Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

A Courageous Voice Calling for Help in East Timor

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

A Courageous Voice Calling for Help in East Timor

Article excerpt

In 1975 the Indonesian army invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, claiming it had been invited in by Timorese leaders. Since then, the story--when it does get out from the isolated island--has been one of military occupation, political repression, bloodshed and distant cries for help (story, page 12).

In the midst of this struggle, a courageous voice has connected the anguish of East Timor's 600,000 overwhelmingly Catholic population to the outside world. That voice belongs to East Timor Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.

For his commitment to human dignity and nonviolence, it is time for Belo to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It may soon be too late.

Recognition of Belo would focus world attention on East Timor, a spotlight that is long overdue. It would also protect this bishop's life.

Belo has long posed a problem for the repressive Suharto government in Jakarta. As long as the Indonesianauthorities can keep the lid on what's happening in East Timor, it can rely on the international community to leave its brutal annexation unopposed. Belo, however, using the prestige of his office, continues to prick at consciences abroad. He repeatedly speaks out against the behavior of the Indonesian troops and has circulated a petition among the world's bishops calling for a U.N.-sponsored referendum in East Timor on the territory's future.

His campaign has not gone far, but it would gain momentum if the bishop were awarded the peace prize.

The immediate problem is that Belo is tempting the same fate as did El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a right-wing death squad in 1980. Certainly, the comparisons are striking. Before he was appointed bishop, Belo, like Romero, was considered a reserved and malleable cleric, more given to studying the gospel than to acting on it. …

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