Thirty years ago, the Columbans had a vision of inviting lay people to participate in Columban Mission. It was a prophetic response to the Second Vatican Council that all the baptised are called to mission. As a result, since 1990, single and married couples began to cross the boundaries of culture, language, and creed to live among the poor and marginalised. People left their home country, and leaving behind privileges and professions, they set out to enrich the local churches and be a presence that witnessed God’s love wherever they found themselves.
Over the years, more than 250 lay people have come from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, the Philippines, Korea, Britain, Ireland, the United States, Peru, and our dear Chile. Yes, that’s where Mauricio and I come from. Since we met, in our late teens, while preparing for confirmation, we felt a deep missionary call. This search led us join the Columbans in 2000, and after some period of training, we were assigned to work here in Britain. Our families and friends thought that we were crazy and feared that we had joined a strange cult, with our then two-year-old daughter. All their fears dissipated when they visited us here, six months after we had left Chile and witnessed our happiness.
Our lives and ministry in this country have evolved around sharing Gospel values with those who live on the margins of our society: with refugees and asylum seekers, vulnerable communities and people of other faiths. For the last 12 years, we have been based in Sparkhill, an inner city area in Birmingham. It has a large population of ethnic minorities, mainly of South Asian origin, with a strong presence of Muslims and Hindus. We have devoted our time to build relationships with people regardless of their background and religious traditions. We’ve worked together to improve our community and local environment. One has to marvel when our daily lives are marked by diversity, our dentist is a Sikh, our family doctor is an Irish Catholic, our local Councillor is Muslim, our children’s closest friends in primary school were Hindus.
What power motivates a missionary to change course in their lives, to cross boundaries and to step into the unknown?
As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King and we close the Liturgical year, the readings seem to invite us to reflect on God’s power and authority. Power is a complex word, and many times in our communities it has been associated with non-religious or immoral realities. At times we have been told that as Christians we are called to serve, not to seek power, as if service and power were opposing terms… but are they?
As we reflect in today’s readings we identify three insights that speak of God’s Power and Authority:
Firstly, God’s power and authority as protection and nurturing. The first reading and Psalm 22 both propose to us an image of God as a shepherd tendering the sheep with dedication and care . In the face of Covid 19, how comforting this image is! And particularly the passage in Ezekiel which speaks about the determination of the shepherd to rescue the scattered flock even from cloudy and dark places. God’s power protects, heals, nurtures life and, yes, will rescue us from harm!
Secondly, God’s power and authority as a challenge. Like a shepherd God pastures, offers rest and heals the flock, but God also corrects them. Within God’s authority and power we discover an element of discernment and judgement. The Apostle Paul says, ‘for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death’. We could read here that God’s power navigates through human history, challenging pockets of resistance here and there and eventually conquering what opposes God’s life-sustaining power.
Thirdly, God’s power and authority are participatory and inviting. Maybe the most attractive allegory presented to us comes from the gospel of Matthew chapter 25. It presents us with an apocalyptic image of a supreme celestial court with the Son of Man separating the sheep and the goats, and then the majestic figure of a King summoning those on the right side to join him with words we all would like to hear one day: ‘come, you who are blessed by my Father’. But how did they gain this reward? The readings tells us that they did so by participating and acting within God’s power and authority, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger.
By joining Columban mission as a family 20 years ago, we want to believe that we have immersed ourselves into God’s power and authority,
– to protect and nurture each other as well as the exploited earth,
– to challenge structures and systems which oppress the vulnerable , destroy life and provoke division,
– and to invite others, particularly lay people, to live to the full their own missionary call.
The power and authority of God has moved hundreds of Columban lay missionaries to offer a supportive, challenging and participatory presence in many communities over the last 30 years.
The same power and authority 70 years ago moved the hearts and wills of Fr Anthony Collier and his Columban companions to remain faithful in the face of violence in Korea.
Let us ask God to help us all remain in God’s power and authority as we continue to welcome God’s Kingdom amongst us, particularly at this special – though uncertain – time.