Sharing Gospel Joy in the Columban Centenary Year

27th November 2017 - by Katie Fitzpatrick

Columban Superior General, Fr Kevin O’Neill joined Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Fr Peter Hughes, Columban Regional Director in Britain to celebrate the opening of the Columbans Centenary Year in Britain on 25 November. The Church of St Catherine of Siena where the Columbans ministered for eight years, was packed on 25 November with Columban priests, sisters, lay missionaries and co-workers, alongside around 400 partners and supporters.

A joyful Mass on the theme of ‘Sharing Gospel Joy’ heard Fr Kevin, an Australian who is based in Hong Kong, say “as Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si we seek to ‘listen to and heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’”. Standing in front of an altar cloth comprised of 16 sections prepared in the 16 countries where Columbans work, he prayed that “people will continue to respond to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to join us on mission as Columban priests, lay missionaries, sisters, benefactors and volunteers”. A message from Pope Francis to the Columbans was read out, where he encouraged reflection “on the great and good accomplished in these past years” and to see the centenary as an opportunity “to deepen your commitment to finding new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and people”.

A smiling Archbishop Longley expressed heartfelt thanks for the Columban presence in Birmingham Diocese where they have headquarters in Solihull. “We remember Fr Jim Fleming and Fr Ray Collier who were based here at St Catherine’s” he said, “and are grateful for the presence of all Columban priests and lay missionaries who have enriched the life of our diocese”. He mentioned projects with refugees and asylum seekers in the diocese which have had Columban Support, including St Chad’s Sanctuary, Restore and Fatima House.

Most priests in attendance including Columbans sat amongst the people for the first part of the Mass as “a sign of the integration of all the people of God”, sentiments expressed by Fr Peter Hughes. Around 30 priests moved to the altar for the consecration, these included Fr Tony Chantry, the director of Missio in England and Wales who commented afterwards that the Mass was an “inspiring tribute to the wonderful work of the Columbans as well as celebrating the wonderful diversity of the Christian faith”. He referred to bidding prayers spoken in some of the languages Columbans use on overseas mission. Fr Jim Fleming who worked for two decades in Pakistan said a bidding prayer in Urdu. Fr Kevin O’Neill said another in Chinese. Much of the liturgy planning was organised by Mauricio Silva and Nathalie Marytsch, Columban lay missionaries from Chile who have been based in Birmingham Archdiocese for 16 years.

The Offertory procession included a lantern representing the Columban response to God’s invitation to bring God’s light into the word; a red plant representing Columban martyrs who were killed on mission; a green plant representing Columban Care of Creation and a Lampedusa Cross representing solidarity with refugees forced to flee their homelands.

Many religious orders and organisations were represented at the Mass, including Mill Hill Missionaries, White Fathers, Spiritans, SMA, Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, Presentation Sisters, St Louis Sisters and Pax Christi. Lay people included John Blowick, a nephew of Columban co-founder Fr John Blowick and the Tierney family, whose relative Columban Fr Cornelius Tierney died at the hands of communist bandits in China in 1931. He was one of 24 Columbans – 23 priests and one sister – who were killed on mission and are regarded as Columban martyrs. Their photos were displayed at St Catherine’s during the Mass, along with special Columban centenary banners highlighting Columban priorities such as Justice, Peace and Ecology and Inter-Religious Dialogue. A new booklet providing the history of Columban mission in Britain was handed out along with a prayer card from The Prayer Trust.

Co-worker Stephen Awre welcomed the congregation at the beginning of Mass and told them, “you’re a wonderful sight” many responded “thank you”. This reflected the warm relationship Columbans have with their benefactors and partners in Britain.


Ellen Teague