Over the last five years my work in Korea involved visiting parishes to talk about mission and invite people to join in Columban mission. During those visits I inevitably met people whose lives had been touched by Columbans.
Fr. Donal O’Keefe is the director of the Korean Region.
People who had known Columbans in some parish – there were many such persons since Columbans built 129 parishes and worked in so many others – people who had met Columbans in hospitals, at retreats, workshops, seminars; the people ministered to by the Columban Sisters.
And then there are the friends, relatives and family members of our Korean Columban missionaries today. It gave me a new appreciation of the impact of Columban mission on the lives of so many in Korea.
Today a major part of the work is our participation in the cross-cultural missionary outreach of the Korean Church. Korean Columban priest missionaries, lay missionaries, associate priest missionaries and Sister missionaries now work in many countries. This gradual but radical change
from a missionary receiving country to a missionary sending group in Korea has given us a new level of insertion and involvement into the local Church.
The relatives and friends of Korean Columbans are now key people in the Columban family. The Columbans are the only society in the Korean Catholic Church that sends lay missionaries. This new generation of Columban missionaries has introduced us to dioceses in Korea where we had never worked. Our mission education program for personnel going overseas is now in its twelfth year, and some 400 people have taken the course.
Besides the formation and education of missionaries, we are also involved in mission on the ground in Korea, although recent years have seen a reduction in the numbers working in the Region. Columbans are involved in a variety of apostolates including working with persons with special needs, hospital ministry, marriage ministry, retreat works, counseling, spiritual direction, dialogue with religions and researching issues for mission today. The rapid growth in numbers of local Church personnel has given us a new freedom to do these works which the Society has prioritized.
It is foreseeable that in the future our numbers will be smaller. However, the changes which we have undergone during the last twenty years show that we have the capacity to evolve, to take on new missionary challenges.
Over the years people have told us that the presence of the Columbans was a blessing to the Korean Church, but today in particular the Korean Church is blessing the Columbans.
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Columban Mission.