Mystery surrounds the collapse of Timor-Leste's most senior bishop, Basilo do Nascimento, during Mass on Easter Saturday. Witnesses said he collapsed in the middle of Mass at St. Anthony Cathedral in Bacau, the small nation's second city. "The bishop collapsed and didn't continue the Mass. People took him to the hospital for some treatment," said Maria de Fatima, who was at the Saturday night Mass. Nascimento
, 67, has been Bishop of Bacau — one of three dioceses in a country whose 1.2 million people are 97 percent Catholic — for 21 years and is also head of the country's bishop's conference. He was ordained in Portugal where he lived for 20 years before returning to his homeland in 1994. After his collapse, he was immediately taken to hospital in Bacau but the following day he was airlifted to the capital Dili for better medical care. Rumors are swirling in Dili that the cause of the collapse was a heart problem, but this was officially denied and church officials have been extremely reticent to speak about the issue, claiming only that the bishop was "tired." "The bishop is recovering and he is fine," said Dr. Luis Lobato Timor-Leste's deputy health minister.
Father Juvito do Rego, secretary of the bishop's conference, said: "The bishop was very tired and didn't have his meal before celebrating Mass on Saturday night hence the collapse." "He didn't have enough rest so needed to rest in Dili National Hospital and returned to his residence on April 4." During his first day in hospital, the bishop, who locals say is a long-time supporter of the revolutionary militia turned political party Fretilin, was visited by caretaker prime minister, Mari Alkatiri
, and former president, prime minister and Nobel Peace prize winner, Jose Ramos Horta, also a Fretilin grandee. The bishops' collapse comes at a tense political juncture for Timor-Leste, whose people face a second general election within a year on May 10. The second poll comes after Alkatiri failed pass any legislation during his four months as head of a minority coalition government. The election pitches an Alkatiri led coalition against one led by the nation's elder statesman former freedom fighter, president and prime minister, Xanana Gusmao
. The church remains unusually politically influential in the country that only gained independence in 2001 after hundreds of years of colonization by Portugal and then Indonesia, against which it waged a bloody civil war for more than 25 years. Official campaigning for the election begins on April 10.