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New Jamaica bishop sees opportunities for growth in Mandeville

“When someone approached me and said ‘Bishop’, I used to look around to see who they were speaking to, but I think I am slowly getting accustomed to the title”.

That was Bishop John Persaud’s response to a question about his experience transitioning from parish priest in Georgetown, Guyana, to Bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica.

On Friday, June 19, it was announced that Pope Francis had appointed the Guyana-born priest to be the fourth bishop of Mandeville. However, due to the uncertainties of regional travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to remain in Guyana until August 18 when a private aircraft took him to Jamaica for his ordination, Saturday, September 19.

According to Catholic Standard, the new bishop recently paid a short visit to his homeland to tie up “loose ends” which he was unable to complete before leaving. He also wanted to arrange the packing for shipment of personal effects to Jamaica and meet and greet family and faithful who were unable to attend his ordination.

In a short interview with Catholic Media, Bishop Persaud said his new diocese is in the heart of Jamaica with the Archdiocese of Kingston on one end of the island, Montego Bay at the other end and Mandeville in the middle.

He described the area as rural, cool, and hilly; agriculture is the main economic activity, but bauxite is also mined.

Jamaica’s population is close to three million with the number of Catholics being just two per cent. Bishop Persaud said his diocese is small with just 12 priests responsible for the pastoral care of 16 parishes with eight satellite communities attached to them.

Due to the pandemic, attendance at religious events is small but the new bishop feels there are opportunities for growth. There are also a number of private Catholic schools in the diocese from nursery to secondary levels.

At present, they do not receive any government assistance but there is a move to have this, provided certain conditions are met. The diocese also runs two clinics which he said are doing “marvellous work” offering free medical services mainly to the poor in the community.

While he will be paying attention to religious education, evangelisation and other issues, Bishop Persaud thinks the Church is currently experiencing the effects of priests feeling that they are working alone. One of his initial priorities in his new position, therefore, is to create a presbyterate where he and the clergy truly feel and sense that they are working together even though they may be involved in various ministries and apostolates.

He said he would like to use Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti as the basis for a process in the diocese where the building of relationships is the focus—relationships between priests, and between clergy and laity—ensuring at the same time that women and youth in particular, are at the table being listened to and part of the decision-making processes.

Bishop Persaud told Catholic Media that he does not see his role in terms of power and authority but through the eyes of service.

Drawing on the writings of St Augustine, Bishop Persaud said he would like to keep always before him that he is among the people as one who is a disciple like them, and while he shares this discipleship with them, “I know that I am also bishop.”