By Andrew Ehrkamp and Lincoln Ho
KELOWNA—Following the example of St. Mark, Catholics are called to be evangelists, spreading the Gospel in their individual way even in a society increasingly hostile to faith, says Bishop Gregory Bittman.
“As Pope Francis said, true evangelization takes place under the action of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Bittman said in his installation ceremony April 25 as the new shepherd of the Diocese of Nelson, B.C.
“This means as evangelizers, we need to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to use the gifts that we have been given, in order to fulfill our mission to evangelize. This way we can introduce the world to Christ and bring to everyone you meet, the joy of the Gospel.”
Bishop Bittman served as Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton – his hometown – for nearly six years before his appointment as the new Bishop of Nelson, succeeding Bishop John Corriveau who is retiring.
His appointment included ceremonies at the Immaculate Conception Church in Kelowna on April 25, and at the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate in Nelson on April 26.
In the elaborate
ceremony, the church was filled with 20 bishops, rows of clergy, women
religious and the Catholic faithful, friends and family. After knocking on the
door of the church to enter as the new bishop, Bishop Bittman was welcomed into
his new diocese. He said his priority is to get to know the Diocese of Nelson
and to have the community get to know him.
Bishop Bittman noted in his first homily, on the feast day of St. Mark, that the writer of the Gospel was a “timid evangelist” when compared to the “fiery and super zealous” St. Paul during the early days of the Church.
He noted all Christians are tasked with a mission in their own individual way, to follow in Jesus’ call to spread the Good News of his salvation, “to all the peoples of the world to the very ends of the world.”
“St. Mark, and all of the evangelists who follow after the Apostles, show us that Jesus’ words to evangelize were not lost on them. Nor can they be with us,” Bishop Bittman told his new diocese of nearly 80,000 Catholics.
Evangelization was – and still is – key to the future of the Church, he said.
“Just think … had the
Apostles kept to themselves or restricted the Good News to a select few, or
adopted the attitude of indifference and didn’t care about their fellow human
beings and did not proclaim the salvation to be found in Jesus Christ,’” he
said. “Would there have been a Church? Or even the Church we know and are
accustomed to today?”
As the Apostles and early disciples were called to evangelize, so is each individual Christian, despite temptations “to keep quiet, to keep the faith to ourselves ... or to live what could be called a secret Christian life where no one would even know or even guess that we are Christian,” Bishop Bittman said.
“Unfortunately the secular world encourages this. It wants faith out of the public square. It wants the voice of faith to be silenced. Ultimately it wants a faithless, godless world,” he said.
“As Christians, whose very mission is to evangelize, we cannot be indifferent to this. Certainly we cannot buy into it or go along with it. This goes against the very words of Jesus in our Gospel. This goes against the mission of the Church, which was entrusted to her by Jesus.”
Kim McLennan-Robbins, who lives in Edmonton, is among friends and family who made the journey to the diocesan celebration in Kelowna. She said she will miss Bishop Bittman, but she’s grateful her friend of 17 years is not far away.
“He is truly a gift from God to his (Nelson) diocese,” she said. “Obviously I’m going to miss him in Edmonton, but when I go home to Fernie, we’ll know that he is our bishop there and that’s exciting for us. I know we’ll be forever connected.”
Among the bishops from across Canada who attended the installation were Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, and Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi - the papal nuncio to Canada - who brought greetings from Pope Francis to a crowd that included First Nations elders and leaders.
That continuing outreach to the Indigenous community is among the challenges facing Bishop Bittman.
“One big one for me is opening the Church evermore to the giftedness of our First Nations peoples,” said Bishop Corriveau. “It would bring great richness to our diocese.”
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