Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo
The courageous bishop. A leader in the peaceful struggle for the autonomy of East Timor.
Featured lessonPromoting Change and Understanding Through Non-Violent Means
A Roman Catholic bishop, Belo played a vital and ongoing role in bringing peace to his country, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, during the Indonesian occupation that stretched from 1975 to 1999. He was born in 1948 in Wailakama, a small, rural village in East Timor, where he grew up in a farming family and attended Catholic schools. In 1973, Belo traveled to Portugal to study theology and philosophy in his preparation for the priesthood. During the time of his absence, East Timor was granted independence from Portugal but was subsequently invaded by Indonesia, leading to a 24-year occupation that resulted in more than 200,000 deaths.
In 1980, Belo was ordained as a priest in Portugal. He returned to East Timor to serve as director of Fatumaca College, and eight years later, he was appointed apostolic administrator of the Dili Diocese by Indonesian president Suharto. It was in this new position that Belo assumed leadership of the Catholic Church of East Timor and became an outspoken and undeterred representative of the people. Within five months of his appointment, Belo delivered a sermon protesting the brutalities of the 1975 Kraras Massacre—a series of mass killings in which Indonesia invaded and forcibly annexed East Timor. Despite multiple attempts on his life, Belo never ceased his public objection to the ruthless and oppressive policies of the Indonesian government. He organized multiple nationwide protests, always peaceful in nature, which culminated in the eventual discharge of two Indonesian military generals.
Throughout the arduous movement for East Timor’s independence, Belo remained an avid believer in nonviolent resistance. After one bloody massacre in 1991, he helped to smuggle two witnesses to Geneva, where they described the violations to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In an open statement in 1994, Belo demanded that the Indonesian government withdraw its military forces, grant basic civil rights to its citizens, and allow East Timor to conduct a democratic referendum. These fearless actions contributed greatly to East Timor’s eventual independence in 2002. In 1996, along with diplomat and resistance leader José Ramos-Horta, Belo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his selfless, tireless efforts to bring justice and democracy to East Timor.
“I speak of these things as one who has the responsibility to bear witness to what I have seen and heard, to react to what I know to be true, to keep the flame of hope alive, to do what is possible to warm the earth for still another day.”
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