Columban Missionaries in the 21st Century

February 15, 2010

Columban lay missionary Agnes Jeong Bok Dong prepares food for food pantry shelves in a Chicago parish.

When Christian missions started, Jerusalem was the center of the world, and everywhere else was regarded as “the ends of the Earth.” As recently as 50 years ago, the world could be divided into mission-sending countries and mission-receiving countries. Today, the Church is everywhere. So, today, the center is everywhere, and everywhere is at “the ends of the earth.”

The primary phase of mission, as defined by the Second Vatican Council (Cf. Ad Gentes, the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, paragraph 6), is almost completed. We now move into a new phase of mission in which what we used to call mission-receiving countries are now mission-sending countries as well.

Columban Father Gerry Dunne with choir members at a Korean parish in Canoga Park, California.

Our world is a world in motion. Never has there been such a movement of people as millions migrate from country to country in search of a life where they can work, live in peace and raise their families with dignity. The United States has been accustomed to this movement from its beginnings. People of all religions and backgrounds fled persecution and poverty and started a new life here.

Over the last 200 years American parishes have received waves of immigrants. The process continues, but the German, Italian, Polish and Irish immigrants of the 19th and 20th centuries are being replaced by Hispanic, Asian and African migrants. In addition, Western Europe now must cope with millions of migrants from other continents.

Columban mission is responding to today’s needs with migrant apostolates in such diverse places as Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Taiwan and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Women who work in factories in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, are visited by Columban Father Vince McCarthy. The Columbans oversee a parish in Anapra, a rural area west of Juárez, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition, the agents of mission have also changed. Columban priests now come from such diverse countries as Fiji, Ireland, Tonga, Peru, Chile, Korea, the United States and the Philippines.

A further example of this transition can be seen in our Columban lay missionary program. Today, U.S. lay missionaries work in Chile, and Korean lay missionaries work in the United States. The Philippines sends missionaries to Pakistan while Fijians work in Korea. Columban lay missionaries also crisscross the globe.

We believe the risen Jesus is as alive in all of them as He was in Paul and Barnabas on their journeys.