Columban Fr. Paul Prendergast Celebrates 50th Ordination Anniversary
But first, who is God? God is love.
It is in God’s nature to be a source of life, to create life;
In God there is total self-communication,
for which to happen there must be in God a number of total self-communicators.
Jesus helped us discover that there are in fact three – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This God of infinite love created the universe,
to which we belong and for which we are invited to care.
We evolved slowly and struggled to respond to God’s invitation to live life to the full;
we were inclined to take some wrong turns and still are.
So, God the Father took the loving initiative and sent the Son
who, nearly 2,000 years ago, came among us as Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, a Jew by birth, cultural and religious formation, showed us what God’s love might mean for us.
He invited us into the very life of God as adopted sons and daughters.
So, as God’s children we can journey with God during our time on earth.
As St. Paul says: “… when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, … so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Gal 4, 4-7)
After Jesus died and rose from the dead he spent some time with his followers.
He promised them ongoing support after his departure –
“… when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (Jn 16, 13-15)
The Father with the Son then sent the Holy Spirit to strengthen, enlighten and accompany
the small community of men and women who believed in the risen Lord.
We, as spiritual heirs of that first Christian community,
live in the hope of continuing in God’s love during our time on earth and beyond.
On accepting the invitation to walk with God
we also take on the responsibility to welcome others to journey with us.
We invite them to the faith community that we call the Church, and this we do on basis of Jesus’ teaching:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing. …
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. (Cf. Jn 15, 1-9)
As Jesus chose his apostles, so too in our times, God asks men and women
to act as God’s special agents or missionaries.
Fifty years ago Columban Fr. Paul Prendergast definitively accepted that invitation which led him to Peru as God’s envoy or messenger.
Fr. Paul began in a Lima parish located in a poor part of the city.
He helped people understand and experience God’s love for them –
listening to them, feeling their pain in the face of diverse hardships,
collaborating in their projects, encouraging them,
helping them overcome divisions in family and community life, explaining Jesus’ message to them,
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.
Fr. Paul too has been personally enriched by those with whom he has walked as a friend,
as they too are sons and daughters of God and so reflect his glory.
In the course of this shared journey, Fr. Paul’s people recognised him as “a man of God.”
He helped them walk with God on life’s journey and so they too became men and women of God.
But, to live in God, to share God’s life, we need to be open to moving out beyond our comfort zone,
to love in ways we may not have planned.
And so, Fr. Paul invited a group of parishioners to go on mission to even poorer and more desolate parts of Peru.
Some already knew Quechua, the language of the rural highlands; Fr. Paul and others began to study it in earnest.
For some years a small parish team travelled to a small village in Ayacucho where they stayed for a week or so,
sharing life and faith with the men, women and children of the village.
Moved by this initial experience, Fr. Paul negotiated a transfer to the southern Andes
where he found himself totally immersed in the ancient Andean culture,
and so gradually became fluent in Quechua and learned the ways of Peruvian rural society.
Knowing that God loves us “as we are” and calls us “as we are” to share in God’s life,
Fr. Paul set out to find ways to help a people scarred by foreign conquest
and centuries of colonial rule, a people who had been conditioned
to believe that Spanish ways and language are in some form superior.
He insisted that religious ceremonies be conducted in Quechua;
he preached and taught in Quechua; parish meetings were in Quechua.
He collated Quechua hymns for the parish songbook,
although most parishioners are inclined to learn songs by heart,
as they are unaccustomed to reading in their own language.
Still, many began to learn, as ever more parish work, especially the catechetical work of helping young
and not so young to grow in understanding of our Christian faith, was done through Quechua.
In the parishes of the prelature of Sicuani – Santo Tomás, Checacupe, Tinta and Yanaoca –
Fr. Paul’s Andean friends have come to know him as “a man of God,” a man who helps God draw them into God’s life, a man who lives his life with total confidence in the following words of Jesus:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Mt 11, 25-27)