For Paramaribo, a native son again

After almost 18 months, Paramaribo and the entire country of Suriname will once more have a bishop, and for only the second time in its almost 200-year history, the bishop is a native son.

Father Karel Choennie, pictured below with Apostolic Administrator Fr. Antonius te Dorshorst and episcopal vicar Fr. Esteban Kross at today’s press conference announcing his appointment, was vicar general under the diocese’s previous bishop, Dutchman Wim de Bekker, who retired in May of 2014.

Choennie

Bishop-elect Choennie was born in Suriname in 1958, He studied pedagogy at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and subsequently at the minor seminary in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He received his licentiate in pastoral theology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. He served in various parishes in Paramaribo, became a member of the diocesan curia in 2001 and vicar general in 2005. This office was suspended upon the retirement of Bishop de Bekker in 2014.

The diocese reports that the new bishop will be consecrated in early 2016. According to canon law this must take place within three months after the appointment, in this case before 11 February. The identity of the main consecrator is unknown at this time, but it is a safe bet that emeritus Bishop de Bekker will be the one. After his retirement he remained in Suriname, living in the town of Groningen, west of Paramaribo.

Bishop-elect Choennie, as mentioned above, is the second bishop of Paramaribo born in Suriname. The first native bishop of Paramaribo was Msgr. Aloysius Zichem, who is now 82. He was bishop from 1971 to 2003. All other ordinaries have been Dutch, reflecting the colonial history of Suriname.

The Diocese of Paramaribo, which covers all of Suriname, is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. It was established in 1817 as  the Apostolic Prefecture of Dutch Guyana-Suriname, promoted to an Apostolic Vicariate in 1842 and became the modern diocese in 1958.

Photo credit: Gino Rozenblad

Time for a native son? – Dutch bishop of Paramaribo retires

On Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Wilhelmus de Bekker of Paramaribo. The Dutch-born prelate turned  75 on 27 April and has been the bishop of Suriname’s sole diocese for almost ten years. Father Antonius te Dorshorst has been appointed as Apostolic Administrator until a new bishop has been appointed. Like the retired bishop, Fr. Toon, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is also Dutch. But after 46 years in Suriname, he says, “I feel more Surinamese than Dutch.” He admits surprise at having been chosen as Administrator, considering his age (71). “I thought, I am 100 per cent safe.”

father te dorshorst, bishop de bekker

^Fr. te Dorshort and Bishop de Bekker.

Bishop de Bekker, born in Helmond in 1939, is a teacher by training. In the 1970’s he travelled to Suriname, where he studied theology and was ordained in 1985. He worked as a parish priest in Paramaribo and was appointed as the diocese’s vicar general in 1995. Upon the retirement of Bishop Aloysius van Zichem in 2003, Msgr. de Bekker became Apostolic Administrator, and a year later, in 2004, he was appointed as the new bishop. Bishop Ad van Luyn, then of Rotterdam, was the main consecrator. Archbishops Edward Gilbert of Port-of-Spain and Lawrence Burke of Kingston in Jamaica were co-consecrators.

It will be interesting to see if the successor of Bishop de Bekker will be a native son of Suriname, or, once again, a Dutch priest. Paramaribo has been a diocese since 1958 and was the Apostolic Vicariate of Dutch Guyana-Suriname between 1842 and 1958. Nine of the ten bishops and vicars apostolic who headed the Church in modern Suriname over that period were Dutch. The sole exception is Bishop de Bekker’s predecessor, Bishop van Zichem, who is now 81.

Bishop de Bekker will remain in Suriname, ready to assist the Apostolic Administrator and, presumable, the new bishop as well. He will take up residence in Groningen, which lies about 30 kilometers west of Paramaribo.

There are now two Dutch bishops active abroad: Bishop Joseph Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane in Australia; and Archbishop Bert van Megen, Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan.

Photo credit: Jason Leysner