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Fr. Paul Hansen has visited 82 countries in his work for social justice. Photo by Joshua Santos

Fr. Paul Hansen being honoured with Pax Christi award

  • September 15, 2019

Fr. Paul Hansen has worked in plenty of dangerous places in his missionary work, always following one simple rule:

“I would never tell my mother, when she was alive, where I was going until I came home and I told her where I was. Because she wouldn’t sleep,” said the native of Saint John, N.B., who has done social justice work in 82 countries, including the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

“It is easy to be in danger zones if you know why you are there,” he said. “The shakes and the sleepless nights come when you leave the danger,” said Hansen.

Hansen’s efforts with the many Church groups around the world he has worked with has earned him the Pax Christi Teacher of Peace award this year.

“He is not afraid to go to dangerous zones in the world to impart the Christian message,” said Tom Sagar, a spokesperson and former member of the discernment team of Pax Christi Toronto. “That’s part of Paul Hansen. He is a very courageous man.”

The Remdemptorist priest certainly did not expect to be recognized with an award for his years of spreading the Gospel.

“Not at all. Never in my wildest dreams,” said Hansen. “I thought maybe, well, it’s because I celebrated 50 years of priesthood.” 

Hansen, a former board chair with Kairos, the ecumenical social justice coalition of churches, will be presented the award at St. Patrick’s Church in Toronto on Sept. 15. 

Since 1974, Hansen has been a board member of The Churches Task Force on Corporate Responsibility, the Canada Asian Working Group and Inter Church Coalition on Africa.

After joining the Redemptorists, he taught high school and worked in parishes at universities. He holds degrees in philosophy and psychology, religious studies and theology, and is certified in family life education and biblical studies.

“I came from this incredible academic background to see that half the world lives on less than $2 a day,” said Hansen. “That was a major transformative moment.”

“I find Paul very reflective,” said Sagar. “When he was chair of the (Kairos) board (2004-08), he was always available to even the smallest group of people that wanted to hear his messages and he has numerous fans in the ecumenical community that Kairos represents.”

In 1991, Hansen was invited to be the director of the General Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in Rome and stayed until 1999. While there, he was introduced to the struggles for justice. 

Whether consulting on Redemptorists’ work in Thailand for street children with HIV/AIDS, or delivering messages of peace to officials in Moscow during the Cold War, Hansen said he just enjoys what he does.

“I try to take the Gospel seriously,” said Hansen. “Maybe I’m crazy, but I couldn’t do it any other way.”

He plans to visit other dangerous countries in the next short while. He is going on a fact-finding mission in November but declined to say where.

Sagar said Hansen was selected as a recipient for his work both inside and outside Canada.

“He explained to me a number of years ago how he makes an annual retreat to Auschwitz and visits the site of the death of St. Maximilian Kolbe,” said Sagar. “He said that connection has had a profound impact on him.”

Kolbe was a Franciscan friar who was imprisoned by the Germans at Auschwitz in 1941. When another prisoner was sentenced to starve to death and asked for mercy, Kolbe offered to die in his place. He was declared a martyr and canonized in 1982.

After his years in Rome and in the Middle East, Hansen returned to Toronto where he directs the Redemptorists’ justice commitment in Canada.

Sagar said that when they select a recipient for the Teacher of Peace award, they look for someone who is living the Christian message in an inspiring way that moves people to follow them. “I see these Teachers of Peace as living saints,” said Sagar. 

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