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Belo's reputation gives new bishop hard act to follow

South China Morning Post - March 19, 1997

Joe Leahy, Dili – East Timor's new Catholic bishop, Monsignor Basilio do Nascimento, is said to be a man who is willing to stand up for the rights of his people.

But Bishop do Nascimento, who is to start work today, will have a hard time living up to the example of his superior, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, whose reputation as a champion of ordinary East Timorese won him the Nobel Peace Prize last October.

Bishop do Nascimento will be the apostolic administrator of the new diocese of Baucau, covering East Timor's eastern half.

Like Bishop Belo, who is the Bishop of East Timor's capital Dili, Bishop do Nascimento, 46, has spent years overseas - so long, in fact, he speaks little Indonesian.

He began his studies in the Seminario Menor in Dare, East Timor, eventually moving to the Seminario Major in Evora, Portugal, where he studied philosophy and theology.

After being ordained a priest, he went to Paris, where he worked for five years before returning to Evora in 1982.

He was ordained a parish priest in Portugal, before taking charge of the pre-seminary in Evora.

In September, 1994, he returned to East Timor where he worked until the Pope appointed him the province's second bishop in January this year.

Still largely unknown to the outside world, the European media portray him variously as a strongly nationalistic champion of the people to a more conciliatory clergyman.

Expresso magazine, for instance, quoted him as admiring the abilities of the province's guerilla movement, Fretilin.

"I admire the organisational ability of these men who, without any external contacts, are capable of fighting back. There's a lot of intellectual strength there," the magazine quoted him as saying.

But at the same time, most of his statements echo those of Bishop Belo.

The church, while it is not involved in politics, has an obligation to protect its people from abuse.

"I am cautious enough to always address matters as a member of the church and to not interfere in politics. I've always thought that this is my role," Expresso quoted him as saying.

"It will take time, but the only way to get rid of that discontent [in East Timor] is through dialogue, which I intend to keep open always."

Indonesian political analyst Ikrar Nusa Bhakti said he believed Bishop do Nascimento's appointment was not a political move on the part of the church but one aimed at relieving some of Bishop Belo's workload.

He said Bishop Belo recommended to the Vatican that it appointed a second bishop to help him with people in the western side of the province.

"Almost 24 hours a day people are coming to his [Bishop Belo's] home and to his office to seek his counselling," Mr Bhakti said.

The Government, for its part, has also refused to take a political stance.

"It is the internal affairs of the Vatican," Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Ghaffan Fadyl said.

"The extension needs to be done following the increasing number of Catholic believers in the youngest province of Indonesia."