Whitehorse bishop finds an unexpected forum to spread the New Evangelization in Toronto

By  Rod Mcdonald, Catholic Register Special
  • November 25, 2010
Bishop Gary GordonTORONTO - My wife and I were serving soup and sandwiches to university students at the Newman Centre on the campus of the University of Toronto when we first met Bishop Gary Gordon, the bishop of Whitehorse. We felt that we already knew the bishop because we had seen him featured in two fine documentaries on Salt + Light TV.

Strangely enough, the gathering was called “A Retreat in the City,” and Gordon came through the front door, rosy cheeked and carrying a back pack and looking as if he had just pulled himself off the Chilkoot Trail. It seemed to me that the last thing he would be seeking would be solace in the Big Smoke.


In fact, he looked as if he had just come off a retreat of his own somewhere deep in the Yukon wilderness.

Gordon had kindly agreed to celebrate Mass and deliver the homily for the retreat, whose theme was: “Evangelization and the Heart: forming students for the New Evangelization,” given by guest speaker Michael Dopp.

The bishop had descended  on Toronto along with three other missionary bishops to familiarize big city folk with the needs of Canada’s mission territories during November. The mission is to extend the blessings of the Catholic faith throughout our nation’s 28 mission dioceses unable to financially support their local churches. This would be one of Gordon’s side trips, and it would prove to be an eventful re-introduction to the urban landscape.

It was Saturday, and the bishop had been mistakenly informed that Santa was coming to town that day for the Santa Claus Parade (it took place the next day). To avoid the inevitable road blocks, he had decided to pack some tokens and take the subway from the Old Mill area down to St. George station, just up the street from the Newman Centre.

Little did he know that his 20-minute ride on the rails would provide him with a golden opportunity to do some subway evangelization, as he rolled eastward through the sooty darkness of the Bloor-Danforth line. In fact, the bishop would later inform us that he learned enough to write a book on his 20-minute subway ride.

Just after finding a seat, Gordon noticed a Muslim family heading in his direction. As things turned out, he found himself sitting smack dab in the middle of the family, separating the members from one another, and so offered his seat to the mother so that she could sit beside her son. The bishop was wearing a Roman collar, so there was little doubt about what he represented.

And as he explained to the students, with the November sun beaming down through the stained glass windows of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, this became a prime opportunity for evangelization in the city. He felt that there was no doubt that the Muslim family had been given food for thought about the true nature of the Christian faith when he got up and offered his seat to the mother.

The bishop also noticed an overriding look of sadness and despair on the faces of many of the subway travellers, and he overheard a conversation between two young people which reinforced his conviction that much of contemporary society is headed in the wrong direction. A young man was telling a woman about his past homosexual relationships as if the subway train had become some sort of post-modern confessional.

Upon leaving the subway, a woman asked the bishop for some money and he was taken by surprise. He decided to not give her any and then wondered whether he had made the right move, much the same way many of us feel when confronted by these unfortunate people at a time when we least expect it.

Gordon caught the students off guard when he told them that the north is similar to the city in that he regularly gets three panhandlers a day at his doorstep. He gives them money at breakfast and at lunch, but will not give any after supper because he knows it will go straight into the fathomless mouth of  addiction.

After Mass as we served soup, my wife and I overheard how impressed the students were with the bishop’s homily and we could feel their excitement about evangelizing, and saw first hand the effect of Gordon’s homily.  

He had turned the table on all of us.

We did not get what we had expected. What he had done was travel from the northern wilderness and land here on the urban landscape to show us how to evangelize on our own turf. It was masterful, it worked and I am certain the students will not forget it soon.

Given the chance, I get the feeling that he would gladly take up an offer to ride the subway once more.

For, as the the students learned, evangelization happens in the most unexpected settings, and as the bishop claimed, “Taking the subway can be more exciting than a dog sled ride.”

(Rod McDonald is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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