Columban Centenary Mass of Thanksgiving at St. George's Cathedral, Southwark

3rd July 2018 - by Ellen Teague

“It’s wonderful to see so many smiling faces”, said Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark as he greeted the huge congregation at the Columban Centenary Mass at St George’s Cathedral in Southwark last Saturday, 30th June 2018.

“This is a Mass of Thanksgiving for 100 years of great missionary work and we pray that it will continue in the years ahead” he added. Archbishop Peter concelebrated the Mass with around 20 Columban priests and friends and the congregation numbered more than 850 people from around Britain. It was the biggest ever gathering of the Columban “family” in Britain.

The theme was ‘Sharing Gospel Joy’ and in his homily, Fr Peter Hughes, Director of the Columbans in Britain, paid tribute to benefactors, volunteers and collaborators who “journey with us as a Missionary Society”. He pointed out that the Centenary Pilgrim Altar Cloth on the altar, made up of panels from each of the 16 countries where Columban missionaries serve and carrying signatures of Columbans and friends, is being used at celebrations around the world. “In fact it has been carried across rivers in Fiji, rushed here from Australia this week and will be in use in Ireland tomorrow” he said. There were crowds around the cloth at the end of Mass, studying the panels. He paid tribute to the Irish Columban co-founders, Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr John Blowick. Another John Blowick, a nephew of the founder, was in the congregation.

A special Offertory procession saw the presentation of symbols reflecting key areas of Columban work, introduced by former Columban lay worker Julia Corcoran and received by Fr Tom Ryan. A swaying red Chinese lantern was presented by the Chinese Chaplaincy in coordination with Cultural Exchange with China, representing Columban beginnings as the Maynooth Mission to China. Columban priest Jim Fleming, who worked for several decades in Pakistan, presented a mat and shoes from that country representing Columban commitment to interfaith dialogue. Filipina and Fijian partners celebrated Columban commitment to caring for creation with a plant and a copy of Laudato Si, the environment encyclical of Pope Francis. A Lampedusa Cross was carried by Waling Waling, a migrant domestic workers organisation that the Columbans support. Especially moving was a photo of Columban martyrs over the past 100 years – 23 priests and one Columban sister – and carried up the aisle by members of the Tierney family whose relative Fr Cornelius Tierney died at the hands of communist bandits in China in 1931, alongside Fr Ray Collier whose uncle, Fr Anthony Collier, was killed in Korea in 1950. The bread and wine were carried by Nathalie Marytsch, a Columban lay missionary from Chile and two Columban sisters, Kate Midgley and Anne Marie Smith.

A highlight was uplifting music, led by Chris Olding of Wheatsheaf Music who played the piano and conducted a choir especially assembled for the occasion. Singers and musicians were Columban co-workers plus Columban friends from the Archbishop Romero Trust, CAFOD, Catholic People’s Weeks, Missio, the National Justice and Peace Network, Westminster Justice and Peace and Independent Catholic News. Hymns with a strong Justice and Peace theme included Christ be our Light by Bernadette Farrell, We come to your feast by Michael Joncas and Taste and See by Boyce and Stanley. A Columban hymn composed by Liam Lawton for the 1,400 anniversary of the death of St Columban in 2015 was sung with great gusto.

Post-Communion, Archbishop Peter presented awards to five teenagers who won the top prizes in a Columban Young Journalists Competition earlier this year. Ahlaam Moledina, Esther Watson, Hilda Kagaba and Eleanor Pape had written articles on the theme ‘Migrants are our neighbours’. The winners of the video competition were Francesca Bruno and Mary Gurdin, who filmed at St Chad’s Sanctuary in Birmingham. Introduced by Columban Education worker James Trewby, they were applauded, one of several ovations during a joyful and spirit-filled Mass.

Friends from Pax Christi, the Catenians and the Knights of St Columba supported the running of the huge event and enjoyed the diversity of the gathering. Columban bags containing a Centenary booklet, Far East and prayer cards were distributed, and included were Fairtrade mangoes from a project in the Philippines run by Columban Shay Cullen and donated by his partner in Britain, Forest Feast. At the celebration afterwards a large Columban Centenary cake was cut by Fr Peter Hughes and distributed to groups sharing reminisces in the two cathedral halls and out in the sunshine. Slides of Columban mission over the past 100 years, prepared by Fr Denis Carter, attracted an appreciative audience. Fr Ed O’Connell, a Columban from South London who is back for a break from his mission in Peru, was there in person. In his message to the Columbans on their Centenary Pope Francis asked them “to deepen commitment to finding new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and people”.

Read Fr. Peter Hughes’ homily

Listen to an audio recording of the Mass

Watch videos of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Word