My wonderful man and I finally figured out the secret to getting married in Dili, Timor Leste. Well, to be fair, he figured it out. It turned out to help that he was part of a not so exclusive club called the Catholic Church. Timor Leste is a new country since 2002 after a long history of hundreds of years of Portuguese colonization that ended in 1975 only to be followed by a ruthless and genocidal takeover by Indonesia that same year, which was fought with guerilla warfare by the Timorese freedom opposition, Fretilin, and Falantil, the military wing of Fretilin. Ultimately, independence was reached in 2002 after a UN referendum vote on 30 August 1999 where 78.5% of Timorese voted in favor of independence from Indonesia and subsequently thousands were slaughtered by the Indonesian military and their Timorese militias. Also, due to the Portuguese influence, it is roughly 90% Roman Catholic. These are two important factors, as, unlike other well-established governments, weddings in Timor are done through the religious institutions, which predominantly mean the Catholic Church. Here is an actual practice, probably unintended, of separation of church and state. Unlike in the U.S. and even Indonesia (which has the added inconvenience and expense of requiring two ceremonies, a civil and religious, to be considered official), we did not have to go to a government agency to register ourselves. If not for these special circumstances, Matt and I would not have had a religious ceremony.
After about a month of asking around his office and in general conversation, Matt found a priest, Father Pankratius, who is actually Indonesian, who was willing to try and figure out what hoops foreigners needed to jump through. Unlike in Bali, which is set up with numerous wedding package companies, it was rather unclear what the proper protocol is. One foreigner Matt had talked to said he flat out did not believe it was possible, because of someone else’s lack of success that he had heard of. Turns out all we needed was to deny our resolve against the church and ask them for help in the form of copies of baptism certificate and an official letter saying that we are free to marry (Matt’s Catholic church in Texas and my childhood Episcopalian church in Colorado). Then we asked the U.S. Embassy to similarly notarize a Letter of No Impediment, which they quickly agreed to as long as we would type up the letter for them… we went to the U.S. Embassy Indonesia page and changed a couple words on their official Letter of No Impediment document. Gave the priest those three pieces of information along with copies of our passports and we were done.
No, but wait – this turned out to be a process that had new steps pop up along the way. My one interview with the priest, because I am an interloper, a non-Catholic snaking my way in needing to be cleared that I would raise my future brood Catholic, turned out to be three interviews, which is still a bargain considering that the official pre-cana marriage counseling requirements between the priest and the couple can be weeks of intensive sessions. Then it turns out we couldn’t just use any two people as witnesses, they had to be a couple married in the Catholic Church that could pray for our union and be like godparents for our marriage, and they would need to provide their supporting documents and come in the very next day for interview number two. Then we would no longer be working with Father Pankratius, but with their priest that conducts their weekly English-speaking mass, Father Nuel (short for Emmanuel). While Father Pankratius is kind of a surly guy with a goatee and a pony tail that looks like an ex-guitar rocker, Father Nuel is short, round and bubbly with glasses; he studied in Rome.
Father Nuel was very accommodating, and our first interview was about five minutes long consisting of exchange of names and very nice to meet you, ok see you tomorrow with your witnesses. The witnesses also fell into place quite easily. Joao and Ana, a lovely Portuguese couple, live in Matt’s housing complex and are here teaching Portuguese, because that is still the official language of Timor Leste. They didn’t have their baptism certificates, but they did have their marriage license issued by the church, and did they mind dropping any evening plans to come that very night to the church? No, they did not! We all arrived at the church to hear Father Nuel talk to us about why the wedding is a sacrament, and how that means we are asking God to bear witness, and we know that in order to do this we are not to be homosexual, polygamous, barren, etc., which took less than an hour. We nodded our heads, but it was rather difficult to concentrate and take seriously as just outside, teenagers were blaring Timorese and American pop and dance music. We agreed to understanding the sanctity of our union to the soundtrack of “oooh baby, dun na na na, I’m gonna love you forever, ooooooh.” Oh, we were also informed then that we would be providing an offering of some food and drink during the ceremony, so gift basket was now on our list.
Interview number three was equally quick and painless, where we just had to fill in forms with basic information and the same yes/no questions on monogamy, etc. We did, however, have to wait for about thirty minutes until Father Nuel was free, because the entire congregation comes in to give confession on the three days before Christmas. We arrived and peeked in the church to see lines stretching the length of the aisle leading to the confessional chairs (note, they do not have confessional booths). We waited on the wall in front of the church office building with a bunch of youths with jerry curls and bleached mohawks smoking cigarettes. Now we were just supposed to show up half an hour before the mass on Wednesday with our gift basket, our witnesses, and any guests (my Dad and a coworker of Matt’s) so that Matt would have time to give confession and be clean before receiving the sacrament of marriage; not being Catholic I did not need to be cleaned. We were both really curious as to what he would tell. He has still not told me what he ultimately ended up confessing. The service fit our bill of no fuss, because instead of having a special wedding mass, they just folded us into their normal 6:30pm Wednesday English-speaking mass, which also gave the added bonus of extra wedding guests that we would not have to worry about inviting.
We have often been asked why we are getting married in Timor Leste, so far away from friends and family. In the end, it came down to the fact that my family is a small but hardy group of folk scattered all over the U.S. with my dad in Thailand, and Matt’s is a gigantic, Catholic family mostly in Texas. We debated several scenarios that would try to make everyone happy and invited, but could not find one. Nevertheless, we still cannot wait to celebrate with everyone once we’re back in the U.S.
On 28 December 2011, we gussied up, and arrived to the church on an evening that turned out to be like a sweat lodge (my Dad, who is biologically designed for 20C weather, was a trooper). Turns out also we really should have had an actual dress rehearsal instead of just being told the sequence of events, because all of a sudden we were required to give individual readings (which then I never ended up having to give, but Matt did) and coming up to the altar and sitting down and kneeling and standing far more times than I realized. We just kept a keen eye out on Father Nuel for his cues on what do to when. My Dad was able to give me away the short distance from the front row to the altar. After we said our vows, which we had to do with our right hands clasped in a very extended, stationary handshake, Father Nuel told us to “now give a symbol of your love for each other.” I was stumped on that one, I mean we were getting married for goodness sakes, wasn’t that the symbol? Luckily, Matt quickly realized he meant the kiss! Phew, didn’t end up fumbling that one. But the whole thing was lovely. The strangers whose mass we crashed with our wedding were all so nice and sweet and came up to us to congratulate us and wish us well. The rag tag choir in the corner of young men dressed in street clothes sang with gusto the various hymns, and the piano player was jazzy. They ended the mass with an energetic version of “Feliz Navidad.” The lights on the haphazardly decorated Christmas tree in the corner started playing a mechanical “Jingle Bells” part way through the ceremony. The little altar children were bright eyed and eager, except for one teenager who was rather oafish with giant feet. Oh, a strange thing, that not even the Catholic Joao and Ana partook in, was Father Nuel took out the Baby Jesus figurine from the nativity scene near the altar and everyone lined up to give it a kiss either on the feet or the head, you could choose. We were encouraged to join the line, but also declined.
Before going to enjoy a lovely dinner at a Burmese restaurant courtesy of Matt’s family, while we were still light headed from the excitement, the ceremony, and the intense dehydration, a little church administrator came up and had Father Nuel spring on us a special $100 administrative fee (we were hoping the gift basket was our expense to the church – wishful thinking) even though the usual fee is $50 (oh, by the way, the currency in Timor Leste is U.S. dollars, except for the coins, which are Timorese centavos). But, Father Nuel, being the nice and fair guy that he is said, never mind, we’ll keep the normal fee for you. So, the next day we came in for the last time to pay our administrative fee and our $10 fee for the actual wedding certificate that reads in Portuguese that we officially got married in Dili, and now we are finally done with that and can go on with the business of living our lives!