"How could I ever leave this?", asks the priest, played by long-time solidarity activist Pat Walsh - himself a former Catholic priest.
The film reenacts a real event: the Channel 7 crew arrived at Colegio Infante Sagres, a mission school established by the church in Maliana. The priest at the time was Padre Jose da Silva Brum from Portugal's Azores Islands. He stayed behind when people left Maliana during the internal political conflict in August 1975.
The CAVR made important findings about the role of Catholic Church. Some excerpts1:
The Catholic Church in Timor-Leste had three leaders during the period 1974-99:
Dom Jose Joaquim Ribeiro (1966-77): Bishop Ribeiro, a Portuguese national, was head of the Church during the last two years of the Portuguese administration and the first two years of the Indonesian occupation... As an integral part of the old colonial system, the Church was deeply challenged by the changing political environment and a period of acute anxiety and confusion ensued, exacerbated in Timor-Leste by the violence of the civil war and the looming Indonesian invasion. Early in 1976 he told the Indonesian government, "your Indonesian troops, with their murders, their violations and pillaging are a thousand times worse" (than Fretilin) and added
that "the Indonesian paratroopers descended from heaven like angels but then behaved like devils". He continued to make representations until, disillusioned, he retired to Portugal in 1977.
The Commission could find no evidence that Pope Paul VI made public comment on the invasion or used his office to back calls by the UN Security Council for the withdrawal of Indonesian forces.
Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes (1977-83): The Vatican assumed direct management of the local Church. After consultation with the local clergy, it appointed Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes as Apostolic Administrator, making him the first indigenous head of the Catholic Church in Timor-Leste. In May 1981 he publicly denounced military excesses for the first time. In July 1981, he co-signed a statement to the Indonesian Church which challenged it and the Vatican for their silence. Referring to the deaths of over 200,000 people over the previous six years, the statement lamented:
"we do not understand why the Indonesian Church and the Universal Roman Church have up till now not stated openly and officially their solidarity with the Church, people and religious of Timor-Leste. Perhaps this has been the heaviest blow for us... We felt stunned by this silence which seemed to allow us to die deserted."
In March 1983, General Benny Moerdani, a Catholic, was appointed head of the Indonesian armed forces and pressed the Vatican to replace Monsignor Lopes. On 17 May 1983 Monsignor da Costa Lopes flew out of Dili accompanied by the Papal Nuncio. He did not return to his homeland and died in Portugal in 1991.
Dom Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo SDB (1983-2003): The Vatican's appointment of Dom Carlos Belo was made without proper consultation of the local clergy and was initially resented by them, particularly in the context of Monsignor Lopes' resignation. Monsignor Belo carefully avoided political partisanship, which damaged his relations with the Resistance, but like his two predecessors was gradually forced to become more outspoken. The Vatican made Monsignor Belo a Bishop in 1988. In February 1989, the new Bishop repeated his support for self-determination in a private letter to the UN Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar.
The Bishop wrote:
"The people of East Timor must be allowed to express their views on their future through a plebiscite. Hitherto the people have not been consulted. Others speak in the name of the people. Indonesia says that the people of East Timor have already chosen integration, but the people of East Timor themselves have never said this. Portugal wants time to solve the problem. And we continue to die as a people and as a nation."
Bishop Belo's stand did much to strengthen his relations with the Resistance and
earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. The prestigious award, which he shared with Jose Ramos-Horta, focused international attention on the primacy of self-determination and contributed to the momentum that culminated in the exercise of this right in August 1999.
1 Please see Chega 2005, Final Report Part 7.1 - Self-Determination for more details. See also P. Smythe 2004, The Heaviest Blow - The Catholic Church and the East Timor Issue, Lit Verlag, Münster for a thorough analysis.