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Dili bishop says, ‘Pray for East Timor’

Special to the National Catholic Reporter
Dili, East Timor

Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo has been bishop of Dili, East Timor, for 15 years. His entire time as bishop has been under Indonesian occupation of his native country. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1996, sharing it with pro-independence activist Jose Ramos Horta, also of East Timor, who lives in exile in Australia. Journalist Daniel Kestenholz spoke with Belo on April 13.

Kestenholz: What is the role of the church in East Timor?

Belo: We try to be the voice of the voiceless, to protect those suffering oppression and persecution and mainly to preach the dignity of human beings.

What were the big mistakes in East Timor, that led to this development of war, hate and suppression?

The main mistake is that from 1975, when the [Indonesian] army entered, they never were able to gain the hearts of the people. Only violence, violence. Until now.

Many people outside East Timor want you to mediate.

I mediate but only under the condition that they stop with the violence. We will continue the dialogue, but we ask them to be sincere. In front of us, they say “Yes, bishop.” But behind [our backs], their attitude is totally different. For instance with this violence in Liquica.

What happened in Liquica?

I don’t know what happened there. I went there. I only know that the village is empty. There are these groups of Besi Merah Puti [Red and White Iron], these young people, they are controlling the roads. This is not good. The police must control the roads, and not these people.

Do you have a political solution to offer this situation?

I have no political solution. I am not a politician. You ask the United Nations, the Portuguese government and the Indonesian government.

Are you in contact with President B.J. Habibie or rebel leader Xanana Gusmao?

No, why have contact with them? I have my duty to serve the people here. I am not in Jakarta to have direct contact. They are there. I am here.

Is there a kind of liberation theology in East Timor?

No, we don’t have this. I never learned it. We have the context of theology, how to serve the people. Why liberation theology? What is that? I don’t understand this liberation theology. Maybe it is alive in another part of the world. We are trying to ask, “Why are you beating the people? Please respect them.” This is not theology.

The churches are full of people, especially on Sundays. Are people that religious?

We tell the people to continue to pray, keep praying about East Timor. Praying for the international organizations, the Indonesian government and Indonesian army to respect the human rights here, to have a commitment to disarm the paramilitary groups.

That’s a political prayer.

Well, maybe. But it is a chance to improve the situation, for the respect of the human people.

Do you hear answers to your prayers?

We as Christians, we must always have hope that maybe we can see the solution not yet, but maybe later. We must look at the history of salvation.

Are you personally under threat?

No. Before, yes. But now, no.

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 1999