The foundation day of the Columban missionaries at Dalgan Park in Ireland on 29 June 2018 was marked by a special Mass and celebration marking the Columban Centenary. Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly SMA, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, was the chief celebrant of the Eucharist as well as Homilist. Here is his homily.
A very good afternoon to all who have gathered - Priests, Sisters, Brothers, Lay Missionaries Co-Workers and Office staff, and family members of the Columban missionaries, for this special day in the life of the Columban Missionary Family.
It seems very strange for missionaries to be gathering at 2.00pm in the afternoon. Customs wherever we worked indicated that we would be safely resting out of the midday sun at this time. Here we are, missionaries returned to Ireland and enjoying a most beautiful spell of fine weather, weather that I am sure reminds many of you of the places you have worked on mission over many years. It is a delight to be here with you this afternoon to share some thoughts about your institute
This is your day of celebration and thanksgiving. It was on the 29th June 1918 that Bishop Thomas O'Dea, Bishop of Galway, formally erected the Columban Mission as a Diocesan Society. You are gathered here today for this moment of prayer and reflection when we celebrate the founding work of your Founders but also of all who have been associated with your Institutes over the past one hundred years. In a special way celebrate, Fr. Blowick , Bishop Galvin and all the early pioneers of the Society.
I was recently present at the Union Day celebrations in Maynooth when the Jubilarians from the different years celebrate their ordination anniversaries. The speaker at the 25th Jubilee spoke about how young he was when he entered Maynooth - just 17 years. And I thought it was probably much the same for each one of us here. That would not happen now! As I look around those who are here today for this celebration - priests sisters, brothers, I realise that we all probably entered our religious institute around that age - 17/18. We left home and as the title of Fr. Neil's book reads on the history and development of the Columbans, it was probably "a mad thing to do".
But we had the support and encouragement that came from family, neighbours and the wider society at that time. This helped us to embark on our journey into religious life. We remember those who supported us, they probably thought we were a bit mad to be leaving Ireland to go to foreign places about which they knew very little and indeed, if we are honest, about which we at that time, also knew very little about.
Reflecting on that support brought to my mind how so much has changed, on a day like today when we reflect on who influenced us to set out as missionaries - was it a cousin or a neighbour who had joined the missionary family or sisters congregation and we followed? That was how the Spirit led us to begin our journey of what we would now call vocational discernment.
Those of you present who joined the Colomban Missionary enterprise as you look back now must view it as an amazing engagement. To think that you would go to the Asia, to China and then other countries to bring the Gospel. Surely a "mad thing to do"!
All of us were a little mad in what we set out to do. We all set out on a journey that would take us to the "ends of the earth" from this small island on the edge of Europe. Mission and faith, belief and hope, a world out there to be understood and to be lived in, in a different way in the light of the Gospel.
We carried with us a certain perspective from our island to distant lands - we were missionaries, we had a self-confidence. We had an assurance because we followed great men and women who had gone before us. They had established the mission stations - parishes, schools, hospitals and communities from great cities to the most remote locations.
Mission stations for you in Asia, for me, it was Africa. We travelled on the coat tails of our missionary grandfathers and grandmothers - we stood on their shoulders. We were blessed to be able to do that.
I am sure you will remember the missionaries who welcomed you when you first arrived on mission? How they welcomed you to join them in the mission work that they were immersed in, delighted that new young missionaries had arrived to continue the work.
More exciting still was that you were sharing with people who had been part of the first movement of your institute. With people who had worked and shared with the founding leaders their vision, hope and dream for the growth of the Kingdom of God.
The last century has been seen one of the most extraordinary journeys in the church's understanding of mission.
Very often, at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century we saw ourselves as bringing cultural values and richness to other cultures. However, we have learned over time that all cultures have value in the eyes of God. We learned through lived experience the beauty, wisdom and the spirituality of those we have touched and have touched us during our lives on mission. We can only hope that those to whom we were sent encountered something spiritual and wise in us!
The book: 'A Mad thing to Do' by Fr Neil Colins is for your Institute a great insight into the development and growth of your institute over the past century up to today. It is a commendable tribute to those who have contributed to the work of the Kingdom of God through the charism of your Institute.
As Missionary Institutes, we have many questions as to how do we move forward? It is part of our nature to continually search out our future. The demographic reality is that Ireland is not going to provide nowhere near the same number of missionaries that it provided in the last century. That phase of our church life in Ireland is slowly drawing to a close.
It is through this reality that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, what matters now is how we live out that reality in Ireland and in the countries where we have worked on mission.
We are helped in our search for answers with the reflections of two significant contributors to the discussion.
The first comes from David Bosch (Mission Theologian): He defined Mission in our time as follows:
"Mission is quite simply the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, gambling on a future that experience would seem to deny. It is the Good News of the love of God, incarnate in the witnessing of the community for the good of the world." David Bosch
This is a powerful statement of what mission is. I put it to you gathered here that in essence that was part of the vision of the Founders of this Institute. That was their vision, they may have been contained or constrained by the social realities of the time. However, drilling down below the surface we come to what true mission is about for them in their time: " Making the Love of God Known".
The second person I make reference to is Pope Francis who has contributed enormously to the understanding of mission during his pontificate.
Pope Francis defines mission in a striking manner in his homily at the canonisation of the Franciscan Friar, Juniper Serra:
During the homily he stated:
"Go out and proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. . go out with the ointment that soothes wounds and heals hearts…mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgive." (Pope Francis, Homily at the Canonisation mass of Junipero Serra, Franciscan Friar who ministered in California in the 18th Century, Canonised September 2015)
I am sure you will agree that the statement of Pope Francis is a powerful and beautiful statement. It has nothing to do with age or stages of life, it is as valid for young as for those of middle or advanced years. It is as valid for each one of us gathered here as it is for the young missionaries of our Institutes. Indeed, our own vocations promotors can present this statement to any candidate and boldly say that this statement sums up what mission is about.
In the papacy of Pope Francis, mission is now more clearly understood as being to the peripheries, to the poor, reflecting accurately the Good News we preach. That is where the Lord Jesus told the disciples to go and he showed them the way, through his ministry, when he was with them.
The question asked in today's Gospel, on the feast of St. Peter and Paul, by Jesus: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" Matt. 16:13. We are asked to witness to what Jesus brought to us - a man from God who went to the periphery, who came to bring the Good News to the poor, that others may also be able to answer the question for themselves. The story of the mission of the Father in Jesus Christ must be continually retold in each generation.
Today, is a time of celebration of mission, celebrating what our founders equally understood, all that we have done and hope to do and set out to do is about going out and proclaiming the merciful embrace of the Father. Our Institutes have been able to do this with the support of family, benefactors and co-workers. Our Institutes from the beginning were "missionary beggars" dependent on the contributions on those of modest means and the poor.
On a day like today it is important we remember - family, friends and neighbours. They funded our Institutes so that our Institutes would be exactly what Pope Francis said - Institutes that would proclaim the "merciful embrace of the Father" through the living out of our charism.
We thank God who has helped us in so many ways and give thanks for all those who participated in our missionary task.
Our missionary task is not over, age is not the issue, each one is continually asked to assess, "how am I proclaiming the merciful embrace of the Father"?
I leave you with that special question for each one to reflect for a moment as we mark this special day in the life of the Columban missionary family.
May the Holy Spirit of the Mission be with our missionaries this day - laity, co- workers, sisters and priests throughout the world called to proclaim the merciful love of the Father.
Reports of the Columban Centenary events in Ireland and England can be found at:
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