'Columbans on Mission' Book Praised

8th May 2014 - by Stephen Awre

Columbans on Mission (web750)
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Passionist priest Fr. Nicholas Postlethwaite CP describes Fr. Peter Woodruff’s new compilation book of Columban mission stories as “communion rooted… in today’s here and now”.

Never before have so many stories of Columban mission been put in one book.  Nicholas Postlethwaite, a Passionist priest from Liverpool, read one story each day and received an inspirational uplift to help sustain the rest of the day.  Read his full review below. 

COLUMBANS ON MISSION compiled by Fr. Peter Woodruff

While working as a lay missionary in Manila, Sainiana Tamatawale reflected on advice of St Columban, which she explains became a trigger radically transforming her: ‘A life unlike your own can be your own teacher.’”  Prompted by this Columban challenge Sainiana left the security of her own Philippine culture, struggled to learn a new language and travelled to the other side of the world, to a poor neighbourhood to live in solidarity with a community threatened by terrifying violence and extreme hardship – Rancho Anapra on the Mexican/U.S.A. border.  Returning from a children’s confirmation class one day, she has to pass two men killed minutes earlier by gunfire on her doorstep. “Now, whenever I go out I pray that God will guide and protect me…”  (page 92)

Peter Woodruff compiled his book “Columbans on Mission” (Xlibris 2014) from over a hundred and thirty such stories of missionary commitment, recounted in the story-tellers own words.  Supported by the international Columban missionary framework, women and men, lay and clerical, young and old and from every nationality, describe rediscovering the enthusiasm expressed by the Prophet Isaiah  (cf Pope Francis Evangelii Gaudium (par 4)) – “..Shout aloud and sing for joy…. for the Lord comforts his people and has compassion on his suffering ones.”

Pope Francis in his recent Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, (par 6) laments seeing faces of Christians seemingly living in ways that “seem like Lent without Easter”. The varied and joyful commitment of missionary experiences recounted in Peter Woodruff’s book, has to be a total antidote to any such downcast outlook.

While credit is due to the institutional creativity of Columbans sponsoring an international missionary framework, the importance of this book lies in in its down-to-earth focus on practical day to day missionary encounters which it recounts.  Living as we do in times of fundamental shifts that create disequilibrium and inequality in society – as well as in church – inspiration is needed that reaffirms human dignity and promotes peaceful justice to open glimpses of God’s Kingdom amidst so much confusing contemporary situations. The experiences and stories of men and women in this book, are examples of dialogue and human community pointing to clear ways of respecting the human within ourselves and in one another – and thereby discovering authentic Gospel values.

The stories particularly exemplify how the Church can model the roles of LAY leadership alongside – never in competition with – the role of priests. Inspired by faith-filled pastors, countless Christian disciples stand ready to engage in shared service to the Kingdom of God – pre-eminently alongside the poorest living at the margins. Sainiana accepted Columban’s advice literally “A life unlike your own, can be your own teacher”.  Reading her story and the others of commitment, courage and imagination, will encourage Western readers, at least from a distance, to apply the same advice within all our apparent “securities” of affluent cultures.

The secret of Peter Woodruff’s book is it immediacy.  It represents in practice a dialogical theology rooted in Gospel values.  Helpfully, the author suggests at the end of each story, pointers to Scriptural and theological links with wider Christian traditions.  It is a book with little need for up-front theological “theory”.  The stories speak starkly and powerfully for themselves.

At the end of the book, the author adds a postscript expressing a hope that reading these stories we will be helped to recall and marvel at God’s love alive and active in all our lives.  “Pondering the experiences of these men and women of God, listening to their people, feeling their pain in the face of diverse hardships, collaborating in their projects, learning from their courage faith and wisdom, encouraging and standing with divisions in family and community life, being moved by their love, explaining Jesus’ message to them, being enriched by what they have to say about God and life, putting them in touch with Jesus, through the bible, prayer and the sacraments, helping them come to appreciate themselves as sons and daughters of God, you might reflect on and give thanks for your own experiences of doing something similar among those who make up the web of friendship and solidarity in your own life.” P.367

I read one story each morning and find I receive an inspirational uplift to help sustain the rest of the day.  This book is to do with, without even mentioning it once directly, the Christian tradition we call – the “Communion of Saints”.  But this is no “Communion of Saints” that is BEYOND IN HEAVEN, but  communion rooted, as is the Kingdom Jesus preaches, so very close at hand, if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear in today’s “here and now”.

Nicholas Postlethwaite, CP.

The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats from Amazon and The Book Depository.

Read a synopsis of the book and more about the author, Fr. Peter Woodruff.