Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, has launched a new book by an Australian Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart which attempts to understand why and how Australia contributed to the suffering of the globe’s newest nation, Timor-Leste.
In launching her book, East Timor, René Girard and Neocolonial Violence: Scapegoating as Australian Policy, Bishop Vincent described Sr Susan Connelly rsj as a “gentle but relentless Australian advocate”, expressing his gratitude for her work which brings to light the often unrecognised impact of Australia’s action on East Timor (now known as Timor-Leste) during World War II and its invasion by Indonesia.
“I am grateful to Susan for presenting us with an interpretation of Australia’s role in the suffering of the Timorese people. She has used the remarkable theories of René Girard in a way that helps people to understand the deceit and violence that has caused so many deaths and so much suffering in that small, neighbouring nation.”
During the launch, Bishop Vincent remarked on the gentle nature of the Timorese. “Yet, as we know,” he said, “they have suffered much trauma associated with their struggle for self-determination and independence.
“They have endured much violence over many decades simply for their very existence as an indomitable people and a nation.
“The plight of the Timorese reminds me of the suffering of my own people, the Vietnamese. If there is a thread that bonds the two peoples together, it is the will and the struggle for freedom from oppression and coercion.”
Sr Susan has been an advocate for the Timorese people for decades, first visiting the territory in 1996 when it was under Indonesian rule. She explained to Catholic Outlook that during her frequent visits to the small nation, she became engrossed in their history and Australia’s history and relationship to the island.
“These experiences brought home to me the extreme oppression the Timorese people were suffering,” Sr Susan said.
“I heard stories of deep trauma and death. I felt the repressive silence, suspicion and distrust that pervaded the place.”
During her visits to Timor-Leste, Sr Susan discovered the work of René Girard.
“I was enthralled by his insights into human imitation and rivalry, so often culminating in violence. His exposition of the scapegoating process suggested to me that his work would be an excellent tool with which to interpret my growing knowledge of the plight of the Timorese,” she said.
After many years of working with and for the Timorese people, Sr Susan gained a PhD with the Australian Catholic University (ACU) and with thanks to the Australian Girard Seminar, her thesis became her book, which is published in the Seminar’s series on Girardian theory.
“My hope is that many others will savour the contribution that René Girard has made to humanity’s understanding of itself and apply his insights to personal and world situations,” she said.
At the book launch, held on 11 June at ACU’s Strathfield Campus, Bishop Vincent explained that Australia still has a role to play in recognising the evil done to Timor-Leste and its people.
“We all know that wrongdoing cannot be condoned and that there must be the application of justice where personal and national rights have been attacked and people have suffered. The call is to forgive, not to forget.
“The Timorese people’s refusal to retaliate shows that as a nation, they have understood one of Girard’s insights – that revenge merely adds to the violence.
“As people of faith, we too have a role as indeed we did during their struggle for independence. We must not forget. We remember and regret what we as a nation have done.
“We observe René Girard’s words – ‘if we do not imitate Christ or Christ-like models, we will continue to imitate each other and remain in the thrall of mimetic rivalry and violence.”
East Timor, René Girard and Neocolonial Violence: Scapegoating as Australian Policy by Sr Susan Connelly rsj is now available to purchase from its publisher Bloomsbury.