By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 October, 2014
Children and young people need to be introduced to this towering figure of Christian heritage of Ireland and Europe.
The Bishop of Down and Connor has expressed the hope that events to mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Columbanus will revive awareness and appreciation of the rich religious and cultural heritage of the Irish saint.
In his homily at Mass at the Catacombs of St Sebastian to open a pilgrimage to Rome in honour of St Columbanus, Bishop Noel Treanor said he hoped the anniversary would also serve to awaken a re-birth of an enlightened understanding of the meaning and significance of faith in Jesus Christ for personal life, for cultural endeavour and for the moral fibre of society.
A year to mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Columbanus in 2015, will be solemnly opened in Rome on Sunday 12 October 2014 with a Mass in St John Lateran Basilica.
The ecumenical diocesan pilgrimage from Down and Connor is in Rome for these celebrations.
The ‘Year of Saint Columbanus’ will be marked by various celebrations and events both in Ireland and across Europe to mark the legacy and significance of St Columbanus.
In his homily in Rome, Bishop Treanor said that in the Down and Connor and in Ireland generally there is need to introduce children and young people to this towering figure of the Christian heritage of Ireland and of Europe.
He said he was a monk and missionary who worked in many regions on this continent of Europe, and that it was Columbanus who first used the phrase “totius Europae” – all of Europe – in his letter to Pope Gregory the Great around the year 600.
For this reason Pope Benedict said of him that “with good reason he can be called a ‘European’ Saint”.
Bishop Treanor recalled that St Columbanus abandoned the world he knew in Bangor and in Ireland – which was then the end of the known world – and set out to re-evangelise a world that had experienced the collapse of the Roman empire.
“His decision to set out on peregrinatio pro Christo required great courage. It effectively demanded the abandonment of self and the spiritual courage of the martyr,” the Bishop stated.
He said Columbanus’ work and mission would encounter many difficulties and challenges, but he did not shy away from engagement and debate with public authority, nor with Church authority, episcopal or papal.
He recalled the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who dedicated his address at his Wednesday audience on 11 June 2008 to St Columbanus.
“St Columban’s message is concentrated in a firm appeal to conversion and detachment from earthly goods, with a view to the eternal inheritance. With his ascetic life and conduct free from compromises when he faced the corruption of the powerful, he is reminiscent of the severe figure of St John the Baptist.”
“His austerity, however, was never an end in itself but merely the means with which to open himself freely to God’s love and to correspond with his whole being to the gifts received from him, thereby restoring in himself the image of God, while at the same time cultivating the earth and renewing human society.”
St Columbanus was introduced to that tradition in the scriptures in monasteries in in Ireland.
He may have spent time in Clonard by the Boyne in Co Meath. He lived and studied in Cleenish, Co Fermanagh and at Bangor monastery, on the southern shore of Belfast Lough, whence he departed with disciples as a wanderer for Christ.
“That peregrinatio pro Christo took him and his followers over water and land,” the Bishop explained.
“From the start it was a risk laden journey into the unknown. From various sources including his own writings and from the Vita Columbani abbatis discipulorumque eius by Jonas of Susa, the trace of his work and monastic foundations are known to us.”
He said the names of places such as Annegray, Fontaine, Luxeuil, St Gallen, Bregenz, Milan, Bobbio and many other places resound with his memory.
St Columbanus died in Bobbio in 615. He did not reach Rome. And so the this Jubilee Year of the 1,400th anniversary of his death will be launched on Saturday evening in Saint John Lateran Basilica, caput et mater, the head and mother Church of the universal Church.
According to Bishop Treanor, “Columbanus’ monasteries were centres of excellence and hubs of progress in many areas of human endeavour, disciplines and trades as well as in the spiritual and religious realms.”
He said for this reason it was appropriate to salute today the many academic, cultural and religious initiatives which will be undertaken in the course of the forthcoming year to mark and revive the memory of St Columbanus.
These include the seminars organised by the Columban Fathers at Dalgan Park, Navan.
Initiatives launched by the North Down Borough Council aided by the EU Regional Development Fund and the initiatives and events being organised by the Network of the Friends of Saint Columbanus in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
Addressing his fellow pilgrims, the Bishop of Down and Connor thanked them for taking part and making it happen.
He said the pilgrimage would enable them to join with fellow pilgrims from other countries where Columbanus lived, missioned and left his mark as monk, missionary, author, pilgrim and builder, as one who shaved and linked faith and culture.
The Church of Ireland Rector, Canon Ronnie Nesbitt from Bangor Abbey, will deliver the homily on Tuesday 14 October as part of a Liturgy of the Word in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome.
The full itinerary of the pilgrimage to Rome:
Thursday 9 October 2014
Celebration of the Eucharist in the Basilica of San Sebastiano Mass from the Common of Martyrs
Celebrant: Most Reverend Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor
Friday 10 October 2014
Celebration of the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Basilica Votive Mass of Saint Peter
Celebrant: Most Reverend Kieran O’Reilly SMA, Bishop of Killaloe
Monday 13 October 2014
Celebration of Eucharist in the Lower Basilica, Assisi Memorial Mass of Saint Francis
Celebrant: Monsignor Peter O’Reilly PP VG, Enniskillen
Tuesday 14 October 2014
Liturgy of the Word, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Celebrant: Most Reverend Noel Treanor Bishop of Down and Connor
Homilist: Canon Ronnie Nesbitt, Rector, Bangor Abbey
Wednesday 15 October 2014
Memorial Mass of Saint Benedict and Saint Columbanus, Montecassino
Celebrant: Very Reverend Joseph Gunn, PP Bangor