Subject: CNS: Bishop Belo, Nobel winner, resigns as head of E Timor diocese

Bishop Belo, Nobel winner, resigns as head of East Timor diocese

By John Thavis Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, spiritual guide of East Timor's struggle for independence, has resigned as apostolic administrator of the Dili Diocese for reasons of health, the Vatican said.

The Vatican announced Nov. 26 that Pope John Paul II had accepted Bishop Belo's resignation after the prelate repeatedly asked to be relieved of his pastoral duties.

The Nobel Prize-winning prelate said in a statement released in East Timor that he was "suffering from both physical and mental fatigue that will require a long period of recuperation."

Bishop Belo, 54, recently spent three months in Portugal for medical treatment. Sources said the bishop had been treated for stress. He met with the pope privately in late October during his "ad limina" visit to the Vatican, which all heads of dioceses are required to make every five years.

Pope John Paul named Bishop Basilio do Nascimento as apostolic administrator of Dili. Bishop do Nascimento also remains apostolic administrator in the East Timorese Diocese of Bacau.

Bishop Belo had been a vocal defender of human rights under Indonesian occupation and a strong supporter of the independence movement.

After centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975 and annexed it the following year. More than 200,000 East Timorese were killed or died of disease or famine during Indonesia's 24-year rule.

Perhaps the watershed event of the resistance movement occurred Feb. 6, 1989, when Bishop Belo wrote to then-U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar calling for a democratic referendum on whether the East Timorese wanted to remain a part of Indonesia.

"The people of Timor ought to be heard through a plebiscite on their future," Bishop Belo wrote. "In the meantime, we are dying as a people and as a nation."

Bishop Belo helped bring the East Timor independence struggle to the attention of the Vatican and the world, meeting several times with the pope to brief him on the situation.

In 1996, Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta, a prominent independence activist who is now East Timor's foreign minister, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating nonviolent resistance to Indonesian rule.

Renewed violence in 1999 sparked international concern and a U.N.-sponsored referendum in which the people of East Timor voted for independence.

Bishops Belo's life was repeatedly threatened by pro-Indonesia militias in the months leading up to the referendum. In the week before the vote, a flier was circulated in Dili: "To the bishop: For now your robe is white. But it will soon be covered in the color of your own blood."

Preceding the vote and in its aftermath, anti-independence militia gangs backed by the Indonesian army went on a rampage, killing up to 2,000 civilians, burning and looting houses and driving 250,000 people from their homes.

After results of the 1999 referendum were announced, Bishop Belo visited Rome following an attack by pro-Indonesian militias on his residence that left more than 30 people dead. The bishop was promoting an effective international peacekeeping force, which was eventually sent to the embattled territory.

After a period of transitional U.N. administration, East Timor gained full independence in May.

Bishop Belo, speaking in New York earlier this year, said independence was bringing "a new consciousness of democratic ideals and a new self-understanding" among the people of East Timor.

But he said that despite the hope and optimism, a harsh reality of East Timor is that most citizens are impoverished, with nearly 60 percent underfed.

"The quality of life for most people is far, very far from what it should be," he said.


11/26/2002 11:14 AM ET

Copyright (c) 2002 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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