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Spirit and grace

Bishop Gary Gordon:
Bishop Gary Gordon: 'My responsibility is to be there and bring the message.'
— image credit: Kevin Laird/News staff

Bishop Gary Gordon, who was installed as the new head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria last night, didn't think he would ever become a priest, never mind a bishop.

Growing up in Burnaby, Bishop Gordon and his family attended church regularly. He was even enrolled in Catholic schools. But the thought of being a priest seemed foreign to him.

“I think being a priest was a little beyond me,” the bishop, 57, told the News during a recent interview at the diocese offices in Saanich.

“I didn't really want to be a priest. I did want to be a missionary. The idea of letting people know the good news, I thought this was a really good idea.”

Bishop Gordon believes every Catholic boy thinks about the priesthood at some point, but in his case he thought it was asking too much of him and he wasn't exactly enamored with school. “Priests go to school a long time,” he chuckled.

His life changed in his early 20s when he was walking down a dark road, looking up at the stars one night, and he heard what he believes was an affirmation from above.

“It was like I heard this big 'yes,' and I've said yes every since: yes to becoming a priest and yes to becoming a bishop,” he said.

Bishop Gordon was ordained as a priest in 1982 after studying at Seminary of Christ the King in Mission; at St. Jerome College at the University of Waterloo in Ontario; and at St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont.. He served several parishes throughout B.C., including Vancouver, Chilliwack and Mission.

He was named Bishop of Whitehorse in 2006.

With his new role in Victoria, he'll be the spiritual leader of more than 94,000 Roman Catholics on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands – 10,000 of whom attend church regularly, and while that will be a much larger workload than in the North, Bishop Gordon maintains the approach is the same.

“It's kind of a universal ministry,” he said.

“The approach gets directed by listening to the people. The ministry, in a sense, is the same anywhere, but when you listen to the people in the different (cities) then you kind of get the culture of the place which gives (you) the language to use to communicate the good news.”

Unlike leaders of other religions, Bishop Gordon isn't concerned about declining church membership. Roman Catholics remain the single largest Christian religious group in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

“It's not a number's game, that's for sure. I've done ministry in places where no one has shown up. That's not my responsibility. My responsibility is to be there and bring the message,” the bishop said.

“Whether anybody shows up or not is in God's hands.”

Bishop Gordon prefers to take the long view on the future of the church. He points out at one time the church was flourishing in North Africa. Now there is almost nothing there, but it is growing and thriving in the Philippines and in other areas of Africa.

As for being a bishop and a priest, he says he's honoured to be in such a “noble profession.”

He's been able to travel the world and see and do things he would never have done otherwise. He's been part of prison ministry, missioned in Peru and Haiti and worked with First Nations people.

“You're deeply involved with people in life's trenches. It's amazing and very privileged.”

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