“Called to Communion” say the Columbans

22nd October 2013 - by Ellen Teague

Columban priests, lay missionaries and co-workers from around Britain gathered at Swanwick in Derbyshire last week to study the theme of ‘communion’ in relation to their work

They included nine Columban priests and three Filipina lay missionaries who have recently returned to mission in Birmingham after a break in the Philippines. The ‘on-going education’ days were organised by Fr Pat O’Beirne, an Irish Columban who worked in Taiwan for 15 years and now visits parishes in Salford Diocese to do mission awareness and appeals. They were facilitated by Kiltegan missionary priest Donal Dorr, whose most recent book is ‘Option for the Poor and for the Earth’.

Donal Dorr explored an understanding of God as both transcendent and immanent, that is in people, events and in the natural world. “But we should keep a balance between the two” he said. We could be “more conscious of the presence and work of the Spirit who is a bond of communion and renews the face of the Earth”. Obstacles to being in communion with other people and with the natural world were discussed; including the rich/poor divide, clericalism, ecumenical slowdown, failure to value women’s insights and a failure to extend a vision of justice to incorporate the total Earth community. There was a viewing of the new DVD ‘Conflict and Climate Change’, which the Columban JPIC team helped to produce as part of their work on environmental justice.

It was emphasised that from the Columban missionary perspective, the Church cannot afford to weaken its positions on justice by over-emphasising charity. Columbans are committed to meeting the immediate spiritual and social needs of people encountered, but seek lasting structural change to overcome sinful structures, which is a key part of Catholic Social Teaching. The Eucharistic community was also understood to be one in which all members of the body of Christ – clerical and lay – work together to bring about the Kingdom of God and be active instruments of the “good news” in the world.

It is a year since representatives from Columban missions around the world met in the United States to reflect and plan for the future; a gathering that is convened every six years. Out of that meeting came the document ‘Called to Communion’ that provides Columban missionaries with a common sense of direction and guidance, despite differences in the particular circumstances of mission in countries as diverse as Chile, Pakistan and Philippines. ‘Called to Communion’ affirmed the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation ministry. Also, the ministry of Inter-faith Dialogue, particularly among the Chinese and with Muslims, reminding that St. Columban once said, “a life unlike your own can be your teacher”. ‘Communion’ is ever more important in the light of globalisation where mass media advances are not necessarily paralleled with improved quality of relationships.