East Timor's Bishop Belo, 54, Resigns for Health Reasons

«I Need a Long Recovery,» Says 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

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DILI, East Timor, NOV. 26, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has resigned his pastoral duties citing poor health.

A symbol of resistance to 24 years of Indonesian occupation of East Timor, and bishop of Dili since 1983, he had just returned here after a three-month stay in Portugal for medical treatment.

In 1996 he shared the Nobel award with Jose Ramos Horta — independence activist who is now East Timor’s Foreign Minister — for his support of nonviolent resistance to Indonesian rule.

«I am living an exhausting period, both from the physical as well as the mental point of view, and I need a long recovery,» the 54-year-old bishop wrote in a statement issued today by the Diocese of Dili.

The Vatican Press Office confirmed that John Paul II accepted the bishop’s resignation as apostolic administrator.

Bishop Belo had presented several times «his resignation as apostolic administrator of Dili, alleging objective health problems. Today, the Holy Father accepted his request,» the director of the Vatican Press Office, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, explained this morning.

The Holy Father has appointed Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, titular prelate of Settimunicia, as new apostolic administrator of Dili. He will also remain the apostolic administrator of nearby Baucau.

East Timor, unilaterally annexed by Indonesia in 1976, was the scene of fierce violence in the weeks that followed a referendum on independence in August 1999.

Since May 20 of this year, the Democratic Republic of East Timor has enjoyed recognition as a sovereign state and is a member of the United Nations.

East Timor, in the Indonesian archipelago of Sonda, has 843,100 inhabitants, including 750,000 Catholics.

Last May, on the occasion of the election of President Kay Xanana Gusmao and the consequent re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the new republic, the Pope sent a message to the nation.

«The time of liberty and at the same time of reconstruction has arrived,» the Holy Father wrote. «Respect for life and for each person; effective solidarity among the members of one same community; attention to the real needs of families and, in a special way, of young people,» were some of the values the Pope indicated for the democratic future of East Timor.

«Give a reconciling embrace, like the father of the prodigal son, to those brothers who, hoping for fraternal forgiveness, return to their common home,» John Paul II said to Bishops Belo and Nascimento during their visit to Rome in October.

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