View from Bloomfield Great Hall, looking north over Mandeville

Jamaica, Land We Love

by Paul Zilonka, C.P.

Pope John Paul II traveled the modern world more than any other Pope. This Polish Pope intensely loved and steadfastly fought for the freedom of his homeland. With his characteristic flair for dramatic gestures, he visually reminded all of us of the sacredness of each country where we live. After descending from his plane upon arrival in a new land, Pope John Paul II would kiss the ground, a sign of esteem quite foreign to any protocol book for visiting heads of state.

Father Neil Tiedemann, C.P. at his ordination as bishop of the Mandeville diocese.

On August 6, 2008, Passionist Father Neil Tiedemann was ordained as the third bishop of the diocese of Mandeville in Jamaica. As he prepared to take up his ministry for the people now entrusted to his care, the new bishop bent toward the ground and lay prostrate on the floor of St. Paul of the Cross Cathedral while the congregation chanted the Litany of the Saints. During those prayerful moments of petition for Bishop Neil, he himself was deeply mindful of the sacredness of the land of Jamaica where he pledged to minister generously, just as he had served for many years in Honduras and in the United States.

A Holy Family lens

Several months have now passed since that ordination day on the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration. Bishop Tiedemann enthusiastically shares his vision of God’s presence in Jamaica with the laity and clergy of the diocese of Mandeville, as well as visitors from abroad who offer helpful support to the local church communities. right: Bishop Charles Dufour, the Bishop of the Diocese of Montego Bay, and a long-time friend of the Passionists in Jamaica, generously served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Mandeville from 2006-2008.

In a recent interview with this writer, Bishop Neil spoke of the way he looks at his new commitment through the lens of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Because of Mary’s generous response to God’s invitation, the Word of God was made flesh. God came to live among us in Jesus two thousand years ago in the Mideast. Despite the forces which threatened the child and his mother right from the beginning, Joseph protected Mary and the infant Jesus so that they remained safe and flourished.

To most of us, the story of the Holy Family seems so long ago and so far away. Not so for Bishop Neil. Christian faith takes history seriously because God entered our human history in a specific place and time. That fact says something profound about the way God meets us today wherever we are. Though Bishop Neil is a newcomer to Jamaica, he has come with the conviction that God is truly present in this land and in its people.

The natural terrain of Jamaica itself with its mountains and plains fits very well with this theological outlook of the bishop for his episcopal ministry. Ancient Palestine, the Holy Land of Christian faith, bears a striking resemblance to the size and topography of the island of Jamaica. For instance, the town of Mandeville sits on a mountain ridge about 2400 feet above sea level, roughly the same altitude as the city of Jerusalem in present-day Israel. From this bustling hill town of south-central Jamaica, the bishop will constantly travel many miles up and down hills in all four directions to reach the dozens of church communities which nourish Catholics and their neighbors in smaller towns.

Experienced missionary
Coat of Arms (Artist Paul Sullivan) For his Coat of Arms, Bishop Tiedemann selected the familiar quotation of Isaiah 53:7 as the guiding text for his ministry, “BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED.” In the New Testament (1 Peter 2:24 and 1 Corinthians 15:3), this text has traditionally been associated with the suffering of Jesus on our behalf.

This theme of the Passion of Jesus, and Bishop Neil’s religious community, are recalled twice visually by the image of the badge or shield worn by members of the Passionist Community.

The wavy lines of blue and white in the upper left corner recall that the diocese of Mandeville is on the island-nation of Jamaica.

The anchor represents the patronage of the Blessed Mother under the title of Mother of Holy Hope.

Bishop Neil’s previous ministry in Honduras is aptly represented in the lower right corner by the inclusion of the image of Our Lady of Supaya .

Bishop Neil was quite familiar with the dusty hills of Honduras in his missionary labor there from 1987-1994, and again in 2005-2006. Daily, he is becoming acquainted with the distinctive quality of this new land beneath his feet, the earth in which his Jamaican Catholic brothers and sisters have deep roots. His black shoes will soon turn red from the bauxite-rich red clay of the hills of Manchester. He will become accustomed to the churchyard in Black River where palm trees stretch heavenward from the sandy soil of that southern coastal town.

Venturing up to the three thousand foot hillsides of Christiana, Bishop Neil will trudge through moist dark earth just right for coffee plants. Bishop Charles Dufour, the Bishop of the Diocese of Montego Bay, and a long-time friend of the Passionists in Jamaica, generously served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Mandeville from 2006-2008.

Appreciation for the beauty of Jamaica comes naturally to this bishop who was born in Brooklyn, New York. He spent many years as a parish priest walking the concrete sidewalks of Brooklyn and Queens in New York, as well as Union City in New Jersey. He can be comfortable in noisy city streets as well as placid rural fields. As the people of Jamaica get to know him, they will find that he is a welcoming and patient man eager to listen to all. He brings healthy vigor, good sense, and an energetic spirit to his new home.

A sense of wealth

In addition to Bishop’s affirmation of God’s presence among his people in this island-nation, he cherishes another basic principle which he learned well from his previous years of pastoral ministry. As St. Paul the Apostle says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit...To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7). Bishop Neil begins his Jamaican ministry with a clear sense of the spiritual wealth which each and every member of the diocese can offer to one another. He diligently spreads this message among those who are called to lead in any way, as well as the faithful parishioners who lend their cooperation to the many tasks that face small church communities.

This sensitive attention to mutuality between those who lead and those who are led gives a refreshing basis for church relationships that recognizes the differing gifts of each. The goal is the same for all, namely, to live faithful to one’s Catholic faith in the midst of neighbors who may not always be familiar with or accurately informed about our traditions. We are all meant to be messengers of God’s Good News.

Anthem of faith
The National Anthem of Jamaica

Eternal Father, bless our land,
Guard us with thy mighty hand.
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours.
To our leaders, Great Defender,
Grant true wisdom from above.

Justice, truth, be ours forever.
Jamaica, land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica,
Jamaica, land we love.

Teach us true respect for all,
Stir response to duty’s call,
Strengthen us the weak to cherish,
Give us vision lest we perish.
Knowledge send us, Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above.

Justice, truth, be ours forever.
Jamaica, land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica,
Jamaica, land we love.

(Original words by Dr. Hugh Sherlock)

Bishop Neil will soon become familiar with the National Anthem of Jamaica which accompanied the raising of the Jamaican flag for the first time on Independence Day in 1962. That too was August 6, like Bishop Neil’s ordination. The bishop will have ample opportunity to sing this rousing hymn since it plays a part in many official functions, from national religious conferences, and civic holiday celebrations, to school graduation ceremonies at a kindergarten.

The National Anthem of Jamaica celebrates the values every free nation cherishes, namely: freedom, justice, truth, true respect for all, response to duty, and concern for the weak. But this is also a country which does not hide its faith in God. From the song’s opening phrase, “Eternal Father, Bless our land” to its repeated prayer for “true wisdom from above,” the citizens are reminded to seek a vision of life that is grounded in the knowledge which comes from God “lest we perish.”

The sweeping movement of each stanza builds in momentum to a crescendo of emotion with the repeated cry, “Jamaica... Jamaica... Jamaica, land we love.” Knowing how Bishop Neil deeply reverences life and land, I predict it will not be long before the power of that refrain works its magic within him, eliciting a broad smile and even a bit of a heartfelt tear. Then he will really know that he has arrived in Jamaica!

Fr. Paul Zilonka, C.P. taught sacred scripture at St. Michael’s Seminary in Kingston, Jamaica from 1985-1995. He also served as Regional Vicar of the Passionist Community and co-director of Mt. Calvary Retreat House in Mandeville from 1987-1995.

Homily by Fr. Zilonka on the 50th Anniversary of Passionist Ministry in Jamaica

Panoramic photograph of Mandeville released to public domain by Wikipedia contributor Op. Deo