Father Reinaldo Cardoso is finally heading home..

Fr. Reinaldo Cardoso


Ailing priest returning to his ‘first love’
After a 40-year absence from East Timor, a nation that has long held his heart, Father Reinaldo Cardoso is finally heading ‘home’

PAWTUCKET — In deciding to return to East Timor, where he spent the first years of his priesthood long ago, the Rev. Reinaldo Cardoso understood that this journey will almost certainly be his last, at least of the temporal sort.

He is 77, in frail health. He believes his earthly life will end on that island between Australia and Indonesia, the place he calls his “first love.”

He reached his decision last summer while living at the Jeanne Jugan Residence, a nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, where he has lived since 2005.

“I went to the chapel days and days and nights to pray,” he says, from his wheelchair in a sun- filled room at the home. “I told God, ‘If you want me to go, you better send me the Holy Spirit, because without him I can do nothing. I cannot even support myself in the flight because it is too long.’ ”

God, he says, answered. And he received an offer of assistance from a friend, the Rev. Domingos Cunha, a native of East Timor whom he met in the 1960s as a novice missionary on the island. Father Cardoso taught the younger Cunha in an East Timor seminary. He placed the vestments on him at his ordination. Separate paths brought them both to America.
“A real priest,” Father Cardoso says. “A real brother.”

And so, medical arrangements having been made, the younger priest will accompany the older one on his journey to East Timor, where Father Cardoso will be a chaplain and spiritual director of Seminario Maior for Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva. Like Father Cunha, the bishop was one of Father Cardoso’s students, four decades ago.

Fathers Cardoso and Cunha board a plane on Tuesday. The first leg of their journey will bring them to the Azores, Father Cardoso’s native land.

“I want to show him my island, the place where I was born, and say goodbye to some friends –– priests from my town there –– and some schoolmates I have.”

They plan to reach Dili, the capitol of East Timor, on Jan. 19.

“I don’t plan to come back,” Father Cardoso says.

Born in December 1935 on the Azores’ São Miguel Island, Father Cardoso was the third of the13 children –– one girl,12 boys –– of a government transportation official and his wife, both Catholics. None of his siblings was called to serve their church. Father Cardoso’s calling came as a child, during Mass.

“At my right side was an altar dedicated to Santa Lucia,” he says. “The altar in front was the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the left side was the Blessed Sacrament. And I started to think to go into the priesthood that day. So at age 12, I left the village to Terceira Island for the seminary. I arrived in September 1948.”

A priest in New Bedford, where his grandparents had moved, helped pay his expenses to the seminary in Terceira. Through reading, he became fascinated with East Timor, which for centuries had been a Portuguese colony. He wanted to be a missionary there –– and with the support of the first bishop of Dili, who had family ties to the Azores, he arrived in 1960, shortly after his ordination.

During the next dozen years, he learned three of the languages of East Timor. He taught in a high school and the seminary. He was diocesan secretary and chancellor.

“I was so in love with East Timor that I say I never go anyplace else.”

He did finally, in 1972, when he took his first vacation with his parents, who had also moved to New Bedford. The political situation in East Ti-mor, meanwhile, was deteriorating –– again. Brutally occupied by the Japanese in World War II, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia, which coveted its oil. East Timoreans were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Priests, including Father Cardoso’s friend Father Cunha, were persecuted.

Father Cardoso could not return.

From New Bedford, he came to Rhode Island, where he served at two parishes with Portuguese-speaking congregations: Our Lady of the Rosary in Providence and St. Anthony in West Warwick. All the while, he supported the opposition in East Timor, serving as a liaison between residents there and American clergy, politicians and others who might influence foreign policy.

“I was in this country fighting always, every day, for the liberation of the people of East Timor, for their human rights.”

In 1999, the Indonesian occupation ended.

Father Cardoso is a modest man, and makes no claims about his role. But the 2004 book “The Heaviest Blow: The Catholic Church and the East Timor Issue” proclaims: To him can be attributed the “‘breaking open’ of the East Timor issue in the United States as a whole, as well as the Catholic Church.”

Father Cardoso’s health has taken him on another journey: strokes have left him partially paralyzed with “so many operations, eight of them.”

More recently, “I went to the dining room by myself. Somebody call me, I turn around, and I fall and I break my left hip. So back to the hospital to be operated on. I have a few pieces of metal in my leg, some screws, you know. But one thing I have learned with this sickness: I started to understand the reality of the humanity of Christ, how human he is. And the suffering of Christ for me now is something to meditate.”

When he arrives in Dili after his last great temporal journey, Father Cardoso will consider himself home.

“It is my country,” he says, “my first love.”

A land abundant with good souls, he says.

“I love the people of Timor because they are a real church. A church of kindness, a church of love and respect for people –– and helpful. They help one another so much. And they are good, very good. My dear friend, if you go to East Timor for a month or two –– I bet you a million dollars, if I have it! –– that you go back again and again.”

He will say goodbye to American friends before his final trip back, but there will be no party, no airport sendoff on Tuesday.

“As I came quietly, I’ll go quietly. Everything is prepared.”

Friends wishing to contact Father Cardoso in East Timor may send email to frrcardo so@gmail.com   This account will be monitored by a priest friend, with appropriate messages forwarded to Father Cardoso. gwmiller@providencejournal.com
(401) 277-7380

The Rev. Reinaldo Cardoso will fly to the Azores, his birthplace, then to East Timor.


Father Cardoso at the Jeanne Jugan Home in Pawtucket. All the years he ministered here, he supported the political opposition in East Timor, serving as a liaison between residents there and American clergy, politicians and others who might influence foreign policy.

No comments: