Bishop Gary Gordon starts the school week at Neil McNeil by telling students that Jesus is on the periphery with the marginalized. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Jesus found on the periphery, bishop tells students

  • September 26, 2014

TORONTO - Look to the peripheries for it is there you’ll find the suffering, the marginalized and Jesus Christ.

“Where you meet Jesus is in the peripheries and on the edges,” said Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon, a veteran missionary priest. “I have met Jesus so many times in the pe-ripheries.”

Gordon delivered his message to Grade 11 and 12 students at Neil McNeil High School Sept. 22. The bishop was in Toronto as part of a partnership between the Toronto Catholic District School Board and Catholic Missions In Canada, now in its third year.

The partnership exposes students to the work of Catholic Missions In Canada by bringing in high-profile missionaries to share their experiences in mission territories. Joining Gordon this year were Corner Brook and Labrador Bishop Peter Hundt, Prince George Bishop Stephen Jensen and Archbishop Gerard Pettipas from Grouard-McLennan. The bishops visited various schools within the Toronto board.

Although Gordon is currently serving the Diocese of Victoria, a position he has held since June 14, he admits that being an urban priest was never his intention.

“It is not that I wanted to be a priest, I wanted to be a missionary,” he said recalling his decision to enter the Seminary of Christ the King, coincidentally located in Mission, B.C. “I wanted to tell people about the Lord and about the good news of our faith.”

That desire, that missionary motivation, kept Gordon content during the past eight years as bishop of Whitehorse in the Yukon, where none of his audience had visited.

“You guys got to get out of town,” said Gordon in a critical yet playful tone. “You’ve got to get out of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). I pray that you guys get a chance to go up north and you know what, the Haliburton area is not north.”

But just because one is not on the geographical periphery — “which would be the edges of human habitation” — does not mean there isn’t mission work to be done and Jesus to find, Gordon stressed.

“There is an existential periphery too and that is right here in Toronto where you’ve got people on the margins,” he said. “What we would call an existential margin (is) really a lived reality of being on the edges and that can be anywhere.”

Hearing this message sparked a fire within Eric Watson, a Grade 11 student who heard Gordon during his first period, World Religions.

“It is very eye opening,” said the 16-year-old. “A lot of people don’t really notice the people in the periphery. In Toronto we actually have to realize that people are in the periphery and we actually have to do something about it.”

Watson has already completed his compulsory 40 hours of community service — a requirement set by the Ministry of Education for all students in publicly funded education — but will continue his outreach by joining Neil McNeil’s Men of Fire. Founded by former student Enrique Olivo, Men of Fire is a social justice group that places students on the streets of Toronto to support the homeless and impoverished as well as providing participants with a first-hand look at the periphery.

Vice principal Robert Noble said Men of Fire is everything Neil McNeil High School stands for.

“It is inherent to our nature to help the poor and if we didn’t do that then why are we here?” he asked. “Some of us are blessed with a lot of things and some people aren’t for various reasons but it is important to treat everybody the same regardless what walk of life they come from.”

But for Gordon, working with the marginalized is his life because that is where he finds Jesus over and over again.

“I’ve got a lot of interesting friends your moms and dads would not want me to bring ... over,” said Gordon referring to those he’s met in prison ministry. “But they are my friends because I got to meet Jesus in them. Wherever there is a margin or a periphery, like the very edge of the world, whether it is an inner city edge or a globe edge or a geographical edge like northern Canada, you’ll find (Christ).” 

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.