East Timor: heroic bishop steps down

 The Nobel-prizewinning bishop of Dili, East Timor resigned today on health grounds. In a statement on behalf of the Vatican, Bishop Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Office director, said : "Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, S.D.B., has presented to the Holy Father on numerous occasions his resignation as apostolic administrator of Dili, East Timor, motivated by health reasons. Today the Holy Father accepted that resignation. Bishop Belo will explain the reasons for his resignation in a communique that he will issue today." In response to the news, Catholic aid agency CAFOD said Bishop Belo of Dili played a vital role in the country's journey from Indonesia's brutal occupation to independence in May this year, as the Nobel peace laureate resigns due to ill health. CAFOD's Head of Asia Section Catherine Sexton worked alongside the Bishop. She said: "Bishop Belo will always be a hero to the people of East Timor, though that is a mantle he would never accept. He had a huge impact because of the spiritual and reluctant political leadership he gave. "Bishop Belo never welcomed his role as a symbol for independence, but he accepted it, dealt with it, and dealt with it well. When the chips were down for the East Timorese, Bishop Belo's door remained open. People would come to him during the night asking for assistance because their husband, wife or family member had been arrested, and he would always do what ever he could to help. "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." "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." In letters to the UN, during the Pope's visit to East Timor, and as Nobel peace laureate, Bishop Belo did speak out. He was instrumental in pushing for a referendum in 1999 on Indonesia rule that resulted in an overwhelming vote for independence. The vote sparked a brutal campaign of violence by the Indonesian military and local militias allied to Jakarta. Bishop Belo's own house was attacked and he was forced to flee to Australia, returning after Indonesian withdrawal. Catherine Sexton says, "Bishop Belo became an advocate of justice for the East Timorese, saying that justice is vital for the Timorese people's future. He has constantly recognised the need for humanitarian work in such a highly politicised setting. Bishop Belo worked particularly to protect youth, who were very vulnerable. His wonderful work continues with CAFOD on HIV/AIDS awareness programmes. He has always been a friend to CAFOD. We wish him only the best on his retirement, he has deserved it." source: VIS/CAFOD

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