Friday, May 08, 2015

The bishop from the ends of the earth

Amidst the statistics about the bishops attending Archbishop Óscar A. Romero‘s beatification on May 23rd, one geographical point of origination stands out: Papua New Guinea.  The bishop making the trip from there will travel approximately 9,000 miles (nearly 15,000 km) to attend the ceremony—further than any other bishop attending so far. We caught up with Bishop Donald Lippert, O.F.M. Cap., who will travel from the mountain diocese of Mendi, on an island nation located north of Australia, for the occasion.
“Bishop Don,” as he likes to be called, a Pittsburgh native, was appointed Bishop of Mendi by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.  Bishop Don was invested in a ceremony deeply imbued with the cultural notes of his mission land, replete with drummers and tribesmen wearing their indigenous dress at an outdoor ceremony attended by 3,000.  Cardinal Seán O’Malley, a mentor (and fellow Capuchin), was the principal consecrator.  The ceremony was celebrated on February 3, 2012, the same date on which Archbishop Romero was named in 1977, and the date on which Pope Francis signed the decree approving his martyrdom earlier this year.  Lippert’s episcopal motto is “To Think with the Church”—the same as Romero.
Before his appointment as bishop, he had served as a philosophy professor at the Catholic Theological Institute in Bomana, near the Capital of Papua New Guinea.  Lippert had been involved in training Capuchin missionaries to the island for years: “I tell them they’re really living in the Acts of the Apostles,” he would say. “They’re the first to bring the Good News to the people. There aren’t too many areas like that left in the world.”  In the United States, Lippert was also known for his ministry to Latinos, which dates back to his deacon year in Puerto Rico.

SUPER MARTYRIO. How is the trip from Mendi to San Salvador?

A.        Mendi is 16 hours ahead of San Salvador.  I will be traveling alone.  I depart Mendi on a small plane on 19 May and spend an overnight in Port Moresby [Ed.: the capital of Papua New Guinea].  I travel to Brisbane [Australia] the next day and transit to San Salvador over the Pacific thereby losing a day. There are two stops, LA and Atlanta.  This leg of the journey alone is 41 hours.  The biggest sacrifice is the expense given our salaries for priests and religious which amounts to the equivalent of $120.00 per month, half of which goes for food. But this is a pilgrimage and the spiritual benefits will far outweigh any difficulties or challenges. I will start back directly to PNG three days after the beatification - after a short visit with Salvadoran friends.

Q.        How did you become interested in Archbishop Romero?

A.        Monseñor Romero was martyred the year I began theology studies in Washington, DC. I joined peaceful protests of the US involvement in the civil strife in El Salvador. I heard first-hand stories of the effects of this conflict from the countless Salvadoran refugees that poured into the DC metro area in these years as a young intern at the Centro Católico Hispano directed then by now Cardinal Seán O´Malley; and later at The Shrine of the Sacred Heart located in what was then a mostly Latino barrio of DC (where the people nicknamed me ‘Padre Donato’).  I ‘caught’ my love for Archbishop Romero from the campesinos for whom Archbishop Romero was the only beacon of light and hope in the midst of unspeakable darkness.  They rightly revered him as their saint from the beginning.  I was inspired beyond words by what he wrote in his diary and pastoral letters. I became a disciple. In Washington, as in El Salvador, some adopted (and I would say perverted) Mons Romero’s message to their own political ideology (and theology).  I saw Mons Romero always and totally as a man of God, a man of the Church, who courageously incarnated the gospel of Jesus Christ despite vicious opposition from both the left and right.  I wanted to follow his example.  I still want to follow his example.  When I was surprisingly called to the episcopal ministry, there was no doubt that I would choose Mons Romero’s motto: Sentir con la Iglesia.  For me, this motto has two aspects, which reflect in some ways the evangelical genius of Mons Romero.  The first aspect as I understand it is that we as Christians are called to be faithful to the Lord by following the teaching of the shepherds that he has called to care for his flock.  The second aspect is that the shepherds can best lead and serve if they know their people well and are one with them.  Mons Romero knew what it was to have ‘the smell of the sheep’ long before Pope Francis articulated this insight so well.

Q.        What do you hope to gain by attending?

A.        This beatification clearly show us a chapter of the gospel that has come to life in the inspiring life, ministry and martyrdom of Mons Romero. The world now as in every age needs the light of the gospel to give hope and voice to the excluded and marginalized and to speak truth to power which represses and exploits.  Mons Romero, a holy priest, a compassionate shepherd, a courageous witness is an undeniable sign that God still hears the cry of the poor and is not far from His People. Ever since Super Martyrio and other outlets began floating the news of a possible beatification, which I had been praying for a long time, I felt the call in my heart to attend.  I would like to be present to add my small ‘amen’ to the great ‘Amen’ of the church to the saintly witness of this man of God and of the people.


Perhaps Bishop Don will find a little bit of Romero among the Salvadorans he meets; and in turn, Salvadorans will see a little bit of Romero in Bishop Don.

See also

10 reasons why you should go

Visit Bishop Don on Facebook
Bishop Don’s Blog
Twitter: @BishopMendi

No comments: