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Chicago priest named a bishop for Belize

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —Bishop-designate Christopher Glancy was just settling in at a Chicago parish staffed by his religious order, the Viatorians, after having spent 12 of the previous 13 years in the Central American country of Belize.

Then came the summons: He was to be named the new auxiliary bishop of the nationwide Diocese of Belize City-Belmopan.

“So I was a little surprised when they called me to come back,” said Bishop-designate Glancy, who will turn 52 April 10 and is scheduled to be ordained a bishop May 5. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Feb. 18.

An Illinois native, Bishop-designate Glancy never thought he’d become a bishop.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed U.S. Viatorian Father Christopher Glancy as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Belize City-Belmopan in Belize Feb. 21. (CNS)

“I had Viatorians in high school and thought I’d like to be a teacher,” Bishop-designate Glancy told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from St. Viator Parish in Chicago, where he has been serving since August as parochial vicar. “In my first years (as a priest) I taught at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights (Ill.).”

Nor did Bishop-designate Glancy ever suspect at the outset that he’d be ministering in Belize. After teaching, he was assigned to the Colombian capital of Bogota, the first mission established by U.S. Viatorians.

“In the ’90s, our general leadership was asking the provinces to look at a new foundation,” he said. “We discerned and ended up with Belize. I never thought I’d be one of the first ones to go there. But it was neat being part of that process.”

Bishop-designate Glancy took a liking to the small country (population 315,000).

There is a dearth of priestly vocations there as is the case in many Western nations. But “there’s a large lay ministry program in the diocese,” he said.

“The great richness of the church is the laity. They don’t have Mass every Sunday, but they gather every Sunday. They have great music that draws in the people. Belizeans love to sing. You don’t have a Mass without singing. That would be foreign to them.

“I guess they put that in me, too.”

A parish may have a dozen or more mission churches in outlying areas. The bishop will tend to do confirmations at the parish church on a Sunday, then go to the mission churches for morning and afternoon confirmations until all missions have been visited. In two or three years, the bishop visits every church and mission in the country.

Church-state relations are solid in Belize, Bishop-designate Glancy reported. Catholics make up more than half of the population. There is an extensive Catholic school system in the country, and the government pays for teacher salaries and many other educational needs, he said.

“It’s a beautiful thing in many ways,” Bishop-designate Glancy added, noting that in one district, “we had the church in the main town, and in 23 (surrounding) villages we had 19 Catholic grade schools and one Catholic high school.”

Bishop-designate Glancy was pastor of the parish when the high school was founded in 2006. The school has an extensive agriculture program that includes fish farming, which follows one of Belize’s top industries.

He thought the last page in the Belize chapter of his life had been written.

“I was getting settled in at St. Viator Parish and really enjoying myself. We have a pretty mixed population, a large Hispanic population, so I’m using my Spanish a lot, which I enjoy,” he told CNS. “And also there are tensions as in many places between the Anglo and Hispanic groups. But even before I came here there were people saying, ‘Hey, we gotta work together, we’re part of the same church.’”

But this spring he will return to Belize, where he could very well stay for many years. The current head of the diocese is Bishop Dorick M. Wright, who is 66. Born in Belize City, he was auxiliary bishop of the diocese from early 2002 to November 2006, when he was named to succeed Bishop Osmond P. Martin, who retired at 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation.

“That’s part of the hard thing,” Bishop-designate Glancy said. “In religious life, you accept being a superior and a term of four years or six years, but when you accept to be a bishop ….,” he chuckled, not completing the sentence.

“As I wrote in a note to my community, it was hard to say goodbye to the rest of my professional life. But at least I can say that until I’m 75 or so, I’m committed to that church,” he said. “I recognize that and accept that, and pray God gives me the grace to help the church grow in Belize.”