(Rome) The Redemptorist Bishop Jon Hansen shares about his personal life and his ministry to the First Nations people of Canada with Scala News on 3rd of September at St. Alphonsus’ House, Rome.
Q. Could you tell something about yourself, who you are and where are you from?
A. My name is John Hansen, a Redemptorist Bishop from Edmonton Toronto Province in Canada and presently the Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese, in Northern Canada.
Q. How did you discover your vocation?
A. My vocation to the Redemptorists began when I was a child, I grew up in a small town which had just one Catholic Church and the Redemptorists looked after that Church. So, I knew the Redemptorists from a very young age. When I was a teenager I decided to think about my life and what I would like to do with my life. The Redemptorists were a group of men, their community life really interested me and the work they were doing in the community.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about your religious formation?
A. Well as my Redemptorist formation began in the parish where I grew up. But formally I went to the student house in Edmonton Alberta. Then I did my undergraduate study in the University of Alberta and began learning about the Redemptorist at that point. After my undergraduate studies, I went to Toronto to study my philosophy and theology. I lived in the students’ house in Toronto. I did my Master’s in divinity in St. Michael’s College in Toronto.
Q. Can you say something about the Redemptorist influences in your life?
A. Some of the Redemptorist influences in my life were not the traditional Saints that we read about, but the men that I met. One that I met in my life was Br. Leo Insel, a Redemptorist Brother who did vocation work in the school when I was in elementary school and Br. Leo would come around and talk about the life of the Redemptorists and the work of the Church. And these influences such as that and meeting the pastors in the town I grew up. It was the real men doing real work that was the most influential to me. And I learnt about St. Alphonsus and St. Gerard much later on.
Q. According to you, what are some of the characteristics of the Redemptorists?
A. The characteristics of the Redemptorists were really intriguing but they did not really isolate themselves from the community but that they allowed people into their lives and into their communities. And really, they were open to all kinds of people.
Q. How did you find your ministry as Redemptorist Priest?
A. My experience as a Redemptorist priest, right from the beginning influenced by the Redemptorists I grew up with, was really working with the poor and the marginalized. When I was a student in Toronto, doing the theology studies I was very involved in a parish program for all the homeless from downtown. We would offer a meal and a bed overnight. This environment I found was exciting and interesting and the stories of the people I just met were fascinating. When I was working in Saskatoon with the aboriginal people at St. Mary’s Parish I felt really called to work with first nations people in Canada particularly with the people of the North. I was privileged to be able to go and serve as a pastor. So, when Pope Francis appointed me as Bishop there I was just excited about the opportunity to stay and continue to work in that environment. To work in the diocese, I saw the continuation of my Redemptorist vocation.
Q. How do you see the relevance of the Church in the modern world?
A. I see the Church as being very relevant today in people’s lives. There is difficulty in communication, there is a change in how we relate people and how we reach out to people. Through new media and by taking advantage of the modern technology we can continue to promote the message of the gospel. We must find a new of communicating the new language that the young people will understand. The internet plays a big role in social media.
Q. Has Pope Francis influenced you personally?
A. Pope Francis is a real breath of fresh air in the Church today. He is honest and open to the people not just to Catholics but also to all people. He is a very important witness to the gospel in the society. It is the kind of openness that the people have been longing for quite some time. Particularly where I am, Pope Francis offers an example of reconciliation, open to all kinds of people especially to the poor and those who are in margins. So I am very much influenced by Pope Francis and happy to have been invited into this ministry by him.
Q. How do you see the role of the Redemptorist working for the youth today?
A. Our role as the Redemptorists in reaching out to the youth of our times is extremely important. What we can do is to be authentic selves that we have to be open the experiences of the young people that we have to learn from them. We do not have all the answers but to acknowledge that their experiences and their understanding of the world are very important. We have to allow them to teach us so that we can share our experiences of the gospel the way that is meaningful and relevant to them.
Q. If someone asks you about your God-experience how do you respond to him or her?
A. The people of the North particularly the aboriginal people for me are eyewitnesses of God in a concrete way. They very spiritual people and open to how God is working in their life. So when I am finding myself in a period of doubt or dryness I only have to go out and visit some of the elders in our communities and they would tell me that God is here that God is present and God is at work even in most of the difficult situations in their lives. They say never doubt that God is at work in our lives.
Q. Could you say something more about the aboriginal people you are working with?
A. The first nations people, the aboriginal people in Canada were the first people there and presently in Canada were going through a period in a history we recognize that the Church is world and the lives of the aboriginal people have not been the positive experience. We went through a period of residential schooling in which the government and the religious were really trying to assimilate the aboriginal people into the lives of the European people. And in doing so we damage the culture in some cases eradicated the culture and caused a great deal of harm. And so now we are in a period of our history where we are trying to reconcile or make reparations for some of the harms been done. It’s a long road but it’s one which Pope Francis has called us to persevere in making concrete steps towards reconciliation. It poses that I am honored to be part of and willing to persevere as we have been asked.
Q. What are the challenges you face in your Diocese?
A. In my diocese, there are many challenges as priests, first of all, are very short in number. which are separated by vast distances. We are also facing a secular world that no longer sees religion always as the important thing in life. It’s something that we are constantly trying to remind people that it’s our spirit just as important as our bodies and our minds. People are very eager to look after the bodies, food on the table and their shelter but they forget about their soul, their spirit. It is a challenge for a priest today to remind people. In the north beside the shortage of priests, there is an evangelization needs to take place because the elders who are the keeper of the religious faith, are getting older and getting tired. The generation that comes behind them in many ways is not been able to take up the same role.
Q. How do you identify the role of the laity in the Church?
A. The role of the laity in today’s churches is so important. Where I work if it was not for the laity the Church would no longer exist. We try and provide sacraments as much as we can. But for the most part, the laity are the ones who are doing the day to day work of teaching the new generations about the faith and about keeping the church open, about providing services where there are no priests often for weeks or months at a time. So, without the laity, we would cease to exist in the Northern Diocese. The diocese in which I work because we rely so much on lay people we need to have a real sense of collaboration that it is not about the priest doing all the work or it is not about us knowing more than the lay people. It is really about a sense of community, a sense of working together to share the faith.
Q. What do you think about the influence of Media today?
A. I think the new ways of using media whether it is the internet, Facebook, website or blogs, it’s an important way of communicating because that’s the way the young people communicate these days. Even if they are not on Sunday you can get messages out to them through various forms of media. My experience is that just in sharing my stories on my website or on our diocesan face-book page it connects people who might just happen to be looking for some interesting thing to read. They might not deliberately go searching for you, but they come across something that attracts to their imagination or get excited about possibilities and so around about way it brings people in always you can’t always plan but when you are open to whoever comes.
Q. What would you like to say as a conclusion?
A. Where I am working I am just very grateful for my new vocation as a Bishop in Northern Canada. And if there is any Redemptorist out there that are watching this video and looking for an experience in serving the poor in very interesting part of the world please don’t hesitate to give me a call and I will be happy to meet you and talk about it.