The first bishop of Hispanic origin in an Ohio diocese is the son of Cubans. Monsignor Nelson Jesús Pérez was born in 1961 in Miami, where his parents emigrated to after the Revolution triumphed in Cuba, and he will be carrying the pastoral scales in the city of Cleveland.
His appointment, announced on July 11 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio in the United States, is seen as an important gesture by Pope Francis in the defense of migrants and refugees in that country.
Monsignor Pérez, who is 56 years old, succeeds Bishop Richard G. Lennon, who resigned last December for health reasons. Since 2012 he had been the auxiliary bishop of Rockville Center, New York, where he also acted as vicar of the Hispanic Apostolate of the diocese.
He studied psychology in Montclair State University, from which he graduated in 1983, and later he entered the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the state of Pennsylvania. He was ordained as a priest on May 20, 1989 in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a city where he served as parochial vicar and as pastor. In addition, he was the founding director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization.
In 2009 he was named Prelate of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI, an honorary title granted by a special concession of the Holy See.
Monsignor Pérez is currently the president of the subcommittee of Hispanic Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the Church’s Cultural Diversity Commission. He also formed part of the subcommittee of the Catholic campaigns for Human Development in the Conference.
He said to his new parishioners in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist that Cleveland was a vibrant and multiethnic diocese, and dedicated some words in Spanish to his Latin faithful. He also spoke of his previous work, including his evangelization work and his ministering with the Hispanics throughout all his priesthood, aspects in which he expects to continue working.
In subsequent statements to the press, Bishop Pérez referred to the topic of emigration in the United States and the controversial wall the Trump administrations aims to build. In his opinion, “the Church is called upon to accompany the migrants, but way beyond the spiritual support.”
The prelate defended the idea of a migratory reform because it is “urgent and necessary” and explained that the Conference of Bishops in the United States has been proposing it for a long time.
“It is evident that a country has the right to defend its borders, but it has to be done by respecting the rights and the dignity of persons,” he added.
However, the new bishop commented that, while his parents are Cuban and he identifies with the Hispanic culture, he will be “a Catholic priest for everyone.”
Monsignor Nelson Jesús Pérez will be officially installed in his post on September 5. Cleveland has close to 190 parishes and 2.7 million inhabitants, of which a fourth (680,000) are Catholic.