A 100-year-old Portuguese Jesuit priest who has spent more than half his life working in East Timor has been awarded the country’s highest honour.
Father João Felgueiras, who turns 101 next month, was one of several people to be awarded the Order of Timor-Leste by President Francisco Guterres on Wednesday.
Timor-Leste is East Timor’s official Portuguese name.
The award, introduced in 2009, is aimed at honouring individuals “who in their professional, social activity or even in a spontaneous act of heroic or altruism, have contributed significantly for the benefit of Timor-Leste, the Timorese or humanity.”
The award is split into several grades, ranging from insignia, medal, collar, and grand collar which is exclusively reserved for heads of state.
Father Felgueiras, who received an award in the insignia category in 2016, this time was awarded the higher collar-grade prize.
President Guterres said Father Felgueiras was being recognised for making important contributions to society and the development of East Timor.
The priest arrived in East Timor in 1971, to become vice-chancellor of the diocesan seminary in Dili. He also taught Portuguese at St Joseph High School in Dili, where many of East Timor’s future leaders were educated.
After Portugal’s withdrawal and Indonesia’s invasion in late 1975, he decided to remain in East Timor, but was reportedly kept under surveillance by the Indonesian authorities, The Macau Post Daily reported.
In 2006, he and Pastor José Alves Martin – who died in March – published a book on political events in East Timor since 1975.
In a recent interview with Portuguese newswire Lusa, he said he was still enjoying life in East Timor very much.
Touching on his long life, he said: “I didn’t do anything to be 100 years old. I just do what other people do and I live as long as God gives me, that’s all,” he said.
He added: “I feel Portuguese and Timorese. I came here as a missionary to work as long as the Society of Jesus wanted and that is how it is now.”