FEATURE ARTICLE

Sunday, July 17, 2022
foborji@hotmail.com
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
THE CASE FOR BIAFRA & LIKES OF BISHOP CARLOS BELO OF EAST TIMOR (PART 1)
ruce Fein, an American constitutional lawyer and author, in an article published in April 2016, entitled, "The Case for Biafra Is Stronger than South Sudan, Kosovo", wrote, inter alia:

"The point is that there is no political remedy for Biafra's suffering-like an abused wife in a forced marriage-short of self-determination to regain its sovereignty that was illegally extinguished by the British and never surrounded after decolonization. States born from longstanding repression of peoples by ruling authorities are part of the woof and warp of international law or custom. Think of Bangladesh, Namibia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, East Timor, Eritrea, and Kosovo. The case of Biafran sovereignty is as strong as these precedents." - Bruce Fein, "The Case for Biafra Is Stronger than South Sudan, Kosovo" (published in The Trent Online Newspaper, April 2, 2016).

Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a leader in the peaceful struggle for the self-determination of his people of East Timor, from Indonesia, has this to say:

"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 save lives of my people for still another day." - Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo - ("Self-Determination in East Timor: The United Nations, the Ballot, and International Intervention", August 15, 2001 by Ian Martin.)

The purpose of our present article is to remind ourselves, in the first place, that the case for Biafra is as strong as these other countries mentioned above by Bruce Fein in his article. Secondly, it is to remind ourselves that the case for Biafra calls for the emergence in Southeastern Nigeria today, of the likes of the courageous Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a leader in the peaceful struggle for the self-determination of his people of East Timor, from Indonesia. Irked by the continuous bloodshed in his ancestral land, the killings of his East Timor people, who are mainly Christians, by the Muslim-dominated Indonesian central government and people, their imposed local spinoffs, serving as governors and politicians in East Timor, Bishop Carlos Belo, at a point, decided to say, 'enough is enough.'

The waste of human lives of his East Timor people, by Indonesian central government-sponsored violence, military impunity and political maneuvering, made Bishop Carlos Belo, at a point, to brave it, defeat the fear, and to take the bull by the horn. In a bid to continue to force East Timor to remain within the artificial, created, 'one-united' Indonesian-Muslim dominated republic and government, the mainly Christian people of East Timor, were for many years, subjected to various forms of state-sponsored violence and killings. All these, as in the case of Biafra (Southeastern Nigeria), today, was because of East Timor's rich-oil deposit of petroleum, gas, and other mineral and natural resources, in that small region and island, in South East Asia.

This ugly situation of man's inhumanity to fellow man, being perpetrated against his people by the Indonesian central government, transformed overnight, a rather very quiet and peaceful man of God, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, into a leader in the peaceful struggle for the self-determination of his people of East Timor, from Indonesia. Thus, immediately, he came back to East Timor, from his philosophical and theological studies in Lisbon, Portugal; was ordained a priest; thereafter, consecrated bishop; and appointed head of the Catholic Church in East Timor, Carlos Belo, began to see his role as a Shepherd, Bishop and Pastor, in the direction of the following New Testament Biblical teaching:

"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing." (James 1:22-25 (Emphasis mine).

Bishop Carlos Belo was also inspired by the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in "Summa Theologia" (I,q.I). Where, according to Aquinas, 'the aim of the sacred science (dogmatica and practical theology), is in doing. Since the sacred doctrine itself, is ordered, precisely, towards operation (doing), as St. James teaches (1:22). Therefore, the sacred doctrine, comes alive, through practice and witness of Christians in the society in which they live.'

In modern theology, it is a recognition of the fact that as a Church and Christians, we must recognize, as our major role in the society, our call to bear witness, to what the German theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, calls the 'dangerous, and pathetic and liberating memory of Jesus Christ's Paschal Mystery.' Namely, the 'Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ'. (Cf. Johann Baptist Metz, "Faith in History and Society: Towards a Practical Fundamental Theology", Crossroad, Publishing Co., 2007).

That is, bearing witness to the 'Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ', in the concrete reality of our society, the struggle of our people for survival in today's world. As Christians and Church, we must not forget that we are "custodians and bearers of this great treasury, the 'dangerous and liberating memory' of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, through which we have been saved. As Christians and Church, we are therefore, expected to bring to bear in our society today, through our lives and witness, the concretization of this 'dangerous and liberating memory' of our faith in Jesus Christ.

We do not do this by running away from getting involved in the concrete process of the liberating struggle of our people, in their daily struggle for survival and fight for justice and freedom. Because, it is by getting so involved, in the process of liberation of our people in their concrete, historical reality, that we begin to bear witness to our Christian faith; and live out, our Christian spirituality, as Christ taught us and lived; and as the Church teaches.

In other words, Christian spirituality and liberation are just the same coins, with two sides. This is because, 'spirituality', means, 'following Christ' (that is, as his disciple), and 'liberation', means, 'giving life'; that is, life in abundance, to God's people. (cf. John 10:10). Spirituality and liberation, both, embraces the totality of human life. As the Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierez, reminds us, 'the manner of living our spiritual life, of following our baptismal call of the individual, and of entering into the Pasqual Mystery, is by immersing ourselves, as Christians and Church, into the concrete reality of our people in their daily struggle for survival.' (Cf. Gustavo Gutierez, "We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People", Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 1984.)

In concrete terms, this is what the African theologian from Cameroun, Jean-Marc Ela, calls the "ethics of transgression." It means the courage to dig deep into our past-history, confront our unpleasant and unhappy past or history, for a new society and humanity to emerge in our African society. This is, because, suppressing our past is not a reliable strategy. Because, at the long run, and at any least provocation, the suppressed history or story of our dangerous and pathetic past, could surge up and cause more havoc than envisaged. This is why as Africans, we should stop running away from confronting our past, our dangerous and pathetic history as well as tradition.

We must learn and summon the courage always, to confront our past, as well as our present, for the sake of the future, no matter how unpleasant and unhappy, it may be. Because it is in confronting that our dangerous and unhappy memory and past, that we liberate ourselves from the present forces of evil and human degradation, drawing us back in the world. In this regard, Pope John Paul II, in the post-synodal exhortation, "Ecclesia in Africa", exhorts African Christians in the following words:

"Today I urge you to look inside yourselves. Look to the riches of your own traditions, look to the faith which we are celebrating in this assembly. Here you will find genuine freedom - here you will find Christ, who will lead you to the truth" ("Ecclesia in Africa", 48).

This is what Jean-Marc Ela means, when he speaks of giving a 'double respect or rather, prospects to our past and future history and memory as a people.' Such a double respect, calls for fidelity to our past, fidelity to our unhappy or dangerous memories, and to our pathetic and heroic memories, for the cause of an epistemological rapture or paradigm shift, to emerge. (Cf. Jean-Marc Ela, "My Faith as an African", Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 1995).

The Case for Biafra and the Example of Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor

Inspired by Jesus' teaching in John's Gospel, which says, "I come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10), Carlos Belo, saw his role as a priest and bishop in East Timor, in that direction; as someone, sent by God, to 'give life to his people', and to restore their wounded human dignity. He saw himself as a bishop sent by God to stop the bloodshed and carnage in his homeland, to restore the wounded human dignity of his people, and to help them regain their self-rule as a people. That is, through his ministry as a bishop and leader, as someone who found himself and ministry in that inhuman context of his East Timor, in his people's daily struggle for justice and freedom from Indonesia!

Thus, as a man of God, with conscience and fear of God and love of his people at heart, Bishop Carlos Belo, immersed himself, in that peaceful struggle of his people for referendum for self-determination and independence, from the 'oppressive' central government of Indonesia. He was able to link his spirituality as well as discipleship, with the liberation struggle of his East Timor people, as taught and lived by Jesus Christ, and as witnessed by Saints and courageous Christian leaders and bishops, down the ages. As a Bishop in East Timor, Carlos Belo, was able to discover immediately, that it is by immersing himself in the liberation struggle of his people, that he lives out his Christian spirituality and discipleship as taught by Jesus Christ, witnessed by the Church and courageous Christian Saints and leaders, throughout the ages.

Shortly after being elected head of the Catholic Church in East Timor in 1983, Carlos Belo openly denounced the brutal Indonesian occupation of the province. The occupiers responded by placing Belo under strict surveillance, but the Bishop refused to be intimidated, even by numerous threats to his life. He continued to speak up for nonviolent resistance to the oppression. In 1989, he demanded that the UN arrange a plebiscite (referendum) on East Timor, and after a bloody massacre two years later, he helped to smuggle two witnesses to Geneva, where they described the violations to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Belo's struggle gained the sympathy of Pope John Paul II in Rome, who demonstrated it by visiting East Timor in the late 1980s.

Who is Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor?

Bishop Carlos Filipe Xemenes Belo is a Roman Catholic bishop. As said above, as a Bishop, he played a vital role in helping to restore self-rule and autonomy, and especially, in bringing peace to his country, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor), 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 the two witnesses, we mentioned before, 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 of Bishop Carlos Belo, contributed greatly to East Timor's eventual independence in 2002.

The unique inside account and witness of Bishop Carlos Belo, became a catalyst that eventually, compelled the United Nations, to intervene, and begin the negotiations that eventually, led to the granting of Independence and self-rule to East Timor by the Indonesian authorities. The long and tedious journey in the struggle of East Timor people for freedom and independence, the unique role played by Bishop Carlos Belo, are today, well documented in history. That is, beginning from the events in East Timor from the negotiations that led to the May 1999 agreements among Indonesia, Portugal, and the United Nations to the mandating of international intervention to check the violence that wracked the country following the elections.

As a result, and because of Bishop Belo's resolve and doggedness to help his people achieve self-rule, justice, freedom, and peace, he was able to elicit the listening ear of both the Vatican and the United Nations at the time. This was possible, primarily, because of his vantage position as a bishop, and as an internationally, recognized, determined, and honest leader of East Timor people. He got the listening ear of St. Pope John Paul II, and especially, of the Secretary General of the United Nations, at the time.

In fact, Ian Martin, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in East Timor at the time, describes the complex nature of the trajectory of the political negotiations that took place. That is, how political change in Indonesia, coupled with the UN's good offices and pressures from Australia and elsewhere, led President Habibie of Indonesia, to offer the East Timorese a choice between autonomy within Indonesia and full independence. This also includes, the discussion of what followed. The activities of the UN mission (UNAMET), which was established to implement the election. That is, in the face of violent efforts by the Indonesian authorities to coerce the East Timorese to reject independence; the election itself, with a historic 98.6% turnout and a 78.5% vote for independence; and the ensuing killing, destruction, and forced displacement. Which includes an analysis of the intense negotiations that led to the Indonesian government's reluctant acceptance of intervention.

With the benefit of his first-hand experience, Ian Martin considers whether the UN was wise to proceed as it did despite Indonesia's refusal to cede responsibility for security during this period and also places the experience in East Timor in the context of the wider debate over peacekeeping and international intervention. A unique inside account of events in East Timor from the lead-up to the 1999 elections to the reluctant acceptance of international intervention to check the violence that wracked the country following the overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia.

In 1996, along with diplomat and resistance leader Josť Ramos-Horta, along with Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for their selfless, tireless efforts to bring self-rule, justice and democracy to East Timor, and for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.

At the Nobel Centennial Symposia, held on 7 December 2001 in Oslo, Norway, Arnold Kohen, speaking on behalf of Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, delivered this speech, in which he said the following moving, historic words on the marble (cited earlier on):

"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 [save more lives of my people], for still another day." - Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo - (Nobel Symposia. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2022. Sat. 22 Jan 2022).

TO BE CONTINUED

NEWS SECTIONS