TORONTO (CCN) — Growing up, Rev. Hector Vila never dreamed of visiting the Yukon. But now the Redemptoris Mater priest from Peru can’t stop thinking about making his first trip to northern Canada.
“It never crossed my mind,” said Vila, “but now I plan to make a short trip within the next few weeks.”
Vila will be making the trip, about a 10-hour flight from Toronto, as part of his preparation to take over as bishop of the Diocese of Whitehorse.
“What I’m looking forward to is meeting the people,” he said. “My main concern is to get to know them, to get to know the needs that they have and see or to seek whatever is within my power to help them.”
The date of Vila’s ordination as bishop of Whitehorse has yet to be finalized. Until then he will continue to server as rector of Toronto’s Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary.
News of his appointment by Pope Francis came on Nov. 27, putting Vila on deck to become the sixth bishop of the diocese.
Spanning 725,000 square kilometres, which includes areas of northern British Columbia as well as the entire Yukon, the Diocese of Whitehorse is among the world’s largest geographically despite only having 23 parishes and missions.
“It is a vast area,” he said. “The distances to travel from one place to another is going to be a challenge.”
Not only are the diocese’s 7,500 parishioners spread across the large area, they also have an inadequate number of priests to serve them — slightly more than one priest to every 1,000 Catholics.
Not only “is there a shortage of priests,” he said, the eight already serving in the diocese are religious order priests meaning that “they are only there for a short period of time.”
And although Vila never considered himself a candidate to succeed Bishop Gary Gordon, who was reassigned to the Diocese of Victoria on June 14, 2014, others had him in mind.
“He’s been talked about for a long time as a potential,” said Rev. Philip Kennedy, president of Catholic Missions In Canada. “First of all he has a great sturdiness in his faith and that comes from his years of discernment with seminarians. To be the bishop in the Yukon you really need that strength.”
Cardinal Thomas Collins also praised Vila’s strong faith.
“Bishop-designate Vila is a whole and faithful priest who will bring a love of his faith,” said Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.
Born in Lima, Peru, Vila is the youngest of 10 siblings and in 1979 came to Canada with his father at the age of 16. Eventually Vila would study mechanical engineering at Toronto’s George Brown College followed by a career in the field.
Then in 1988, less then 10 years after immigrating to Canada, Vila headed to Rome where he had been accepted to study at the Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary.
In 1995 St. John Paul II ordained Vila, welcoming him into the priesthood. Upon returning to Canada in 1998 Vila took over as rector of the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Toronto where he has remained.
“Coming from the Diocesan Missionary Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Rome established by St. John Paul II, I was humbled by this new call to serve God’s people in the Diocese of Whitehorse, in knowing that God has a plan and will guide me on His path,” said Vila.
“I look forward to this new mission.”