When you fly over East Timor, a tiny island of Timor in the South Pacific just northwest of Australia, you'll see beautiful mountains and hundreds of miles of breathtaking shoreline. From far away, it looks like paradise found. But this island nation—the world's first new country in the new millennium—has a violent, tumultuous past marked by invasions, internal political strife, economic upheaval and the death of hundreds of thousands of Timorese. Since 1999, an estimated 200,000 East Timorese soldiers and civilians have lost their lives to violence. That violence forced an additional 300,000 people out of their homes and into refugee camps, where some lived for many years.
Life is better now, and Catholic Relief Services wants to make sure it stays that way. Between March and July 2012, the country is holding democratic elections for the second time in 10 years. We're hoping the elections go peacefully, so we borrowed an idea from South Sudan: a tried-and-true plan to collectively pray for peaceful elections on this tiny island nation. CRS is asking Church and government officials, as well as students and thousands of everyday people in the United States, to join us in prayer so that the past is never repeated.
Our own history of helping the people of East Timor goes back to the late 1970s, when CRS was one of two international aid agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, allowed to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis. Take a look at what you've helped us accomplish in the country.