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Martial Art Groups in Timor Leste - Salesian Pastoral Reflection

By Fr. Joao Boavida
Provincial delegate for the Youth Ministry


Dili, Timor Leste, 13 November 2019 --During the EAO Provincial Youth Ministry delegate meeting (Dili, November 11-15) the commitment to youth in need or youth at risk has emerged in many deeper discussions. The YM Provincial Delegate of the hosting Vice-province of Timor Leste shares his pastoral reflection on 'Martial Art Groups', one of the most striking youth culture phenomenon in this young country.


As a Salesian of Don Bosco, you usually encounter meet Martial Arts members SYM members. How do you perceive this double identity? What is the implication for our education and pastoral?


Firstly, to live a double identity is not something new for Timorese. During the war for many years we were forced by the desire to survive torture, kidnap and murder perpetrated by the military had to play a double role. Unfortunately, this has become a culture. Therefore, even after the war the same way of life continues to exist. Secondly, I asked one youth leader why he joined this martial arts group. He answered that every male member of his family, including his father had become members of this martial arts group. He lived in this environment so he has no way of escaping it. At the same time, he feels that our youth center is also his family. He also told me that joining martial arts does not automatically make him a criminal. He join martial arts but he knows his limits.


What we really need is to listen to them. Knowing the reason why are they joining martial arts groups. Every time I heard there are crimes committed by martial art groups usually I texted some of them asking them where are they and reminding them not to get involve in crime. Perhaps we need more approachable Salesians who can listen to them.


Martial Arts in East Timor basically means a 'secret' chain of belonging. What according to you is the main impact on the Timorese family, culture and faith?


Mostly their promise is like the promises of fidelity to their group. They are obliged to show utmost respect to their seniors (those who joined martial arts ahead of them) and with different ranking. At times, most young people who are joining martial art groups are not well educated hence they are being manipulated by the wrong philosophy of the group. Then, they become more loyal to their seniors than to their parents. It is a challenge to our faith because most martial arts groups are the remnant of the Indonesian occupation. The centers of these martial art groups are Indonesian. They are very much influenced by Islamic and Javanese ideas. There are several martial arts groups which were born here in Timor. They combine Christianity and paganism. What we see is syncretism.


On 9 November I gave a talk to the youth of the Baucau municipality organized by the youth parliament of Baucau. I used ‘Christus Vivit’, inviting them to return to the roots of our religion and culture.


Could you specify how we speak in the Church , in public about Martial Arts?


In homilies, my Rector and myself used to talk against that. But unfortunately, most of the Martial Arts members do not come to Church. I also gave a talk in the City Hall, I talked about that as well. Perhaps the next step will be to go out and talk to them. The vice president of the Don Bosco Past Pupils National Federation came to Baucau and visited the house of one martial art group head and talked to them.


The reality of Martial Arts seems be growing, not diminishing. It may have a great impact on society, youth, culture and fatih. What should be our joint answer as a Salesian Family?


Timor-Leste has 1.6 million people. 60% of the total population are young people at a productive age. But among this 60% only 19% are able to find employment. Among the 19% of employed youth only 8% have permanent jobs because they work in the public office.


Looking at this data we can estimate a large number of young people are living in uncertainty. Hence, it is really alarming and consequently they may easily get up to foolish behaviour in society.


I just hope that we will be able to work together, first to influence policy makers in this country to create better opportunities for employment. Secondly, the Don Bosco Past Pupils are now promoting a Cooperative as way of gathering resources in order to provide more jobs for the youth.


One of the Don Bosco Past Pupil leaders confirms our pastoral reflection:


"I think this is one of the main concerns that Timor-Leste is facing today. In my perspective, this is a cross-cutting issue that the government, church or society need to think about together to resolve these issues. I believe the main or core trigger is LACK OF LOVE - what is love exactly to them? Love is a complex thing. The way I observe the definition of current society is that love is mostly defined as LUST and SEX - but not exactly as what is defined in the bible. The center of all this is VAGUE now. This means the church needs to play a big role when government fails to establish the mechanism to control Martial Arts and Gang Violence."


We pray for the wisdom and courage of the Timorese Salesians in approaching the youth at risk!


NB: If you search on Google, you may find hundreds of thousands of items about Timor Leste Martial arts groups. Among the most widespread are: PSHT (Perserikatan setia hati teratai), United heart chain, IKS (Ikatan kerasakti = The Holy monkey chain), 77 (Seventy seven) or KORKA (Kmanek Oan Rai Klaran = The Blessed One, Son of the Earth) that have already become an influential political party at national level.



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