“Incredible distances separate the far-flung missions in the North, in places graced by exceptional beauty.”
This was how Hart and Marilyn Bezner, lay missionaries at Immaculate Heart of Mary Mission in Teslin, Yukon, in the Diocese of Whitehorse, described the terrain in the mission diocese they served for half a decade, an area that encompasses all of the Yukon and the top quarter of British Columbia.
Missionaries Hart and Marilyn Bezner
The Bezners spoke at the St. Philip Neri Mass gathering organized by Catholic Missions In Canada (CMIC) on the missionary saint's feast of May 26 to give a firsthand view of the missions to CMIC's Legacy Circle members.
“The diocese is about 723,515 sq km, almost 33 per cent larger than France. It is twice the size of Germany,” Hart Bezner said.
Before the Bezners shared their story, Legacy Circle members viewed a 30-minute documentary, Apostle of the North, which focused on the missionary life and journey of Bishop Gary Gordon and of the missionaries and the people of Whitehorse diocese.
“Bishop Gordon has five active priests, six religious sisters, and a few lay couples to care for the 23 parishes and missions,” explained Hart. “The Bishop travels far and wide, mostly by mountain roads, visiting each of these missions as often as possible.”
The round-trip distances from Whitehorse to some of the missions, and back to Whitehorse, could be as far as 2,000 km, Hart added. These include Prophet River, Fort Nelson, Iskut, and Telegraph Creek in British Columbia, to Dawson City in Yukon.
“Bishop Gordon's huge optimism was quite remarkable,” noted Hart. “He would say Mass, and then report afterwards, 'It was great, there were five people at Mass!'”
Marilyn Bezner said their life as missionaries revolved around being present with the people in the mission. “You simply have to be with them, reach out to them, and love them. There's so much pain and so much suffering that being there with them was comfort enough.”
PS: Patria Rivera is Director Publications and Communications at Catholic Missions In Canada.