Subject: Bishop Belo's resignation leaves E Timorese wondering why

Sydney Morning Herald/The Age November 28, 2002

Bishop Belo's resignation leaves East Timorese wondering why

Bishop Belo was said to be unhappy with Vatican plans for a new diocese, writes Jill Jolliffe in Dili.

In Dili, widespread shock and disbelief met Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo's announcement of his resignation.

Bishop Belo, a Nobel peace laureate, said he was resigning because of "physical and psychological exhaustion, requiring a long period of rest". The Pope had accepted his resignation, he said.

Bishop Belo was earlier reported to be unhappy with Vatican plans to reorganise church structures in East Timor by creating a third diocese.

"We don't want him to go - it was he who saved East Timor. If he leaves there will be many problems," said parishioner Sebastio Calado, adding that he would "like to know who's behind this".

It was typical of responses from those in the street, who suspect the resignation is politically motivated.

Among the most shocked were Bishop Belo's priests in the Dili diocese, who were not consulted. Most church sources refused to comment, staying silent until a speech on Sunday by the leader of the other East Timorese diocese, Bishop of Baucau, Dom Basilio do Nacimento.

Bishop Nacimento has taken over as Bishop of Dili, holding the two positions until a successor is nominated.

"I can't answer journalists' questions, because my own questions haven't been answered," said Father Alvero Monteiro, who accompanied Bishop Belo in the years when he confronted the Indonesian military over its human rights violations.

"We knew he was sick for a long time with high blood pressure, but we were only informed yesterday," he said.

Bishop Belo, 54, returned earlier this month from Europe, where he underwent medical treatment. He is now visiting his family in Baucau.

He was 37 when he was appointed Bishop of Dili to replace Dom Martinho Lopes da Costa. Bishop Belo took a similar stand in defence of Timorese rights, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, jointly with Jose Ramos Horta.

At the time of East Timor's independence vote in 1999, militia gangs attacked and burnt his residence where hundreds of refugees were sheltering. Shots were fired at him and he was bundled into a car by Indonesian officers and flown to Baucau.

The Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, said he regretted the Bishop's resignation. "We hope he can continue to contribute to the consolidation of peace and stability ... with his opinions and criticisms, because Timor continues to need him," he said.

He has not generally spoken out against the new Fretilin Government, but he has confronted it over specific issues. 

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