Toronto's newest auxiliary bishop is exactly the type of shepherd Pope Francis prefers, someone who is will be a pastoral bishop not a detached prince. Photo by Michael Swan

A call to serve

  • September 29, 2016

When he received an unexpected call in June and learned Pope Francis planned to make him a bishop, Fr. Robert Kasun figured someone had made a big mistake. Those doubts endured right up to his Sept. 12 ordination in Edmonton.

“I still think they dialled the wrong number,” smiled Kasun, the new auxiliary for Toronto.

But it is clear the Pope knew exactly what he was doing. Bishop Kasun is the type of shepherd Francis prefers. A pastor who has spent much of his 38 years of priesthood in service as a school teacher and parish priest, most recently in an Edmonton parish largely populated by low-income families and immigrants, Kasun has lived among the people and experienced with them all the joys and sorrows of a Catholic life.

Francis makes no bones that he wants a Church of service ahead of an academic, doctrinal Church. That’s not to suggest scholars and doctrine are unimportant. Indeed, they are vital. But Francis believes they shouldn’t overshadow a call to service that is fundamental to the Church. In his words, Francis seeks pastoral bishops not detached princes.

He has promoted a vision of a bottom-up Church comprising engaged Catholic communities in contrast to a top-down Church steered by inflexible Vatican bureaucracies. One reason Francis was elevated to Pope was to reform the Vatican curia and, by extension, its outreach to the rest of the world. Finding bishops who reflect that vision is paramount.

Kasun is hardly the first Francis bishop to suggest someone in Rome must have dialled the wrong number. For the most part, these are humble, unselfish pastors with extensive parish experience. They understand the local Church and the complex issues of faith, family and modern society. They have administered the sacraments, sat on parish councils, raised money for a new roof, counselled families in distress, embraced the poor and marginalized and, generally, as Francis says, walked among their sheep.

Appointing bishops with these qualities isn’t radical, but the difference now is that Francis is making it a priority. The Pope, who has appointed more than 500 bishops in three years, spoke to 154 new bishops at a training seminar in Rome in mid-September. He told them they were chosen to serve others, not themselves. Their mission was to ensure God’s mercy is accessible and readily encountered as they walk beside, not stand above, their flocks. Don’t be a trendy bishop, he advised, but be like the Good Samaritan and tend to your priests and their people in kindness and truth.

 During his many years of parish life, Kasun was known as a priest who embodied the caring qualities of the Good Samaritan. Maybe he wasn’t expecting a call, but it should be no surprise that it came.

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