Subject: CNS: Bishop Belo can be more effective in retirement


Bishop Belo can be more effective in retirement, says biographer By Stephen Steele Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor can be a more effective advocate for the East Timorese in retirement, said his biographer.

Bishop Belo, 54, resigned as apostolic administrator of Dili Nov. 26, citing health reasons. Arnold Kohen, the bishop's biographer and a consultant for the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, said the bishop is being treated for high blood pressure and dizzy spells.

Ordained a bishop in 1983, Bishop Belo and his defense of human rights became a symbol of resistance to Indonesian rule over East Timor.

"He's not dropping out of things concerning East Timor. It just means he'll be doing things in a different way," Kohen told Catholic News Service.

"Indeed, one could make the argument that he could be more effective putting forth his stature as a Nobel laureate on behalf of East Timor, which he has never had the chance to do because of all his day-to-day responsibilities of running a diocese," he said.

In retirement, Bishop Belo would be free to make sure "the international community keeps its commitment to East Timor," he said.

Kohen said the bishop had been growing increasingly more frustrated by the slow pace of reconstruction in East Timor. The country's infrastructure was nearly destroyed in the violence that followed the 1999 vote on independence from Indonesia.

Bishop Belo was forced to evacuate East Timor in the days following the referendum after armed militias stormed his waterfront compound where more than 1,000 people had taken refuge. More than 30 people were killed in the attack, and the bishop was thought to be the militias' target.

"From 1989 on he played a pivotal role in making the concerns of the East Timorese known to the world and the United Nations, and that's why his house and the refugees taking refuge there were targeted in 1999," Kohen said.

"They wouldn't be independent if it wasn't for him," he said of Bishop Belo. "There's absolutely no question about that."

Bishop Belo was the most vocal and visible East Timorese during Indonesian rule, and the responsibility of protecting the people from harm often fell on his shoulders, Kohen said.

"This is a man who already by 1999 had been under tremendous pressure," Kohen said.

"What happened in 1999 really devastated him, that he was somehow unable to prevent it. Then when the United Nations came in, he expected things to be done more quickly than they were done," he said.

"A good deal of the territory remains in ruins. Even though he knew he was not the one responsible, it had a tremendous effect on him and contributed to his decline in health," Kohen said.

Gerard Powers, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, said Bishop Belo was a "courageous voice for justice and peace in East Timor."

"We're hopeful that he will continue to be a prophetic witness, urging that the tremendous progress that has been achieved in East Timor will be completed," Powers said.

In East Timor, the news of the bishop's retirement caught many by surprise.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said East Timor still needs Bishop Belo as the world's newest country continues to grapple with the challenges of nation building, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

"Bishop Belo has had a positive role in our country and I hope that, even removed from his diocese, he can still help us consolidate peace and stability with his opinions and criticisms," Alkatiri said.

A woman who heard the news on the radio made the sign of cross and cried as she listened. She told UCA News she was worried about the country's future.

"The situation in East Timor is unstable. There are a lot of problems here," she said. "We still need a person like Bishop Belo for a quite long time."

In Britain, Catherine Sexton, head of the Asia section for CAFOD, the British bishops' official aid and development agency, said Bishop Belo was a pragmatic church leader, always concerned that his words could lead to more violence against his people.

"From his first meetings with CAFOD staff, Bishop Belo insisted that the East Timorese were dying and needed to be free -- free from violence, free to worship, free to plough their fields, free to speak. But knowing that his words could be responsible for the deaths of his people, Belo only spoke out with care and when they could make a crucial difference.

"Bishop Belo will always be remembered for his actions, which were heroic, rather than his words, which were pragmatic. The bishop's first concern was the safety of the East Timorese, and for this reason he always kept dialogue open with the Indonesians. If by not speaking out against Indonesian brutality, he could save lives, then that was his line. He faced this terrible dilemma daily and stood up to the challenge. He saw himself as a pastoral and not a political leader and in his pastoral role, he did more for the East Timorese than anybody else," Sexton said.

- - - Contributing to this story was Paulinus Barnes in Manchester, England.

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