Tribute to Fr. Parig Digan

by Guest Contributor

The Columbans in Ireland have written a wonderful tribute to Fr. Parig Digan, who died on 5th March in Ireland. Fr Parig worked in the Columban Region of Britain for two decades.

Fr Parig
Fr. Parig. Image credit:

In 1993 Fr. Parig was appointed to Britain to work in liaison with Asia Desk of the Council of Churches of Britain and Ireland. He was based in London until he moved to the Columban Nursing Home in his native Ireland in 2016.

During his years in pastoral work in the Philippines he would rise long before dawn to read, before preparing for Mass and the day’s work. He became a true expert on South East Asia and on China in particular. His years of study gave rise to several books and innumerable articles in all sorts of journals and publications.

Funeral Homily by Fr. Tom O’Reilly

In one of his writings, Pope Francis says that the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) could be taken as the Christian’s identity card. In the Beatitudes we find a portrait of Jesus Christ and a description of the values, attitudes and behaviour that distinguished his life. Our call as Christians is to reflect the face of Jesus by making our own his values, attitudes and behaviour. Our identity is meant to merge with the identity of Jesus. Today, as we celebrate and reflect on Parig’s long life of 94 years, I think we can say he was well down the road in the fusion of his identity with the identity of Jesus Christ.

A simple lifestyle

The Parig I knew in Britain lived a very simple lifestyle in keeping with the poverty of spirit mentioned in the first beatitude. His room in our London house was quite spartan. He had few material possessions besides his books and the few things he needed for his work. Though he could talk a lot about the latest computers, the computer he used was quite basic and ancient. Before he would think of buying new clothes, he sought ways of mending the ones he had to get longer wear out of them.

Providing back-up service

As a young priest, Parig spent 13 years on mission in the Philippines. But, for most of his life as a Columban, he was asked to provide back-up service for his fellow Columbans and other missionaries on ‘the front lines.’ He was highly intelligent and had a string of degrees to his name, mainly in the area of cultural anthropology and sociology. He didn’t show that great interest in sport but he was interested in the social ramifications of sport for living.

An inquiring mind

His great gift was an inquiring mind thirsting for knowledge. I remember hearing him say that in his early years he decided there would be nothing outside his sphere of interest. That special gift was put to good use in the cause of mission.

A special interest in outreach to China

For 7 years Parig worked in the Pro Mundi Vita Centre in Brussels, an international research and study centre addressing the challenges facing Christian churches. He was in charge of the Asia desk in Pro Mundi Vita. For 10 years he was the Co-ordinator of the Columban Research and Information Service based in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath, Ireland. In that role he painstakingly compiled and constantly updated the Columban personnel statistics. Over the years, he researched many aspects of mission today and had a special interest in outreach to China. He wrote many articles for various journals and published a number of books. His major work was entitled: ‘Churches in Contestation: Asian Christian Social Protest‘ which was published in 1984 and was widely acclaimed by scholars in that field.

Hungering and thirsting for what is right

Parig spent 23 years in Britain where he worked with the Council of Churches of Britain and Ireland, an ecumenical venture, and continued his research to an advanced age. All of Parig’s research could be seen as his way of hungering and thirsting for what is right – that hungering and thirsting for right relationships which is extolled in another one of the Beatitudes.

A gentleness and calmness

Parig had the gentleness and calmness mentioned in the Beatitudes. I never saw him getting angry or being aggressive in his dealings with others. He had no trouble saying what he thought and disagreeing with others, but he always did it calmly and with respect. I also saw calmness in the way he handled adversity. For instance, I remember the car accident he had around 1990 when he was the Columban Research and Information Coordinator, which resulted in the loss of sight in one eye. That was a massive blow for one who spent so much time reading and writing. But Parig faced the situation with calmness, resignation and without complaint, and gradually adjusted to life with his impairment.

Coming to terms with the fragilities of old age

A big part of our identification with Jesus Christ is coming to terms with the fragilities and limitations of old age and entering more deeply into the experience of dying and rising with Jesus. When Parig left Britain in 2016 and came to the Nursing Home in Dalgan, I thought it would be very hard for him to let go of the very structured timetable he had always followed. But again, Parig adapted well and was happy in the Nursing Home. He even used to break into song walking around corridors! In the last few years his memory began to fail. That must have been painful for one who always had such a sharp mind and carried so much information in his head. But Parig was a man of deep faith and I’m sure he saw this as yet another letting go into the hands of a loving God. His death was the final step in his letting go. But it was also a stepping stone to a full identification with Jesus in his risen life. Today we let Parig go to God with gratitude for his long and good life and in the conviction that he is now happy with the One he served so well. Thank you Parig and rest in peace.

Funeral Mass for Columban Fr. Parig Digan