udan   rainy (monsoon) season

Timor Leste Facts

It is a tropical island 8 degrees south of the Equator.

It consists of the main island, Atauro Island, Jaco Island and the enclave of Oe-Cussi set within West Timor (Indonesia).

The country has two main seasons, the wet and the dry Season.

The average temperature is 32º Celsius although up in the highlands the temperature can drop to very cold at night.