By: Ellen Teague
The Columban Superior General, Fr Kevin O'Neill, joined Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Fr Peter Hughes, head of the Columbans in Britain, to celebrate the opening of the Columbans' Centenary Year in Britain on Saturday. 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 hundreds of 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 that "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 were 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 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 Catherines" 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 Columbans sat amongst the people for the first part of the Mass as "a sign of the integration of all the people of God" said Fr Peter Hughes. Around 30 priests moved to the altar for the consecration and 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 and celebrating the wonderful diversity of the Christian faith." He referred to bidding prayers said in languages the 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 Columban lay missionaries from Chile - Mauricio Silva and Nathalie Marytsch - 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 world; 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, 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 - one a Columban 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 Columban Prayer Trust.
Read more about the Columbans here: www.columbans.co.uk