Pope Benedict XVI yesterday appointed Father James Thoppil, 52, as the new bishop of Kohima diocese, which covers the entire northeastern Indian state of Nagaland. The diocese had remained vacant for nearly two years after the resignation of Bishop Jose Mukala in October 2009 on health grounds. The bishop-elect is currently the rector of Oriens Theological College in Shillong, the capital of neighboring Meghalaya state. Father Thoppil will become the third prelate of the diocese since its establishment in 1980. Kohima now has more than 58,000 Catholics among a population of 1.9 million. Neisatuo Keditsu, a Baptist married to a Catholic, welcomed news of the Papal appointment today. “Having no bishop for such a long time was creating a sort of vacuum,” he said. Father Anto Chowaran, director of youth and founder of the Peace Channel, described the new bishop as “a person of great moral integrity” with administrative capabilities, adding that “I believe he will steer our diocese to greater heights.” Father Benny Varghese, director of evangelization in the diocese, added his praise for the new bishop, describing Father Thoppil as “a scholar and very clear-headed.” The new bishop of Kohima will need to study the local situation well in order to make bold decisions that help society, said Nosazol Charles, president of the Catholic Association of Nagaland. Father Thoppil said today that his biggest challenge will be to strengthen and deepen Christian life in Nagaland, which borders Myanmar and where tribal insurgents have waged war for decades. Nagaland is among three Christian-majority states in the region, in which 16 principal tribes comprise different linguistic and dialectical variations, a major reason for internecine conflict. Kidnappings, robbery and drug-related violence are also common problems in the region, as is the spread of HIV/AIDS. Father Thoppil said his decision to accept the appointment came after much prayer and reflection, and that he knew the tasks ahead would be difficult.
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