East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, is a Southeast Asian nation with an area of 15,410 square km and a population of 1,167,242 people. Christianity is the dominant religion in East Timor. According to the CIA World Factbook, Roman Catholics account for 97.6% of the population of the country. Protestant Christians, Muslims, and others comprise 2%, 0.2%, and 0.2% of the total population. Animistic beliefs and practices also play an important role in shaping the culture of the people of East Timor.
Christianity In East Timor
East Timor’s Catholic Church has the highest number of adherents in the country. Christianity was introduced in the country by the Dutch and Portuguese traders at the beginning of the 16th century. Christian missionaries also started some activity here. However, it was only after the colonization of East Timor by the Portuguese in 1642 that the popularity of the religion started to increase. After the Portuguese colonists were forced to leave East Timor by Indonesia in 1974, the spread of the religion speeded up. The constitutional monotheistic policy of Indonesia did not support beliefs in polytheistic indigenous religions. Thus, mass conversions to Christianity happened in East Timor. Prior to Indonesian occupation in 1975, only about 20% of the people of East Timor were Catholics but the figure soared to 95% just a decade later. However, oppression of the people of East Timor by Indonesian military led a number of Christian priests and nuns in the country to speak out against the atrocities and fight for human rights. Many of them were murdered. Pope John Paul II also visited the country in 1989 where he spoke against the abuses without mentioning the Indonesian authorities. A decade later, East Timor finally became independent and Christianity continued to dominate the religious scene in the nation.
A small community of Protestant Christians also lives in East Timor. The number of Protestants in the nation declined significantly following the independence of the country. A significant section of Protestants living in the country included the Indonesian military forces station there. Their efforts led to the establishment of Protestant churches in the region. However, most of them left in 1999 leading to a fall in the Protestant population in East Timor.
Minority Religions In East Timor
Ethnic Malay immigrants from the island of Indonesia during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor had increased the region’s Muslim population significantly. Other Muslims in the country included indigenous converts to Islam and a community of Arab Muslims living in East Timor. Most of the ethnic Malay Muslims left the country after the independence of East Timor. Other minority religions like Buddhism, Chinese folk religion, Hinduism, the Bahá'í Faith, etc., have small numbers of followers in East Timor.
Freedom Of Religion In East Timor
The Constitution of East Timor provides for the freedom of religion in the country. The Government generally respects this right. Although scattered cases of discrimination on the basis of religion do occur, the society is largely a tolerant one.