Subject: UCAN: Interview with Bishop Nascimento

December 30, 2002


DILI (UCAN) -- East Timorese people should not wait for the government or others to help but do whatever they can to support themselves and build up their nation, says the bishop who now administers both East Timor dioceses.

Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, who was named apostolic administrator of Baucau in late 1996, recently spoke with UCA News about the significance of self-sufficiency among East Timor people and the Church's role in nation building in light of the country's independence this past May.

Bishop do Nascimento, besides continuing to care for Baucau, was also named apostolic administrator of Dili diocese on Nov. 26, following the sudden resignation of Salesian Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.

Bishop Belo, who was made apostolic administrator of Dili on May 12, 1983, and ordained a titular bishop on June 19, 1988, had been head of the local Church during much of the turbulent period when Indonesia held East Timor as its 27th province. Bishop do Nascimento refutes claims that Bishop Belo resigned because his outspokenness on East Timor had displeased Vatican officials or because he had upset national leaders. Instead, he said, Bishop Belo resigned mainly due to ill health.

Bishop do Nascimento also spoke about his new appointment and about his condemnation of the two-day violence in Dili when rampaging rioters burned or damaged the prime minister's house, shops, hotels and a mosque. The Dec 3-4 violence began after police shot and killed two students protesting police action on Dec. 3 during the arrest of another student at a school.

Bishop do Nascimento spoke with UCA News Dec. 13 while on a pastoral visit to Immaculate Conception Church in Viqueque, a parish in Baucau diocese.

UCA NEWS: What are your plans as apostolic administrator of Dili diocese?

BISHOP BASILIO DO NASCIMENTO: I will just continue what Bishop Belo has been doing. I will not undertake any new program. Last April, the Dili diocesan pastoral council established a pastoral program. That program must be taken as priority. What is most important for Dili diocese is to assure the continuity of Bishop Belo's work, and to keep all other administrative works running. The present situation is temporary. We have to wait until the pope appoints a new bishop for the diocese.

Why do you think Bishop Belo resigned?

I heard some people were of the view that Bishop Belo had a very strong political position (on East Timor) that created disharmony with Church leaders. Others said Bishop Belo's intervention in politics seemed to create disharmony with local political leaders. In my view, both are not correct. Bishop Belo is really sick. You see (it in) his face and appearance.

I remember several months ago when we paid a courtesy call to President (Jose Alexandre) Xanana Gusmao. At the end of the audience, Bishop Belo almost collapsed. Fortunately, the president's security guards were standing nearby to keep him from falling down. A medical test after the incident showed he had very low blood pressure. He then underwent medical treatment in Portugal for three months. The doctors said he really needs rest. So I do not think Bishop Belo's resignation has something to do with politics.

If the reason were Vatican displeasure with Bishop Belo's political stance (on East Timor), the Vatican would have dismissed him years ago. He has been known for an outspokenness that even created disharmony between Indonesia and the Vatican, but the Vatican did not dismiss him from his position.

Did Bishop Belo consult you before he decided to resign?

We had a talk but he did not explicitly say he would resign. When we arrived at his residence from the visit to President Gusmao, I asked Bishop Belo how he felt. He said he did not feel so well. He said since 1998 he could sleep only three hours every night.

I could understand Bishop Belo's situation. As a Nobel Peace laureate and a moral leader, he has been so occupied mentally and physically with various issues concerning the people and the country, especially the referendum (for independence on Aug. 30, 1999) and the post-referendum situation.

Could Bishop Belo, now 54, be named to another position after he recovers?

I do not know. It is up to the Vatican. But one thing is certain, once he resigned as head of Dili diocese, he will not be re-appointed as head of the same diocese. He could be appointed as head of Baucau diocese, or of Same, the prospective new diocese in southern East Timor.

When will Dili get a new bishop?

It depends on Rome. I have recommended several names. (Authorities in) Rome will do the selection process, and give the report to the pope, who will make the decision.

Are the candidates Timorese priests?

Yes, the priority is Timorese. But if the recommended candidates do not meet the required qualifications, a missionary priest could be selected. This is a normal process in the Church.

How do you envisage nation building among East Timorese people?

I see a mentality in many East Timor people. (They are) waiting for the government to do something for them, or waiting for other people's assistance. They would protest if the government fails. It is true that the government has the responsibility to care for all the people. But we must not rely on the government or others' assistance in all matters.

Each of us has two hands, 10 fingers, to work and a head to think. We should do whatever we can to support our life, such as working as a farmer or fisherman or doing any other job. It is true that our government has not done much to improve people's lives. But we must not just wait, because our government has limitations and is also facing various problems such as lack of quality human resources, funds and other technical problems.

On our side, the Church should at least keep developing Catholic schools to support the national education process and to help produce quality human resources for the country. The Church should also study the various problems facing the country and find appropriate solutions and strategies for the development of our country.

In my diocese of Baucau, I am happy that many parishes have begun to develop despite the difficulties. They set priorities and try to achieve them according to their capacity.

How do you view the Dili riot in early December?

Dissatisfaction or disagreement with government performance should not be settled with violent, immoral and criminal means. I personally feel ashamed of the incident, especially when I received phone calls from abroad asking about the incident.

As a new nation, we must start with small things. The incident really has a very bad impact on our country. How can we now ask for more foreign aid? Who will be willing to keep helping us? East Timor people should guard against such an anarchic action and not let it happen again in the future.

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