Carlos Phillipe Ximenes Belo
Excerpts from Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo's 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

Nations will proclaim his wisdom, the assembly will celebrate his praises. If he lives long, his name will be more glorious than a thousand others, and if he dies, that will satisfy him just as well.” (Wisdom 39, 10-11) 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I start with this biblical passage from the Book of Wisdom because it expresses with deep significance the memory of the man we remember this day whose esteemed Peace Prize bears his name. Today, the 10th of December, we celebrate the centennial anniversary of the death of a wise benefactor of humanity, a peace worker, Alfred Nobel.

Men of competence will never be extinguished from the memory of humanity because his wisdom, his dedication to the improvement of humanity, his tenacity for the progress of science in favor of mankind, makes people everywhere, all believers, all ideologies, feel in one way or another under an obligation to his talents and his boldness.

These men of competence are constantly disturbing the consciences of those who do not attend to the improvement of humanity. For it is a matter of fact that everyone should contribute in any way or form so that mankind becomes more and more humane.
As man, as human being, I cannot remain indifferent in face of what concerns man.

As a member of a people, I have to share the destiny of the people, taking upon myself completely this mandate, knowing the risks that such an attitude will involve. Striving for the defense of the rights of all peoples is not only the privilege of those guiding the destiny of the people or those enjoying lofty positions in society, but it is the duty of everyone whatever rank or status.

As a member of the Church, I take upon myself the mission of enlightening and the denouncing of all human situations which are in disagreement with the Christian concept and contrary to the teaching of the Church concerning all mankind.

The Catholic Bishop is a pastor of a part of God’s people. His specific mission is spiritual. Such a mission is incumbent upon him basically as a dispenser of spiritual resources for the salvation of persons and for consolidating them in faith in Jesus Christ.

But mankind is not limited to a spiritual dimension; one should be saved as a whole, human and spiritual. In this aspect, any Catholic Bishop shall never be indifferent when a people’s possibilities for human realization, in all dimensions, are not respected. So the Nobel Peace Prize, attributed to a Catholic Bishop, is not homage to one person but also basically the gratitude for the encouragement that the Catholic Church has developed over the centuries in defense and promotion of the rights of human beings.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these principles are valid for everybody and they are valid for the Church who also affirms that human dignity is rooted and fulfilled in God Himself. Persons have been placed in society by God the Creator, but over and above this, each person is called to be united with Him as children of God and participating in God’s happiness.

Moreover, the Church teaches that if this divine Foundation and the hope for eternal life are missing, human dignity is strongly damaged (GS. 21).
Above all, above all else, I am mindful and humble in my thoughts of Pope John Paul II, who did so much in the face of overwhelming odds in the epochal struggle to remove the yoke of communism from Poland and other nations who have been told to be realistic and accept their fate. The Holy Father has provided an example and a depth of inspiration to me that can never be equaled. My gratitude to John Paul II can not be adequately expressed.

I also think of others, especially from Asia, who have never stood here. I contemplate with unending amazement the work of Mahatma Ghandi and his creed of non-violence in the movement for change. I think of China, and I pray for the well-being of Mr. Wei Jing Sheng and his colleagues, and hope that they will soon be liberated from their jail cells, just as Indonesian leaders once were freed from the infamous Boven Digul prison after long years of cruel captivity. Surely, these same Indonesian leaders had earned a place here in Oslo even before I was born in 1948, at the height of their battle for freedom and dignity. I think of the fearless Indonesian lighters and I realize that history has so much to teach us if we would only take time to contemplate its richness.

I stand humbled in the august presence of my predecessors in this place here in Oslo. I think of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “standing on the mountaintop, looking out at the promised land.” These words remind me of the view of the majestic mountains in my beloved East Timor—Mount Malabean (the Mountain of the Dead), near where I was born in the east; and Mount Ramelau in the west. As I look at these mountains in my frequent journeys throughout my native land, I feel ever more strongly that it is high time that the guns of war are silenced in East Timor, once and forever, it is high time that tranquillity is returned to the lives of the people of my homeland, it is high time that there be authentic dialogue. All people of goodwill must use every peaceful means of human ingenuity and intelligence to find ways to create a genuine peace based on mutual respect and human dignity.

East Timor is hardly alone in its search for peace and dignity, and it is of great importance to acknowledge the work of others. Last year I was privileged to be the guest in Belfast, Northern Ireland, of the 1976 laureate, Mrs. Mairead Corrigan Maguire, whose increasing work for peace has touched many throughout the world. Mrs. Maguire graciously gave me an informative and moving tour of the troubled areas in Belfast, the night after many vehicles had been burnt in protest over the early release of a soldier convicted of killing an 18-year-old girl. I pray that the people of Northern Ireland may know genuine peace, justice and tranquillity in the near future.

Last year, I met with His Holiness, Dalai Lama, and was deeply moved by his wisdom and kindness. The people of Tibet are never far from my prayers, nor are the communities of the indigenous peoples of the world who are increasingly being overwhelmed by aggressive modernity that presumes to call itself civilization.

I pray for peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan, which cannot be forgotten, and for the continuation of the peace process in Central America. And no human being can be indifferent to the drama in the Great Lakes area, in Burundi and Rwanda, and also Zaire, where human suffering cries out for a solution. In South Africa, the search for peace deepens. For me the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a shining example of the way truth can be combined with the quest for human rights, the way humor and humility can be mixed with righteousness, and I only pray that I may be worthy of his mantle. In Burma, I salute the strength and grace of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and pray that a better day may soon arrive for her and all her people. May the beauty of music from her piano soften the hearts of armies and nations. In Burma and throughout the world, in places known and not well known, let us apply the words in the fifth chapter of Amos of the Old Testament: “Let Justice roll down like waters.” And let us always think of many anonymous people throughout the world, struggling for the protection of human rights. Day by day, working to convince the international community of the justice of their cause, whether they be Moslems or Christians, Protestants or Catholics, Hindus or Buddhists, whether they be followers of ageold traditional beliefs, believers or non-believers. I say: press on, take courage, remain true to your ideals, you will not be forgotten.

The world censures those who take up arms to defend their causes and calls on them to use non-violent means in voicing their grievances. But when a people chooses the non-violent path, it is all too often the case that hardly anyone pays attention. It is tragic that people have to suffer and die and the television cameras have to deliver the pictures to people’s homes every day before the world at large admits there is a problem. Therein lies the enormous significance and the brave wisdom of the decision of the Nobel Committee to focus on East Timor this year; it represents the extraordinary recognition of East Timor’s quest for peace and the recognition of its pleas for an end to suffering.

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. I speak as a spiritual leader, not as a politician, which in fact, I am not. In recent weeks, some articles have described me as “a former shepherd,” not realizing that my vocation only evolved from a boyhood job of tending water buffaloes to the grave responsibility of trying to apply my fallible self to the difficult task of providing moral leadership in a situation where almost no one is ever completely happy with my actions.

Let it be stated clearly that to make peace a reality, we must be flexible as well as wise. We must truly recognize our own faults and move to change ourselves in the interest of making peace. I am no exception to this rule! Let us banish anger and hostility, vengeance and other dark emotions, and transform ourselves into humble instruments of peace.

People in East Timor are not uncompromising. They are not unwilling to forgive and overcome their bitterness. On the contrary, they yearn for peace, peace within their community and peace in their region. They wish to build bridges with their Indonesian brothers and sisters to find ways of creating harmony and tolerance.

Mutual respect is the basis of compromise. Let us start by making a sincere effort to change the very serious human rights situation in East Timor. The Church has played its part. We have formed a Justice and Peace Commission that is always ready to cooperate with the authorities to address problems.

I would like, before I finish, to address some words to the youth around the world, particularly to the youth of my dear Timor: “Society is a succession of interwoven rings in which each generation has the duty to contribute to the next generation in order to live in the world peacefully fraternally. On your shoulders, dear young people of the entire world, weigh the responsibility to transform tomorrow’s world into a society where peace, harmony and fraternity reign.”

Dear youth, I quote from memory the great Indian poet Rabindranat Tagore: “Youth, as a lotus flower, flourishes just once in life. Do not let it wither on the way.”

Finally, an event is never a lonely action. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to these two sons of Timor, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta and myself, has come about because many people groups and institutions have worked hard so that this event could become a reality.

“The Creator and Father of everything and all peoples will reward all of us and will give us strength, wisdom and courage to struggle for our fellow human beings because each one is the image and the likeness of God.” (Gen. 1,26)