05 February 2012

Bishop Don Lippert, OFMCap

The sound of drums and chanting filled the air on the night between February 3 and 4 in joyful anticipation of the consecration of Br Don Lippert as the third Bishop of Mendi. Br Don, a member of the St Augustine (Pennsylvania) Province who has worked in the Vice Province of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands since 2007, was named by Pope Benedict XVI last November as successor to Bishop Steven Reichert in the Diocese of Mendi (Bishop Reichert is now Archbishop of Madang). The Principle Consecrator for the ceremony was Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a friend and confrere of Br Don. Two other Capuchin bishops in Papua New Guinea, Steve Reichert and Bill Fey, were co-consecrators for the liturgy. Five other bishops from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, as well as many priests from the Mendi Diocese and surrounding dioceses, participated in the liturgy.

Hundreds of faithful from around the diocese joined in the celebration, many of the them traveling several hours by truck or on foot to reach Mendi. Each deanery of the diocese was given a specific role in the liturgy, and was represented by a group of “wig men”, or men and women dressed in colorful native attire. Gifts of chickens, pineapple, peanuts, ginger, bananas and other local produce were presented to the new bishop at the offertory.

Ironically, Br Don, as the deacon at the liturgy when Cardinal O’Malley was consecrated bishop of the Virgin Islands, held the book of the Gospels over Sean’s head. During this liturgy, the roles were reversed. The Diocese of Mendi covers 19,000 square kilometers (7,338 square miles) in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. The evangelization of this area was entrusted to the Capuchin Order by Propaganda Fide in 1958, and the Order in turn entrusted it to the Pennsylvania Province. The area was elevated to the status of a diocese in 1966. There are approximately 72,000 Catholics and sixteen parishes in the diocese. Most of the parishes also have several outstations, some of which can only be reached after hours or even days of walking. One of the constant challenges of the bishops of Mendi has been finding an adequate number of priests to serve the growing number of Catholics in this rigorous environment.

The Vice Province of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands now counts about 25 local vocations. Besides the friars from the Pennsylvania Province ministering here there are also friars from the Mid-America Province, the Province of Great Britain and the Province of St Joseph-Kerala. In the past, the Vice Province was also assisted by friars from the Province of the Philippines and the Province of Western America.