As we look back on 100 years of Columban mission worldwide, here in Britain we give thanks to God for all the gifts and challenges which have been showered on us. At this important moment in our history we commit ourselves with renewed energy to what the future may bring, confident that the God of Mission will continue to inspire and guide us. The Columban centennial is an opportunity, not only to celebrate with joy, but also to discern our small but unique contribution to God's mission in the future. In Britain, our mission has four priorities which are:
- To raise awareness of and elicit support for Columban missions
- To work in solidarity with the poor and the exploited earth for justice, peace and the integrity of creation;
- To promote life-giving relationships between peoples of different cultures and religions
- To facilitate mission for others and the exchange of personnel and resources between Britain and other places where Columbans work.
Columbans have had a missionary presence in Britain for more than sixty years. We believe that our experience on overseas mission broadens our vision of the Church, providing an important dimension to our work in Britain.
Partnership is "our way of being on mission" (2012 Columban General Assembly), and calls us to work alongside others, lay, ordained and Religious.
"… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." Philippians 1:4-5a
We work in partnership with:
- The Columban Sisters - a congregation of missionary sisters inspired by St. Columban, committed to witnessing to God's love and compassion. In many situations around the world Columban priests work closely with Sisters.
- Columban Lay Missionaries are individuals called by God to leave family, culture and country on journeys of presence, witness and service. They make a commitment of a minimum of three years and are at the heart of Columban mission around the world. The program has been running in Britain since 1983, with lay missionaries coming from the Philippines and Chile. They are crucial to our inter-faith apostolate in Birmingham. In addition, lay missionaries have been sent from Britain on mission to different countries where Columbans work.
- Priest Associates - Diocesan or Religious priests who join Columban mission for a period of time, usually six years. The experience proves to be mutually beneficial, with us gaining from their time and effort and them returning to their home churches enriched by their cross cultural mission experience.
In addition, we welcome the presence of lay co-workers, exemplifying the growing awareness of extended partnership in Columban mission.
Migrant and inter-faith work has been a priority. This has included opening a house in East London, engaging with Asian immigrant communities, establishing a presence amongst the Muslim community in Bradford and working to support new and good relations between Muslim and Christian groups in Birmingham.
Columbans have worked in a number of parishes across England and Scotland, including in Liverpool, Birmingham, and London. In 2005, the Columbans were invited to take charge of St. Catherine's parish in the heart of Birmingham City, with particular outreach to migrants and asylum seekers. The doors of St. Catherine's presbytery were opened to destitute asylum seekers and their families, providing accommodation and hospitality. The basement was made available to the City Council as a venue for their work with children excluded from school.
Our General Assembly in 2012 situated the work of the Society under the title of "Called to Communion." Religious communities are faced today with multicultural membership in multicultural contexts, and this reality calls for a re-interpretation of their charisms and the way they serve God's people. We are called into communion with all peoples, with God and with Creation. Our way of life reflects our message and is a sign of the communion that should exist among all peoples.
Pope Francis writes: "In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters."
Columban involvement in interreligious dialogue in Britain goes back many years and has multiple dimensions. It means standing alongside other faiths in times of crisis, being good neighbors and building bridges between peoples of different faith traditions. It calls us to work for justice with asylum seekers and show hospitality to migrants and minority communities.
Work in London has included the founding and support of projects for Filipino Migrant Workers, campaigning against deportations and offering assistance to those in need. This has included the Filipino Chaplaincy, the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers, the Migrant Action Group and Justice for Domestic Workers and Kalaayan.
In Birmingham, interreligious projects that the Columbans have been involved in in recent years include:
- Fatima House: A house of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers, supported collaboratively by the Columbans and other Catholic organizations in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This is run by Columban priests and lay missionaries
- The Communitas Project: A partnership between the local Catholic community and a Muslim organization, aiming to promote wellbeing among elderly people from both communities.
- Refugees Welcome: Offering hospitality to asylum seekers who are required to report to the home office on a regular basis.
- Restore: A project of Birmingham Churches together, supporting asylum seekers and refugees through advocacy, befriending and training.
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews, 13:2)
Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC)
Justice and Peace ministry has been an integral part of the Columban missionary contribution to Britain for more than 30 years. Our priorities include poverty, environmental justice (particularly climate change, extractive industries and access to water), migration, peace and economic justice.
Columbans are known for our work in raising awareness of justice and peace. We have produced videos, such as the "Migrants Mass 2016," "Stations of the Forest," and "Conflict and Climate Change" (collaboratively with Pax Christi and the Movement for the Abolition of War).
Education work includes our popular study guide on Laudato Si' as well as work with young people and educators, helping them to explore the relationship between faith and action. We run a one-year volunteer program, providing formation opportunities for young adults.
"… I want a Church which is poor and for the poor." (Pope Francis)
Raising Awareness of and Support for Columban Mission
As Columban missionaries engaged in cross-cultural mission, we see ourselves as agents of exchange between local churches. In responding to its missionary call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, each local church is asked to give and receive, sharing its gifts and experience and being enriched by the gifts and experience of others.
Prayerful and financial support is invaluable. Without the generous support of our donors Columban mission would not be possible. Weekend parish mission appeals give us the opportunity to thank our benefactors personally. We continue to be overwhelmed by the generous response to our appeals and are enormously grateful for the committed support we receive from people in Britain.
Columbans offer an "Invitation to Mission Program," giving the opportunity for people to learn through experience and encounter. This program is now into its third year, with groups having visited the U.S./Mexico border, Chile and Pakistan. We have hosted a group from the U.S. in Britain.
A Community of Prayer
The Columban mission office in England receives many calls, letters and e-mails requesting Masses and prayers for family members and friends who are experiencing ill health or difficulties in their lives. Specific prayer requests are collated and circulated around the Columban region on a weekly basis.
The Prayer Trust was started in 2000 under the leadership of Columban Fr. Pat Sayles. Having spent years in Peru as a Columban missionary, Fr. Pat is aware of the uplifting power of prayer across the world. Fr. Pat is now based at St. Columban's Solihull.
Thank you for sharing in the celebration of our centenary and for all you do. Perhaps you may feel called to partnership in Columban mission in new ways in the future.
Columban Fr. Peter Hughes is the director of the British region.