Meet the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia

Katie Yoder   By Katie Yoder

Bishop Philippe Jourdan, Apostolic Administrator of Estonia. Credit: Rene Riisalu via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tallinn, Estonia, Jun 15, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The only bishop in Estonia is making history.

Bishop Philippe Jourdan leads the Catholic Church in Estonia, which is considered the least religious country in Europe. Nestled between Russia and Latvia, the small country boasts a population of just over 1 million. Of that, an estimated 6,000 citizens – roughly 0.6% of the population – identify as Catholic.

That’s because religion almost disappeared from Estonia while under Soviet rule in the 1940s. Still, Catholic leaders are anticipating change for Estonia – change sparked by Pope Francis’ visit to the country in 2018. Bishop Jourdan, the apostolic administrator of Estonia, emphasized the importance of the papal visit.

Pope Francis has a “special talent to touch the heart also of people who are very far away,” he told EWTN News In Depth on June 11.

“For many people – for the average Estonian – now let’s say that the Catholic Church, especially the pope, is something nearer,” he said.

Bishop Jourdan is a part of the country’s change and hope for the Church in Estonia. Born in Dax, France, he expressed interest in both science and the faith growing up. That led him to study civil engineering as a college student. Faith and science, he said, complement one another.

“I was never afraid to confront science with the light of faith or faith with the light of science,” he said. “Science now strengthens, really, our faith because it helps us to discover, to be more amazed in front of the reality.”

But even as he studied science, he encountered a “feeling of having a vocation, a supernatural vocation” and the “internal conviction that God is asking something else from me.”

It was a conviction that he followed. After graduating, he was offered a job at IBM. He turned it down.

“They were very surprised that somebody is saying ‘no,’” he remembered. “After that, I went to Rome to study.”

He was ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1988, and, in the 1990s he went to Estonia. The apostolic nuncio there requested his help because of his proficiency in both English and Russian.

Before long, he attracted the attention of the Vatican. In 2005 he was appointed apostolic administrator of Estonia, and consecrated a bishop.

“I must say that I’m very lucky because God protected me in many, many ways,” Bishop Jourdan said. He also felt a “sense of responsibility,” expressing that the “Holy Spirit helps you for what you are chosen to do.”

He was chosen, he said, to build bridges.

When he celebrated his first Mass after ordination, he remembered his fellow priests telling him, “Philippe, before you were [a] builder of bridges, bridges between earth and earth.” But now, they said, he would be a builder “between earth and heaven.”

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