About Us

Who are the Columbans?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28:19-20).

The Columbans are a Catholic missionary society of priests, students and lay missionaries.  Called from 10 different countries, our members form small, multi-cultural communities.  Sent in the name of the Church to announce by deed and word the good news of Jesus Christ, we work in 16 countries around the world.  Solidarity with the poor and working for justice and the integrity of creation shape our lives and our commitments.

Our Mission

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4:18-19)

Crossing boundaries of country, language and culture, the Society has as its specific objectives:

  • To establish the church among peoples to whom the Gospel has not been preached;
  • To help Churches mature until they are able to evangelize their own and other peoples;
  • To promote dialogue between Christians and those of other religious traditions;
  • To facilitate interchange between local Churches, especially those from which we come and  those to which we are sent;
  • To foster in local Churches an awareness of their missionary responsibility.

Our Beginnings

The Society was founded in 1918 by two Irish priests, Fr Edward Galvin and Fr John Blowick, for missionary work in China.  We have close connections with the Columban Sisters who were founded in 1924. In 1988 the Society established the Columban Lay Mission.

Let us be Christ’s, not our own (St Columban)

St Columban, our patron saint, was an Irish monk who preached the Gospel on the European continent. After establishing monasteries in what is now France, Germany and Italy, he died in Bobbio, northern Italy, in 615.

Why Columbans Engage in IRD?

Columban missionaries, called and sent ad gentes (to the nations), from the very beginning of our Society in 1916, have lived and worked among believers from other religions, some for many decades. In the early years, the members of our Society, following the Church teaching of that time, focussed on converting the “pagans” (the language then in common usage) to Catholicism and establishing the Church.

Vatican II heralded a revolutionary change in the Church’s approach to other religions.  Columbans have embraced this teaching on new attitudes and positive relations with believers from other religions.  God was already present and active among peoples and cultures long before we missionaries arrived with the Gospel.  From ancient times, the people to whom we were sent had looked to their indigenous and world religions for moral and spiritual guidance.  In them, they had sought answers to the ultimate questions of the meaning of life, suffering, death, justice and accountability, of origins and destiny and how to achieve it.  Sages and prophets had provided answers which, recorded in sacred texts and living traditions, had shaped the spiritual/religious and moral lives of the people for centuries and even millennia.

Columban missionaries, called and sent on global mission inter gentes (among the nations), have always been at the forefront of the encounter between Christian faith and cultures, Christian faith and other religions, Christian faith and secular society.  We have seen the best and the worst of interreligious relations – from antagonism, and conflict erupting into violence and civil war, to harmonious and mutually respectful relations leading to cooperation and collaboration.  We have learned that the best and most effective way to address the pressing social issues of poverty, injustice and environmental degradation is by harnessing the collective wisdom and energies of the religions and by doing things together with others rather than in isolation.

Columban missionaries find in the followers of the great world religions, including the indigenous spiritualities which often underlie them, signs of the presence and activity of the Word and of the Spirit.  These are most evident in the spiritual wisdom that shapes the lives of the believers, their respect for nature, their hunger and thirst for justice and peace, the quality of their relationships, the integrity and uprightness of their lives, the holy persons they have become and the fruits of sanctity which they manifest.  Human weakness and sinfulness are at play too, as in our own lives, so sifting the “seeds” from the “weeds” requires sustained discernment.

The common testimony of Columbans engaged in interreligious dialogue is that:

  • our lives have been enriched by the spiritual values and religious commitment of the people we have encountered;
  • our horizons have been expanded by insights into the many and various ways that God has entered into peoples’ lives and the vastness and inclusiveness of God’s love;
  • we have been inspired and humbled by the religious dedication and commitment to work for justice by believers from other religions which often exceeds our own; and
  • we have been strengthened in our Columban missionary commitment to the universal significance of Jesus Christ, the universal presence and action of the Holy Spirit and the missionary role of the Church;
  • the many gifts God has distributed among the religions all contribute towards the coming Kingdom of God.

Having learned the importance and value of interreligious dialogue “on the ground”, this apostolate has been incorporated into our missionary lives and activities and into our Society documents and publications:

  • Interreligious dialogue is one of the elements in the “Nature and Purpose of the Society” – “to promote dialogue between Christians and those of other religious traditions” (Constitutions, 102)
  • “Dialogue and Inculturation” is a section in “Aspects of Mission” in our Manual of Policies and Procedures (pp 55-57)
  • General Assemblies review, assess and give direction to our involvements in interreligious dialogue.
  • Columban websites and Columban mission magazines publish stories of involvement in interreligious dialogue.
  • In response to the need for better information, some Columbans have done courses on specific religions—Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam—and training in the theory and practice of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, which they then pass on to others
  • Teaching about religions and training in interreligious dialogue is incorporated into Society formation programs
  • Reflections on interreligious dialogue appear in Columban Intercom

To promote and coordinate this apostolate in the Society, in 2014 the General Council formally constituted the Interreligious Dialogue Network, appointed a Coordinating Committee and approved an IRD Action Plan.

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