Canadian Gilles Joseph Cote has dedicated his life as a priest, bishop and missionary to PNG’s Western Province
By Fr ANDREW MOSES
IN the year 1945, after God had planned and formed him in his mother’s womb, Gilles Joseph Côté, SMM, was born on Nov 24. He is the second born of eight children in the Côté family.
On Tuesday Nov 24 this year, he celebrated his 75th birthday – 50 years of which he spent in Papua New Guinea as a missionary priest and 25 as bishop.
Born in the city of Ottawa, Ontario province of Cananda, he was lovingly nurtured and brought up in the Christian faith by his loving parents. His hard working father Léo Côté was a great dad, whom the Lord called to eternal rest in the year 2005 at the age of 87 years. His loving and caring mother Alda Noël, is still alive today at the age of 95 years. Her deepest longing, prayers and long-awaited hope now is to see the face of her loving son back home in Canada.
Responding to God’s call
After formal education, he responded to God’s call and entered the seminary to study to become a priest. With the prayers and support of his loving family, he completed his priesthood studies and was ordained to the religious congregation of the Montfort Missionaries on Dec 19, 1970. On Dec 19, 2020, he celebrated his 50th anniversary (golden jubilee) as a priest.
Inspired by the spirit of the founder of Montfort Missionaries, St Louis Marie de Montfort and imbued with a personal missionary heart and zeal, he accepted his first mission to PNG as a Montfort missionary on Nov 6, 1971. Upon arrival, he lived a daring missionary life in many remote and underdeveloped parts of Western, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
Surviving a plane crash
It was tough but he loved the priesthood, his mission work and the people very much. Nothing deterred him enough to return to the comforts of Canada. Not even the crash of a mission plane he was on, at Membok village on the Jan 19, 1990, which killed the pilot priest, one nun and a small boy. After a period of healing at home, he did not give up.
He stood up, took courage and was ready again to proclaim and witness Jesus even more boldly to the Melanesians who have by then become his brothers and sisters.
Miraculously, God had saved and preserved him from the plane crash for a higher leadership role in the church. Subsequently, on April 23, 1995, he was called and ordained as auxiliary bishop of the Daru-Kiunga Diocese and on March 14, 1999 was appointed as the ordinary of the diocese.
On April 23 this year he celebrated his 25th anniversary (silver jubilee) as Bishop of Daru-Kiunga Diocese.
The Most Bishop Gilles Joseph Côté, has spent almost his entire life as a missionary in Western. His 50 years of priesthood and 25 years as bishop have been very fruitful, satisfactory and fulfilling in many ways.
Under his leadership as priest and later as bishop, he richly contributed to the spiritual, social, physical and economic development of the people of Western.
Currently, he is the last Canadian Montfort missionary left in the province and hopes to return home soon as a retired bishop and missionary.
Bishop Gilles has been a good and faithful priest to the people of Daru-Kiunga Diocese. He has been a real shepherd to the people, with a strong vision, mission and focus for the church, inviting the people to journey as one. The people are very grateful for his strong, examplary and model leadership as bishop.
Certainly, these 50 years of his priesthood are a fulfilled life, not for profit, wealth or power, but for the buiding up of God’s kingdom.
Strong on unity
We have been blessed, loved, and protected through his leadership as priest, bishop, missionary and a friend. Fulfilling his motto “Unity in Diversity” he has created a stronger sense of church communion, unity and fratenity in the diocese.
On this occasion, as he celebrates the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, we thank God for all the blessings we have received through his leadership and as a person.
We congratulate him as he remembers and celebrates these important milestone moments of God’s work in his life.
We pray that God who has called and consecrated him for his mission in PNG continues to give him good health and shower more abundant blessings upon him with many more fruitful years ahead.
At the level of the Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, he established the Vangeke Institute to offer renewal and on-going formation programmes to all our Melanesian priests. He also led the process to write protocols to deal with cases of sexual abuse by priests, religious and church workers as well the policy for child protection.
Happy 50th anniversary Bishop!