By Fr. David Louch, C.Ss.R.
I was one of eight Edmonton-Toronto Redemptorists who participated in the ordination of our confrere Jon Paul Christian Hansen as the seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith on March 16, 2018.
Since I arrived in Yellowknife the day before, I was able to be at the prayer service during which Fr Jon made the Profession of Faith and swore the Oath of Fidelity in the presence of the Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi. This prayer service was at the end of the annual retreat for the clergy, religious and pastoral animators of the diocese. I was immediately aware of the great love and respect that Jon already enjoys. After the Nuncio spoke about the meaning and significance of the Profession and Oath, Bishop-elect Jon began with a personal comment: “I thought I would just be speaking words here this evening – a formality – but after hearing Archbishop Luigi, I know how meaningful and significant the words are.” He proceeded with the Profession and Oath speaking slowly, distinctly and with tangible deep conviction. For me, this was the beginning of a very moving experience, through which I came to understand how right it is that our confrere should be Bishop of the Northwest Territories.
Jon’s father Paul said to me at the time his son was appointed bishop: “It was a shock, but at least Jon gets to stay in his beloved north.” I was beginning to accept what I still felt mostly as a loss to the Redemptorists.
I would like to mention some things that struck me at Bishop Jon’s ordination:
1) Thirteen of the fifteen bishops who participated in the ordination are his brother bishops in Western Canada and the Territories – including his three immediate predecessors in Mackenzie-Fort Smith as well as our confrere, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan, Gerry Pettipas, CSsR. Archbishop Gerry was the principal ordaining bishop.
2) The ceremony began with a welcome from two of the chiefs of Inuvialuit; a large number of Inuit were in the congregation; and the clergy and pastoral workers from all the Christian churches in Yellowknife were also present.
3) One of the Redemptorists celebrating the ordination Mass was our Superior General Fr Michael Brehl, who preached the homily. (Fr Mike had been one of Jon’s formation directors and then his Provincial Superior.) Mike spoke directly to Bishop Jon through much of his homily. He focused especially on the new bishop’s motto: Veritas et Reconciliatio (Truth and Reconciliation) – the name of a Canadian commission established in 2008 as part of the response to the abuse inflicted on the Indigenous peoples through the Indian residential school system and the harmful legacies of those institutions. Reminding us that God is always with us, Fr Mike exhorted Bishop Jon to preach the gospel and gather the people, to reconcile in truth and justice, binding up wounds, and to serve with love and love those he serves.
4) At the end of the ordination Mass, Bishop Jon spoke from the heart to all present. It was so personal, so intimate, that I hesitate to write about it… Making himself very vulnerable, Jon described and reflected on two experiences he had that he characterized as “very unusual and unexpected.”
The first was ten years ago, when he felt the call to serve the Indigenous people of Canada’s North. Going on to speak of his love for the people and the land of the North, Jon expressed his deep gratitude for the warm welcome and the love with which the people have already received and embraced him.
The second “unusual and unexpected” experience was that very morning, when the Bishop-elect woke up crying. He became aware of two reasons for his tears. The first was sheer gratitude, and Jon went on to thank family, confreres, friends… everyone who has ever contributed and/or who is still contributing to his becoming the man he is. The second reason for tears was that Jon’s brother was not with us that evening. (Colin had not been allowed to board the plane because his ID had expired.) Jon reflected on what a brother is, what it means to be or have a brother, and how important it is to tell others that you love them. Jon proclaimed that as bishop he comes as a brother to the people of his diocese and he hopes they will continue to accept him as a brother, knowing that when misunderstandings come they can sooner or later be worked out.
The reception following the ordination was an opportunity for people to meet old friends and make new connections.
I am blessed to have shared in this sacred time in Yellowknife!
A video with even more pictures of the ordination can be found at here.