The Next Generation
In June 2016 I traveled with Columban Fr. Charles Duster to Santiago, Chile, for the ordination of two Columban seminarians, Rafael Salazar and Gonzalo Diaz.
When I spoke with Rafael days before his ordination, he had been preparing and studying with the Columbans for 12 years.
One of the most interesting aspects of a Columban seminarians experience is the FMA, or First Mission Assignment, undertaken prior to ordination. Rafael and Gonzalo both traveled to Korea for their FMA, where they first attended language school and then did mission work in Korea. Gonzalo will return to Korea for his first assignment as a Columban priest, and Rafael will travel to the newly re-opened Myanmar (formerly Burma). This movement of the Columbans around the world speaks to their truly global mission and family, a global community that was reflected on the day of the ordination. Many of the seminarians in attendance were from other mission countries where the Columbans live and work. There were several Fijian seminarians, seminarians from Chile and China and lay missionaries from Ireland along with several priests who came from as far away as Korea to join in the celebration.
The morning of the ordinations, we rose early to board the bus that would take us to the Columban parish where the Sacrament would be celebrated. The bus stopped along the way to pick up the family and friends of Rafael and Gonzalo. Although it was early when we arrived at St. Columban Church, people had already begun to gather and soon filled the church. Many of the people attending were members of the parishes that Rafael and Gonzalo had been working in as deacons. As the Mass started, the priests were preceded by Chilean dancers who performed a native dance. The two seminarians processed in with Bishop Pedro Ossandón of Santiago, followed by 28 priests, most of whom were Columbans. As part of the celebration, witnesses spoke about the faithfulness and readiness of these two men to commit their lives to serving others in Christ's name. The most powerful part of the ordination for me was witnessing the laying on of hands. The faith and the love that the Bishop and each of the 28 priests had for the two seminarians was clearly visible to the congregation. No one was rushed or hurried, and you could feel the warmth and joy as each priest extended their blessing to welcome Rafael and Gonzalo as new members of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. Rafael and Gonzalo then concelebrated the Mass and distributed communion to those gathered. Before the conclusion of the Mass a small group of Mapuche approached and sang in their native tongue a song of thanksgiving and blessing for the new priests. It was wonderful to see the Catholic traditions of ordination woven together with the Chilean culture, yet another example of the Columbans' loving, global family.
The next day began with Rafael and Gonzalo's first Masses, which they celebrated at the parishes in which they have worked for the past several years. Rafael celebrated his first Mass at St. Mathias, another Columban parish in the area, followed by Gonzalo's first Mass back at St. Columban Parish. The Masses were a wonderful way to share the joy of the ordination with the people from their parishes who were unable to attend the day before. The two new priests concelebrated for each other and were joined by other Columban priests. After each Mass the newly ordained priests greeted their parishioners— many photos were taken and hugs given! I was able to really see the love and care that they had for the people of their parishes as well as the love the people had for them.
The final celebration with the two new priests was the Bishop's Mass on Monday. The Bishop came to the Columban house and celebrated Mass with a small group of the families and the visitors who had traveled to the ordination. Though this was the smallest of the Masses celebrated during the weekend, it was still a powerful welcoming by the Columbans of the newest members of the Society.
What impressed me the most about the whole series of celebrations was the camaraderie that the Columbans, the seminarians and the lay missionaries have. There seem to be no barriers to relationships due to age or language, race or country of origin. Boundless love was clearly evident in the community that was gathered. I had not previously met any of the Columban seminarians and only a few of the lay missionaries; my experience with the Columbans has been at the Regional offices in Nebraska and the retirement home in Bristol. While the Columbans in those places are still actively ministering to others and part of a loving community, this environment allowed me to see the younger men of the society, and I saw a glimpse of the future of the global Columban mission. It was so rewarding to see the next generation who will continue the work of the Society.
Frans Lang works in the development department in St. Columbans, Nebraska.