Celebrating 100 Years of Mission to the World
It is truly a joy for the Missionary Society of St. Columban to be celebrating our centenary. We give thanks to God and all those who have supported us. For the past 100 years Columban missionaries have participated in God's mission by responding to the voice of the Spirit who speaks to us constantly through the Church and in the changing circumstances of the world.
A rapid process of change and transformation is the characteristic of the world we live in today. Within this reality Columban missionaries enter into a given cultural context sharing life and Gospel joy with the people among whom we live and serve. We deliberately choose to locate ourselves among those most in need and strive to live in solidarity with them. In the words of Pope Francis we strive to listen to and heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor (Laudato Si' ) . We encourage people, and walk with them on their faith journey in knowing Jesus, and in their struggle to change the unjust structures that keep them poor and on the margins of society. The source of our witness and actions is our faith in Jesus. We desire to mirror in our own lives the pattern of Jesus' life, helping people of all faiths, or no faith, to gain their dignity as sons and daughters of God, loved by God. The way we pastor those in our Christian communities and varied ministries is a witness that can be seen as a welcome and invitation for everyone, especially those who feel excluded. In the communities where we live and work, we assist with the basic human needs of clean water, food, housing, health and education.
No matter where we live on planet Earth we can all experience the drastic changes in climate – the ever increasing number and strength of typhoons, floods, drought and fires. It is most often the poor who are affected by changes in the climate. For many years Columban missionaries have been committed to raising awareness of the ongoing threat of climate change as it is manifested in global warming, access to water and mining. Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato Si'– On Care for our Common Home is invaluable in educating, not only Catholics, but the whole world, about the urgent need to take care of the earth and combat climate change.
Our world today has an interconnected global economy that marginalizes the poor. There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor as the result of unjust structures and unfair trade deals that so often are stacked in favor of what best suits and gives advantage to the richer nations of our world and the wealthy in these nations. There are millions of internally displaced persons, refugees and migrants in our world as a consequence of wars, economic injustice and ecological changes. Columban missionaries accompany those who have had to leave their homes and their countries. We help to build welcoming and supportive communities and advocate for changes in laws so that migrants and refugees are protected from being trafficked and exploited.
As priests, lay missionaries and co-workers coming from different countries around the world, our working together is a witness of what can be for the world.
Pope Francis often speaks about what he calls a "globalization of indifference." He said, "Christians are those who let God clothe them in goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become like Christ, servants of God and others." The Pope prays that God will make our hearts "firm and merciful, attentive and generous, hearts which are not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference." As priests, lay missionaries and co-workers coming from different countries around the world, our working together is a witness of what can be for the world. With the people of the different faith traditions in the countries where we work, people who are predominantly Christian, Buddhist and Muslim, we promote dialogue and strive to build bridges of peace, healing and reconciliation in places where many boundaries divide us and the diversity of languages, cultures and religions can lead to misunderstanding and violence.
Facilitating interchange between local Churches, especially those from which we come and those to which we are sent has always been an integral dimension of Columban mission. The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the church is missionary by its very nature and affirmed Baptism as the basis of the call to be missionary disciples of Jesus. In the words of Pope Francis, "The unity and dignity of the baptismal vocation precedes any differentiation in ministry."
In response to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Columban missionaries became more intentional in empowering the laity within the local churches where we work and inviting lay people to cross-cultural mission as Columban lay missionaries.
We also invite lay people to join us on mission through our overseas volunteer programs (three to twelve months), our mission exposure trips (one to three weeks) and our domestic and international internship programs (up to one year).
Furthermore, we continue to invite lay people to participate in Columban mission as benefactors and supporters. Your financial support and prayers enable Columban missionaries to be sent on mission. In these various ways we all participate in sharing the joy of the Gospel as missionary disciples of Jesus.
China, with the world's largest population and the first mission of the Columbans, has a special place in our history. In recent years we have strengthened our presence in China and engaged in the various missionary tasks that have opened up for us. Furthermore, after almost forty years since Columban missionaries had to leave Myanmar, we are now blessed to have a team of priests and lay missionaries back working there.
God will continue to call young men and women to be Columban priests, lay missionaries and Sisters. As a reflection of the growth of the church in the global south, the majority of new Columban missionaries will continue to come from Asia, South America and the Pacific. Since the 1980s the number of Columban missionaries from these countries has increased. This has been a blessing for us.
Going forward, led by the Spirit of God, Columban missionaries will continue to discern the "signs of the times" to see how God is inviting us to participate in His mission for the life of the world. Inspired by the words of Pope Francis, as church, we go out to the streets, to the outskirts of existence, taking on the smell of the sheep, never tiring to forgive and show mercy, being a church that is poor and for the poor, building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect and goodness, embracing with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, becoming small among the small and poor among the poor.
During our centenary we will in a spirit of gratitude give thanks for what has been; with passion celebrate mission today; with hope look forward to our unfolding participation in God's mission into the next 100 years and beyond. Our celebrations will be an invitation to others to join us on mission as priests, lay missionaries, volunteers, benefactors and supporters.
Fr. Kevin O'Neill, is the Superior General of the Society. He lives and works in Hong Kong.