Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – Timor-Leste is mourning Bishop Basilio do Nascimento Martins of Baucau, who made an important contribution to its struggle for independence.
The local Church's most senior bishop was 71 and died at the Guido Valadares National Hospital in capital Dili on Oct. 30.
"I express my deep condolences to the extended family of the Bishops' Conference of Timor-Leste (CET), the Catholic Church and the extended family of the bishop," President Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres said.
"The country lost a patriot who had excellent intellectual abilities. [He] bravely defended people who joined clandestine groups [underground movements] and in diplomatic efforts abroad [in the struggle for independence]," he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said he "felt shocked and disbelief, mixed with sadness," at the news of the bishop's death.
Bishop Nascimento is reported to have suffered a heart attack while attending a thanksgiving Mass for a new priest in Baucau, 122 kilometers east of Dili, on the morning of Oct. 30 and was airlifted to Dili for better medical care.
The bishop, who was born in Suai, Covalima municipality, was ordained a priest in 1977 in Portugal
News of the death of the prelate, who was one of the most popular voices in the period before the country's 1999 referendum, caused deep sadness among the people in this Catholic-majority country.
Bishop Nascimento was regularly sought by journalists for his insights and comments on the situation in Timor-Leste.
His body departed from Dili for Baucau on Nov. 1 accompanied by the country's bishops, priests, nuns and Catholics, Suara Timor Lorosae reported.
The news portal reported that Baucau Catholics welcomed the prelate's body at the entrance to the city and paraded him to St. Anthony Lisboa Cathedral Church, where Archbishop Dom Virgilio do Carmo dan Silva presided over the Requiem Mass.
According to a schedule provided by the CET, his body will be placed in the cathedral to give the faithful the opportunity to pray before being buried on Nov. 4.
The bishop, who was born in Suai, Covalima municipality, was ordained a priest in 1977 in Portugal. He then went to Paris and served immigrants until 1982, while he completed a degree in pastoral theology and catechism at the Paris Catholic Institute and a diploma in French literature and language.
In October 1994, he returned to Timor-Leste and on Nov. 30, 1996, was appointed apostolic administrator of Baucau Diocese.
When Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili retired in 2002, Nascimento became apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Dili until Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva was installed on March 6, 2004. On the same day, Pope John Paul II appointed Nascimento as bishop of Baucau.
He was the first president of CET since its formation was officially announced by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2011, serving until 2019.