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Bishop Belo Recalls Pope´s Contributions To Nation

Updated: April 05, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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Pope John Paul II gave moral support to East Timorese throughout their struggle for independence and the transition to nation building, according to Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.

The former apostolic administrator of Dili, who resigned from that post in November 2002 for reasons of poor health and stress, currently serves as a parish priest in Maputo, capital of Mozambique in southeastern Africa.

Bishop Belo, 57, sent this commentary to UCA News on April 3, the day after Pope John Paul died at the Vatican.

The bishop recalls that Pope "Joao Paulo" (John Paul) maintained a close relationship with East Timorese from the time of his brief visit to Dili in 1989, when East Timor was still part of Indonesia. During the ensuing years of struggle and violence, the pope sent representatives as well as letters to comfort the East Timorese people, Bishop Belo says.

Indonesia "integrated" the former Portuguese colony of East Timor as a province in 1976, after taking control of the territory the previous year. During Indonesian rule, up to 200,000 East Timorese died due to famine, armed resistance and reprisals. A large majority of East Timorese voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum on Aug. 30, 1999, after which pro-Jakarta militia went on a rampage that left hundreds dead. But Indonesia revoked the integration, and a transitional U.N. administration took over until the formal emergence of the new nation of Timor Leste (East Timor) in May 2002. It shares Timor Island with West Timor, part of Indonesian territory since Indonesia gained independence from Dutch rule following World War II.

Bishop Belo´s commentary follows:

This pope from Poland will always have his name linked to Timor Leste. In fact Pope Joao Paulo II visited Timor Leste on Oct. 12, 1989. On that memorable day, the pope only stayed for four hours in the (East) Timorese capital. He arrived at Comoro airport by 10:00 and returned to Jakarta at 14:00. In that brief time, His Sanctity blessed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He spoke to the bishops and priests. He celebrated Mass in Tacitolu for about 100,000 Timorese coming from all the parts of Timor. He left words of hope and comfort to Timorese, who were then still living under Indonesian rule.

With his brief visit to Dili, Pope Joao Paulo II put this small country, whose people were living for years in suffering and oppression, on the world map. In his Oct. 12 homily, he appealed for respect for the rights of the family. He spoke about concordance, peace and love, and he appealed to the Catholic Timorese to be in Asia "salt of the earth and light of the world."

At the ecclesiastical level, it was he who divided the Diocese of Dili, erecting the new Diocese of Baucau in 1996. He appointed for the first time in the religious history of Timor Leste, native bishops: Monsignor Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo (1988), Monsignor Basilio do Nascimento (1997) and Monsignor Alberto Ricardo da Silva (2004).

In 1991, when hundreds of youths demonstrating peacefully in Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili were massacred, the pope in his paternal care for the people of Timor Leste sent a representative, in the person of Archbishop Giovanni de Andrea, to see the situation "in loco" and to comfort the victims´ families.

In the year 1999, during the events of the famous black September, His Sanctity sent a support letter of solidarity to the two apostolic administrators of Baucau and Dili. And on Sept. 13 he received in his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, the then apostolic administrator of Dili, who requested (that the pope ask) for an intervention by the United States of America and by the United Nations, with the goal of sending an international peace force to Timor Leste to protect the defenseless population.

In the day of the celebrations of the independence of Timor Leste, on May 20, 2002, he sent a special representative in the person of then archbishop and today Cardinal Renato Martini to preside at the Eucharist in Tacitolu. Concerning independence, the Holy Father addressed a beautiful message to the two apostolic administrators, the authorities and the people of the new country.

In 2003 he gave his approval for the beginning of diplomatic ties between Santa Se (Holy See) and the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste. He sent Archbishop Renzo Fratini to Dili as the first apostolic nuncio. Finally, as a last important act, he appointed Monsignor Alberto Ricardo da Silva as bishop of Dili (in March 2004).

It is the obligation of all Timorese to manifest feelings of gratitude for Pope Joao Paulo II. We don´t know if there will be another occasion for a new pope to visit Timor Leste in coming times. For the time being, Pope Joao Paulo II, a pope "coming from far away," had a preponderant role in the appeals for the defense and preservation of Timorese people´s religious, ethnic, cultural and historical identity.

We Timorese, and particularly Catholics, are going to offer to the Lord our prayers for the eternal rest of Pope Joao Paulo II.


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