Hundreds of friends, family members, religious sisters and priests from across the Archdiocese filled St. Joseph’s Basilica on March 19 for a special Mass of Thanksgiving for the ministry of Bishop Gregory Bittman. After serving as a priest of the Archdiocese of Edmonton for 22 years and as Auxiliary Bishop for almost six, he will be taking up a new position as Bishop of the Diocese of Nelson in southeastern British Columbia.

In his homily, Archbishop Richard Smith reflected on the motto Bishop Bittman chose when he was first named to the episcopal ministry: Christus Iesus spes nostra, or Christ Jesus is our hope, taken from St. Paul's first letter to Timothy.  

“What the Scriptures teach us is this: hope is possible, hope is real, hope changes lives, and this hope arises from placing our faith not in our own abilities but in God’s fidelity to His promises,” he said. “Our task is to announce this hope to our world, and we look to the Bishop to lead us in doing so."

“I think it fair to say that many of us have been ‘hoping against hope’ that we could keep you here, but we knew that was not realistic. The Church is bigger than us, God is in charge, and He summons to ministry as He chooses and when He sees fit in accordance with His plan. The only appropriate response that we can give is thanksgiving to God for having blessed us all these years with your person, your ministry and your witness.”

In his farewell remarks at the end of Mass, Bishop Bittman expressed heartfelt thanks, along with his trademark self-deprecating humour.

“l thought homilies were hard to do; I think this is a little bit harder than that,” he said. “The first thing I want to say tonight is that my heart is filled with gratitude, gratitude for all of you who are here tonight … all the people that I’ve come to know and love during my time here in the diocese. I told Archbishop Smith at the beginning that it kinda feels like a funeral – except that I’m hoping to walk out!”

Bishop Bittman said he could never have imagined the richness of his life in ministry, and he credited God with laying out the path.

“I think that’s for all of us, as much as we make decisions in life and take certain directions, it’s not our path; this is the path God has laid out for us. It’s really up to each one of us to figure out and discern what that path is.”

He recalled the words often repeated by the late Sister Annata Brockman, who would say that any good she did was God’s doing, not her own.

“I echo those things tonight," said Bishop Bittman. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t be here. Really, it’s giving God the gifts that you have. They don’t have to be too much; God makes use of them, and you let him work through you." 

“I can’t say how grateful I am for this journey. It’s been the most fulfilling journey   ̶   not all the times has it been easy, all the times I’ve pushed back or haven’t given 100 per cent of my ‘yes’ in it. But just like Scripture says, you receive a hundredfold for what you give up. I’ve never felt that I’ve given up anything. I’ve just been filled by God. And of course, God works through each one of you; you have filled me too, with who you are and your gifts.

Bishop Bittman conceded that the moment was a bittersweet one, and that the reality of the next steps in his journey was still setting in.

“I don’t know what else God has in store, but certainly I will miss all of you. Please come and see me if you’re in Kelowna … I’d be glad to have you visit and say hello. And know that I will keep you in my prayers and in my heart.”