Thursday, June 12, 2008

Into the Missions

The American bishops might be in session as of this writing. But even so, the most recent US cleric named to lead a diocese isn't among them... because he's not a member of the conference.

In late May, the Pope named Passionist Fr Neil Tiedemann -- one of two provincial counselors for the order's Stateside branch, onetime pastor of parishes in New York and North Jersey and twice a missionary in Honduras -- as bishop of Mandeville in Jamaica.

Lest anyone be conjuring images of sandy beaches and luxe resorts, think again. Encompassing 1,300 square miles of the poor, conflict-torn Jamaican interior, circumstances are often dire and resources few for the community of 8,800 Catholics (out of a total population of 580,000). The tireless advocacy of the area's founding bishop, the beloved US Passionist Paul Boyle (who died in early January), brought the diocese's cause new awareness on these shores and a sizable uptick of aid for its efforts in education, health care, housing and other basic needs to the homeless and those otherwise going without.

In more ways than one, it's a challenging assignment. But the Passionists have long been active in south-central Jamaica, and as one of his confreres summed the Brooklyn-born appointee up, "Neil loves the missions."

Shortly after his appointment was announced during the community's annual assembly in Connecticut -- Tiedemann gave an interview to mark the news, sharing his hopes, anxieties, and a bit of his background in the process: