By: Paul Tjon Kiem Sang
More than 1,800 Catholic faithful of Suriname attended the solemn consecration of their new Bishop, Most Rev. Karel Choennie, as the fourth Bishop of Paramaribo, on Sunday January 24
After Rev. Esteban Kross had read and displayed the Pope’s appointment letter to all present, the ordination liturgy commenced. Karel’s predecessor, Rev. Wilhelmus de Bekker, was the principal consecrator, and the co-consecrators were Paramaribo’s metropolitan Archbishop Most Rev. Joseph Harris, and the president of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, Most Rev. Patrick Pinder, Archbishop of Nassau. Apart from these two prelates, the Archbishop of Castries, Most Rev. Robert Rivas, the Apostolic Nuncio, Most Rev. Nicola Girasoli, and our Caribbean Cardinal, His Eminence Kelvin Felix, were also present.
This solemn event was also witnessed by seven other bishops from the region, one bishop from Suriname’s southern neighbour, Brazil, and the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Kingstown. All present were deeply moved by the presence of Paramaribo’s former bishop, Most Rev. Aloysius Zichem, who despite his physical disabilities also concelebrated. Many of Karel’s colleagues from all over the Caribbean also joined the celebration.
Bishop Karel Choennie is the second bishop of local descent to occupy the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Para-maribo. The first one was Most Rev. Aloysius Zichem, who was ordained in 1970 at the age of 36 in the same ca-thedral of Sts. Peter and Paul (which is now a minor basilica since 2014).
Bishop Karel Choennie (57) is the fourth child from a family of 11. He obtained a certificate in Pedagogy at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, and subsequently his BA and STL in Theology at resp. the University of the West Indies and the University of Louvain. He was ordained to the priest-hood in 1985 and has since served as pastor of at least four different parishes in Paramaribo. Before his episcopal consecration, Karel served the Diocese as Vicar General under Bishop De Bekker and under Rev. Antonius te Dorsthorst OMI, who was appointed by Rome as Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese since the retirement of Bishop De Bekker in April 2014.
Emeritus Bishop De Bekker delivered the homily at the consecration ceremony, in which he compared the episcopal appointment and the subsequent challenges of the office to the first and second baptisms of Jesus. The first baptism is one full of enthusiasm and love, a joyous occasion filled with music. But ultimately comes the second baptism, of which Jesus says: “… how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” A baptism that can be marked by disillusionment, rejection and persecution. However, Bishop De Bekker encouraged his successor to be faithful like Christ to His mission. And most of all, to be assured of the support from all those around him, especially his fellow bishops of the AEC. This declaration of support was repeated by the nuncio in his homily during the pontifical mass the following evening, and also by the other bishops present, especially Archbishop Joseph Harris during a reception Sunday evening. Archbishop Harris assured Bishop Choennie of a ‘safe refuge’ in Port of Spain, when challenges might seem insurmountable.
Bishop Karel Choennie is the sixth bishop in the region who was formed and nurtured by the Regional Seminary in Trinidad. This was pointed out by Cardinal Felix, and he asked for special recognition of Dr. Everard Johnston, who has for a very long time been part of the seminary and in effect helped to form these bishops of our region.
The Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Paramaribo now look to the future of the church in Suriname with renewed hope and courage to face the days to come. May they be blessed