Ryan Dagur – Timor-Leste is mourning the death of a Portuguese missionary who spent more than 50 years working as a teacher in the Catholic-majority country.
Baltasar Pires, a deacon of the Salesians of Don Bosco, died on April 4 in a hospital in the capital Dili. He was 81.
In a statement, the Salesians in Timor-Leste thanked Pires for his "total dedication" to mission and education, especially during difficult times in the country's history.
"You have shown your love for the young people of Timor and this small island," it said.
Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak expressed his "deep condolences to the Church and the Salesian family."
Pires, who was born on Feb. 24, 1941, in Genizio, Portugal, arrived in Timor-Leste in November 1970 and immediately began working as a teacher.
From 1971 to 2007, he taught and was a counselor at a Salesian-run school in Fatumaca, three hours east of Dili. He moved to the post-novitiate in Comoro, Dili, until 2011 before returning to Fatumaca and serving until 2020.
In October 1989, when Pope John Paul II visited Timor, he was invited to serve him at the altar, and during the Eucharist he read the Gospel.
Having spent 52 years conducting missionary work, he witnessed events during four key periods in the country's history: the last few years of Portuguese rule (1970-75); the Indonesian occupation (1976-99); United Nations transitional administration (1999-2002); and independence (since 2002).
Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Dom Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo said on April 4 that Pires was "a dedicated and self-sacrificing Salesian, a gracious adviser and competent teacher."
Salesian priest Jolino Vieira said Pires helped and taught young people to grow holistically.
"With his fatherly presence, he was able to help them fulfill their potential," said the priest, who works as administrator of the Don Bosco Technical Vocational Education and Training College in Dili.
He told UCA News that Pires had instilled Christian values such as discipline in mind and heart, honesty, hard work, simplicity, toughness and many others.
"With these values, he prepared younger generations to be responsible for their own future. Working hard and praying became his mantra in educating young people entrusted to him. Now Timorese must be the ones who carry on this legacy for a better Timor-Leste," he said.
Father Vieira said the late deacon would be buried on April 7 after a requiem Mass led by Father Alipio Gusmao, administrator of Baucau Diocese.
Archbishop Dom Virgilio Do Carmo da Silva of Dili will also celebrate a requiem Mass on April 6.