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The Magazine of the Missionary Society of St. Columban

February 2011

Interreligious Dialogue A Quest for the Sacred

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A Quest for the Sacred A

s someone who was born in Northern Ireland in 1967, one year before the outbreak of what is referred to as “the troubles,” I am all too aware of the heavy toll that can be demanded when dialogue is absent.

Over those years in Northern Ireland, there were too many funerals celebrated for the victims of violence; too

many mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, brothers and sisters denied the opportunity to share their lives with family and friends. Too many people had their lives cut too short. What caused the troubles in Northern Ireland? The causes, both direct and indirect, were so numerous that it is impossible to pinpoint only one. However, if we ask a different question we might cast a little more light on the topic at hand. Why did it take so long to begin the process of resolving the problems of Northern Irish society? The answer to this question is much clearer than the first question we posed. The refusal, at all levels of society, to dialogue both exacerbated and prolonged the body and soul destroying violence of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. When, eventually, dialogue was entered into by a few brave souls, it became the catalyst for overcoming years of bigotry, sectarianism, injustice and violence. In short, dialogue was the answer to the Northern Ireland question. The role of dialogue, however, is to be found not solely at the dizzy heights of international disputes and major national conflicts, but also on the more mundane levels of life. There is a role for dialogue in the smaller, but no less important, dramas

In So Many Words

of our everyday lives such as important family decisions,

By Fr. Eamon Adams

unforeseen problems that can arise between husband and wife. In short, dialogue provides the firm foundation upon which the glorious cathedral of honest communication is built. Although dialogue by no means guarantees a solution

Through interreligious

dialogue we learn not only about our brothers and sisters of other faiths but also about our own faith.

to our problems, we can be sure that a lack of dialogue will inevitably make things worse. Without dialogue we are destined to fall ever deeper into the abyss of hopelessness that so often leads to physical and emotional violence. Dialogue is always good, while lack of dialogue is, at best, precarious. This issue of Columban Mission focuses on one form of dialogue, interreligious dialogue. Although it is true that interreligious dialogue can be a complex and demanding task, at its core lies a simple truth—it is good to dialogue. Through interreligious dialogue we learn not only about our brothers

and sisters of other faiths, but also about our own faith. Through dialogue we are led into that sacred space that lies within each of us, and, in turn, we are led to stand together as witnesses to the sacredness of the natural world and to each and every person within our world. Interreligious dialogue is a quest, a quest for the sacred. Fr. Eamon Adams lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.

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Why go to Pakistan? Moving Forward in Hope By Sr. Roberta Ryan

“Freely, you have received, freely give. Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live.” This hymn, along with the awareness that we are called “to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God,” has inspired me down through the years. When I went to Pakistan, after having been on mission in Korea for over 20 years, some of my friends were celebrating their early retirement! Many thought that I was crazy to be begin at the bottom again, to face the challenge of learning yet another language and culture, this time in a country where Islam was the dominant faith. Yet, to me, it was simply a matter of following my heart and our missionary call that invites us to enter into the dialogue of life with people of other cultures and faiths. Yes, there is the searing heat to contend with in Pakistan where winter temperatures average 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) and summer 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). The food is hot and spicy. The poverty is stark, and the needs are great. In addition, three months of language study left me confused 6

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and inarticulate. My early utterings and mutterings required a high degree of intuitive interpretation on the part of any listener, while many found my signs and gestures far more intelligible! Missionaries have personal experience of what it is like to be a stranger in a land where often our physical features and mannerisms mark us as different. Standing in the queue in Immigration, I found

It is in the waiting for the tea to be made, and in the drinking of it, that so much of life is shared.

myself in the line for ALIENS! It is not a comfortable feeling to be on the outside.What changes this perception is the experience of being welcomed and included which often happens through the warmth of unexpected gestures of acceptance and friendship, such as a smile, a handshake or an offer to help. In Pakistan, as in Ireland, hospitality centers around a cup of tea, or chai, as it is called in Urdu. The leaves and water are boiled together, a large quantity of sugar and a good drop of milk are added and the boiling process continues until the right color and flavor is achieved. It is in the waiting for the tea to be made, and in the drinking of it, that so much of life is shared and questions raised and answered. “Why have you come? Where is your husband? How many children have you raised?” When people hear that Sisters do not marry, they are absolutely flabbergasted for in the Muslim way of life it is the purpose of women to bear children. The dialogue has only just begun.... Sitting with both Christian and Muslim women in moments of deep joy at a wedding or a birth, or in the sadness of an illness or death, have been privileged moments of grace. God uses both the happy WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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and the painful experiences in life to crack the protective shells we wrap around ourselves and to break through the barriers that divide us. Except in the most modern cities, Muslim women keep a low profile and are rarely seen in public. When they do venture out they are usually covered in a burkah, a head-to-foot mantle and veil. Few women work in restaurants, shops or the civil service. The men also go to the market to shop for vegetables and daily family needs. Christians and other minorities often find themselves on the fringes of society because of poverty and WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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social discrimination. They value the presence and active support of missionaries who work on their behalf and for the common good of the wider community. I am often asked by those at home, “What is the point of going to Pakistan when 97% of its 140 million people are Muslim, and the Christian community is so small?� I believe the need for dialogue with non-Christians becomes more evident when we reflect on the fears and prejudices that have been compounded by such events as 9/11 in New York, 7/7 in London and the situation today in the Middle

East and Iraq. Dialogue is a way to build bridges so that we can move forward in hope. In welcoming Christ in the stranger, I am drawn ever deeper into the heart of God, the Maker of us all. CM Columban Sr. Roberta Ryan lives and works in Pakistan where the Sisters still are dealing with the aftereffects of the flooding.

More information about Sr. Ryan and her work in the wake of the flood can be found at

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Ecumenical Evangelization at Naleba Voices Raised in Song Cross Barriers By Fr. Frank Hoare Preacher Apakuki proclaims the Word at Naleba.

“We didn’t realize that they were this good.” “We will have to invite them back here again so that more people can be informed and attend.” These were some of the reactions of the IndoFijian Catholics in Naleba, Fiji, at the end of a recent evening of evangelization and hymn singing. The group that amazed them was a group of Fijian Methodists from Korowiri, Labasa, that played Indian instruments (harmonium, drums and more). One of the best of these singers was an eight-yearold Fijian boy who played the harmonium and sang like an expert.

The Idea

The Methodist group is led by a lay preacher named Apakuki who preaches very well in Hindi. He has been evangelizing among the Indo-Fijian people throughout Fiji for many years, and his singing group, of which he is also one of the leaders, is a great attraction because of the sessions they organize. I had heard this group sing and preach in Vunivau, Labasa, a few months earlier at an evangelization program organized by the Methodists there. I was very impressed by the excellence of the singing and by the way that Apakuki

could give fitting examples of IndoFijian thinking and behavior in his preaching. He had the listeners smiling and laughing at some of his expressions which captured IndoFijian attitudes so well. At that time, I was also encouraging the Indo-Fijian Catholic community in Naleba to learn Fijian hymns and sing at least one at every Sunday worship service. This was something we used to do years ago but had lapsed recently. Even though only two or three indigenous Fijians attend Hindi Mass at Naleba, the second reading is always read in Fijian and Fijian prayers of the faithful are encouraged. To have one or two Fijian hymns as well would assure them of their belonging to the community and would connect the Naleba Catholics with the majority indigenous Catholics of Fiji.

Persuading the Community

A Fijian child sings in Hindi with the group at Naleba.


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I suggested inviting the Methodist group to Naleba for a joint evangelization evening to which people of all races and religions would be invited. The Catholic community was a little hesitant at first, not wanting to give

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the impression that all Christian Churches are the same. I explained that the topic for preaching would be understanding and respect between all races in Fiji for the sake of peace and progress in the country. They saw then that Fijians singing Hindi hymns would be a living example of this, and they agreed to host the session. The Indo-Fijian Catholics also came together to practice two Fijian hymns which they would sing on that night. On Friday July 23, 2010, I picked up some of the members of the Methodist group at their home and loaded their sound system and instruments into the van. The other members of the group and some supporters traveled to Naleba in a mini-van. The shed was full of both Indo-Fijians and Fijians from the area. Most of those present were Christian but some Hindus and Muslims were there too.

The Program

The local Naleba group began with a Hindi and Fijian hymn. Then the Korowiri group sang two hymns in Hindi. Apakuki asked one of the Indian women to read Ephesians 2:14-16, and then he preached on

Indian and Fijian sing together at Naleba

that text. He emphasized St. Paul’s idea that we must put on Christ, and then we must live a completely new life, different from the natural group instincts which divide us. After his preaching, the listeners were invited to go for healing prayer if they had any needs. Two groups prayed in Hindi—one for men and one for women. The third prayed in the Fijian language. Each group was in a separate room nearby. After some more hymns, Fr. Frank Hoare, assistant priest at Naleba and Labasa, preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Lk. 10:25-37. Here Jesus pointed out that, while we might think our community superior to others, a person of another community might be a more genuine witness to God’s compassion and might show us the way to eternal life. This warning alerts us to be open to God speaking to us through people of other races and religions.

The Learning

A man participants in the prayer program.

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The Korowiri group’s example of crossing barriers of language and culture was pointed out a number of times that evening and the Indo-

Fijians had to admit that they had not made a similar effort. In her statement of thanks, Mrs. Deo said, to laughter, that she could speak Fijian—two words of it i.e. bula (hello) and vinaka (thanks). But she added that the night’s program had shown how an effort must be made to understand other languages and cultures. Even when the formal program, which lasted almost two hours, finished, the singers, especially the Fijians, continued to thrill the crowd with different styles of Hindi hymns. No one seemed to want to go home, and it was with difficulty that I managed to convince the people traveling with me to finally leave at 11:00 p.m. Food was provided for the Korowiri visitors, and tea and refreshments were offered to all who attended. It was the first time that our Catholics had experienced something like this. We must repeat it again soon, and I feel sure an even bigger crowd will be in attendance. CM

Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.

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Connecting to Country Opportunities Abound for Interfaith Dialogue By Anne Lanyon “Country” is a word that means different things to different people. Australia is a new country now populated by people from hundreds of overseas countries. But for the first Australians, “country” means something much deeper, and all Australians have much to learn about what it is to be a person of the land. This is an opportunity for interfaith dialogue, especially in a multi-religious urban setting. Australia has hundreds of Aboriginal countries. Aboriginal woman Oomera Edwards explains that she is from Darkinjung Country, her spirit home. To her people it is spiritual being. As spiritual beings, we are custodians of country. We need to be disciplined and honorable beings, and this requires a lifetime. When you mature, you see the whole world and concepts at deepening levels, so you respect more. Aborigines over eons learned to sing and talk to the country in the language of that country. Connections with country include a web of relationships through kinship systems. We need to be in tune with the whole web of natural relationships, but the main actor is country itself. We are bit players! 10

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The steps to connecting to country are about firstly understanding that such a relationship is possible. Find a place in the land where you feel comfortable. Just sit and listen to the birds, the bush and feel the wind. This takes you out of your chatterbox head. You’ll feel the country. You’ll go out of your head and into the stillness of body! This lesson on Aboriginal spirituality from Oomera was part of a series of seminars in Sydney organized by the Faith Ecology Network (FEN) on the theme “Earth: Our Common Home.” Over the three sessions, people from Anglican, Buddhist, Baha’i, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Uniting Church traditions spoke about teachings on what most call Creation. At these seminars, the dialogue also included environmental activists. At other events organized by FEN, ecologists, academics and professional experts have been included as well as people of no particular faith. By engaging in this form of listening and learning, the presence of God in different ways has been brought to the attention of the participants. The Faith Ecology Network began in 2003 when an interfaith conference

on the theme “Wonder and the Will to Care” was organized by the Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice. Since then a public event has been held annually on a common area of interest: water, climate change, food. A small planning group does most of the organizing with the administration remaining with the Columban Mission Institute. Sharing mutual appreciation of religious traditions regarding ecology is one of the aims of FEN. The other is to discern and foster religious reasons for advocacy about care for the earth. The network operates through an e-group where members from across the state and beyond exchange information and insights with openness and in a non-confrontational way. Through hearing about the activities of other groups, there is further building of networks and learning from others’ perspectives. There is great religious and cultural diversity with about ten faiths represented. Members feel supported and nourished in their common interests. The message about faith and ecology is getting out to many groups, including secular groups, and other organizations. And it is reaching around the globe! WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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FEN members (Columban Fr. Charles Rue front left and Anne Lanyon second front right) on a bush walk at North Head Sanctuary in Sydney Harbor

Pope John Paul II called all people to an ecological conversion and this has been reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI. Oomera talks about it in an Aboriginal way: Australians have an opportunity to begin learning about this land and to eventually find a place of belonging within it. This process of connecting will be different for each individual and it will take time, but eventually all Australians will become people of this land in the proper sense. We should not be surprised to realize that connecting to country and ecological conversion are the same thing in different languages. Through the FEN activities, many people from different faiths have been able to articulate for the first time what “country” means to them. The ongoing challenge for those already on this journey is to then engage members of our own faith communities in this crucial mission. CM

An interfaith group sharing ideas An interfaith group sharing ideas

Anne Lanyon is the Coordinator of the Columban Mission Institute Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice. To learn more about FEN, visit


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People “yarning” (talking) around the campfire in the country

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Fr. Pat McCaffrey March 18, 1944- May 18, 2010

The Celebration of the Life and Death of a Great Christian Missionary Reflecting on the Mission of Jesus

By Fr. Tom O’Reilly


n January 1979, Fr. Pat McCaffrey and I arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, as the advance party for a new Columban mission in Pakistan. We wondered what our mission would mean in a country where an estimated 97% of the population was Muslim. We did not understand it in terms of converting Muslims to Christianity, nor were we satisfied in seeing ourselves merely as pastors of

small Christian communities, who can easily be marginalized in an Islamic state. We were searching for an understanding of mission that would in some way integrate the care of these Christian communities with outreach to the wider Muslim community. We were convinced that, whatever the form of our mission, it must always reflect the mission of Jesus Christ.

There was something very Christ-like about Fr. Pat’s mission in life and death. He worked tirelessly and selflessly for the realization of God’s dream.


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In May 2010, Fr. Pat died in Pakistan after many years of missionary commitment there. I attended an interfaith memorial service for him in Bradford, England, where Fr. Pat had spent four years working to build bridges between peoples of different cultures and religions. He was a founding member of the Columba Community, an ecumenical Christian group in Bradford, which meets weekly to explore ways of building those bridges and to support each other in this challenging work. On the eleventh day of each month, conscious of the tragic events at the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, on September 11, 2001, they meet with people from other religious traditions to pray for peace in a world often divided by cultural and religious differences. At their June 2010 meeting, some seventy people gathered to remember Fr. Pat who had touched WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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Fr. Pat speaks with the local Muslim priest (1984).

their lives deeply. The meeting took place in the Muslim Khidmat Center. Representatives from eight different religious traditions (Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahá’í and Pagan) prayed for Fr. Pat in prayers of their own tradition. People told stories of how they met him WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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and how he touched their lives. A woman who confessed that she did not belong to any faith tradition spoke of how Fr. Pat lit up her center for refugees and asylum seekers whenever he walked in. After the prayer service, we shared food provided by those who came for the memorial.

Sitting in the midst of all this, I felt I was getting a clear answer to those initial questions we had in Pakistan about the meaning of Christian mission among peoples of different faith traditions. I had the sense that I was experiencing something of the Kingdom of God, which was at the heart of Jesus’ mission. That Kingdom is about the realization of God’s dream for our world. It is a power at work to bring about a situation where people—irrespective of race, culture or religion—can live together as brothers and sisters in one human family, the family of a loving God. Jesus had a passion for that dream, and He died to bring it about. He spoke of His lifting up on a cross as a moment for gathering all people. There was something very Christ-like about Fr. Pat’s mission in life and death. He worked tirelessly and selflessly for the realization of God’s dream. He used his natural gifts for engaging people and his great ability to converse in six languages to bring all kinds of people together and lead them in building friendships of mutual understanding and respect. And Fr. Pat’s death was an occasion for a gathering of people in Bradford who wanted to come and remember one who had guided them in the ways of peace. It was a truly remarkable celebration of the life and death of a great Christian missionary. CM Fr. Tom O’Reilly lives and works in England.

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An Interfaith Pilgrimage Encountering the Other By Fr. Frank Hoare


olumban Fr. Pat McCaffrey had pop star status in Labasa parish in Fiji. While he served the Catholics in that community for over ten years, the Hindus and Muslims in that area also held him in high regard. Many people knew and loved Fr. Pat because of his friendliness, his great memory for people and his untiring practical help. He was a fine speaker of Hindi and was often invited to speak at functions and festivals. Fr. Pat’s commitment to interfaith dialogue as a means of promoting understanding and unity among all the people in Fiji was unwavering.

Reclaiming the Spirit of a Great Missionary

Fr. Pat died of a heart attack in May 2010 in Pakistan, far away from Labasa, Fiji. He had returned to Pakistan from Fiji only 18 months previously; thus the people of Labasa were shocked by the news. Many tears were shed. A large congregation attended a memorial Mass in his honor and many remembered and prayed for him. Fr. Pat McCaffrey


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Sikh priest’s wife reading from the Guru Granth Sahib

We decided later to organize an interfaith event in his memory so that his spirit and work could continue in his first place of mission. I contacted the leaders of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities in Labasa. They welcomed our proposal to bring a group of Catholics to each place of worship in turn on a Saturday to inquire about their beliefs and practices.

Walking in Prayer

On Saturday August 8, 2010, after morning Mass, a group of about 70 Catholics, young and old, set out from our church praying and singing hymns through the town. Among the elderly members of the group, one woman named Losana—who has an arthritic hip—needed a stick to help her along, and Mrs. Nair had her granddaughter to lean on. Some of the young boys vied to lead with the banner announcing the pilgrimage. A young man, Tevita, had prepared a booklet on the life and death of Fr. Pat to distribute to the religious

leaders we met and to the adults who walked in the pilgrimage.

Sangam Temple

Our first stop was the South Indian Sangam temple. We left our footwear at the entrance. The temple committee president and priest welcomed us. I assured them that we had all abstained from meat and fish that day, an important condition for visiting a Hindu temple. They explained the need for self-purification before entering the temple dedicated to Vishnu and Lakshmi. Then they explained the meanings of the statues of the guardian gods at the door of the temple, as well as the statues and pictures of gods and goddesses inside. The main images that dominated the central sanctuary were of Vishnu and Lakshmi. We then listened to a small group of Hindus singing a devotional hymn with accompanying instruments. Our hosts asked us not to sit along the main axis from the door

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to the sanctuary as this is believed to be a pathway for spiritual energy. Some devotees, wanting a blessing before beginning a new project, brought offerings of fruit and sweetmeats. The temple priest offered these while waving a lamp in front of the statues and chanting prescribed sacred verses. Our group asked many questions: the significance of the cow to Hindus, why the images of gods and goddesses are depicted with four arms, the financial maintenance of the temple, the main festivals that are celebrated in the temple, and the spiritual experience of Hindus. Before we left, our hosts invited us to enjoy the tea and sweetmeats they had prepared for us in their refectory. They explained that many poor people are fed there for free each day.

A Sunni Muslim Group

We then proceeded to the headquarters of the Vanua Levu Sunni Muslims, a complex of buildings. I had heard that this was a breakaway group from the main Sunni Muslim mosque in town. The complex included rented shop and office space, a mosque and a very large hall upstairs to which we were taken. The president of the organization and the maulana (priest), who came from India, spoke to us. They stressed that their organization is connected to organizations in India and that they refuse to have any relationship with Muslims who practice violence. They hinted that the main mosque in town is tainted by links with aggressive overseas groups. We could sense some intra-religious disagreements under the surface here.

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Hindu priest with statues of Vishnu and Lakshmi at Sangam Temple

Our group was interested in asking questions especially about the status of women in Islam but after a few queries we had to leave to continue our journey.

The Sikh Hostess

We retraced our steps through the main street of the town praying and singing hymns to some bemused looks from passers by. We reached the Sikh Gurudwara (temple) at 1:00 p.m., about one hour behind schedule. The Sikh priest’s wife, deputizing for her husband who had been called away, received us. She was a little nervous and had a mobile phone handy in case we needed to phone her husband with a difficult question. Leaving our footwear outside, we put on cloth headgear entering the temple as a sign of respect for the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture. This large book sits on a central raised platform covered with cloths. Our hostess gave a brief history of the Sikh community mentioning that there were ten gurus (teachers).

The scriptures consist mainly of teachings of the first five gurus. The tenth guru, Govind Singh, told the community that from then on the Guru Granth Sahib would be their only teacher. Thus Sikh worship consists of prayers, devotional hymn singing and readings from the scriptures with explanations of its meaning and application. Sikhs emphasize honesty, hard work and hospitality. The men do not cut their hair but wear it in a turban. All Sikhs wear an iron bracelet symbolizing their dedication to their faith and a ritual dagger to show that they are prepared to defend their faith with their lives. After reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, our hostess treated us all to some sweetmeats which she had prepared before our coming. She assured us that anyone would be welcome to their weekly Sunday worship. After concluding our visit with the Sikhs, we went to our own church compound nearby to eat a vegetarian lunch while we discussed what we had experienced that February 2011

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morning. After lunch we assembled in the church to remember Fr. Pat in prayer. We reiterated the purpose of our pilgrimage: to understand and respect other religions and to learn from their devotion so as to practice our Catholic Christianity more keenly.

The Guru-Led Temple

We then set out for another South Indian Hindu temple. Unlike the committee-run Sangam temple, this temple is governed by Rajesh, a guru aided by his priests and disciples much as a Catholic parish is led by a parish priest and a parish council. As we arrived, we met poor people coming out of the temple with rations of rice and food. The guru explained that this temple is dedicated to the mother goddess, worshipped under various names and forms—Durga, Kali, Shakti, etc. Images of the planets there are also propitiated by devotees so as to reduce their evil influence. The guru explained that Hindus believe that the sounds of bells ringing and drums being

The mosque’s president with the Maulana speaks to the Catholic group.


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Some members of the Catholic group seated in the Sikh Gurudwara

beaten, together with the smell of incense, the waving of lights and the chanting of mantras all combine to produce divine energy. He said that Hindus should visit a temple once a week to pray and that they fast and abstain from meat on whichever day suits them to attend. He explained that the red mark on his forehead was to help focus his mind on prayer. He said that everything which contributes to human life is worshipped and held sacred: water, soil, trees, plants and animals. I asked how he became a priest and guru. He said he was a young teacher of the Tamil language when a visiting guru asked if he would like to be a priest. He said yes enthusiastically. He was then sent to south India for training and was accepted by the guru as a disciple. On his return to Fiji, Rajesh served as a priest for 12 years in the Labasa Sangam temple. His wife often complained bitterly to him because his stipend was hardly enough to live on, but Rajesh urged her to believe in grace. Because of differences among the Sangam committee members Rajesh thought of leaving Labasa. His guru told him not to desert his disciples but to set up a temple of his own. Rajesh consulted his

disciples, got the support of some Hindu business people in Labasa and built the temple six years ago.

The Result

We Catholics then dispersed, after more sweetmeats, to find our various ways home. The pilgrims were happy and inspired by the devotion of our non-Christian brothers and sisters. Some said that they would recount their experiences to others in their prayer meetings. We felt that we had continued the work of Fr. Pat McCaffrey in a way he would have approved. We now hope to follow up by inviting leaders from these religions, on the occasion of their major festivals, to speak to our congregations after Sunday Mass. We will also work with them on how together we can serve the poor—something we clearly have in common. CM

Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.

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Transcending Religious Affiliation Finding the Common Denominator By Maria Franco

The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach is a ministry of The Missionary Society of St. Columban in the United States located in Washington, D.C. The CCAO invites people to join in mission through our Advocacy Internship Program. One of our interns, Maria Franco, an American University graduate student studying interreligious dialogue, shares what she learned about interreligious dialogue through the Columban experience.


ialogue has many forms, but in essence it is the opportunity to have an enduring conversation among people of diverse perspectives and life experiences in a common search for truth. Sometimes that happens in a guided space such as a classroom or small group discussion. Other times it is a dialogue of life which occurs in the sharing of life’s daily joys and struggles. Sometimes the dialogue occurs as a result of a shared objective like bringing justice and peace to community. Long before interreligious dialogue became a field of study or formal practice,

Fr. Liam O’Callaghan at the CCAO office.

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Columban missionaries by the nature of working in predominantly non-Christian contexts have through a spirit of inclusion, harmony, and tolerance fostered meaningful relationships across faith lines. One example of a Columban living and working towards interreligious dialogue is Fr. Liam O’Callaghan, who has worked in the Archdiocese of Lahore, Pakistan, for almost ten years. He has worked in schools, hospitals and humanitarian relief efforts which brought Christians and Muslims together to share common life experiences.

His experience led him to research the value of dialogue as a means to liberate people who are economically poor and socially marginalized. He found great hope in this form of communication and experienced firsthand the transformative potential of Christian-Muslim dialogue within a country overwhelmed by fear and conflict. Fr. O’Callaghan’s work stressed the importance of reflection and the need for deeper understanding of the individual and his or her basic human needs before making assumptive conclusions. His work also illuminated how dialogue can encourage the pursuit of justice, peace and dignity in the hope of a better future. Another Columban, Fr. Bob Mosher, who lived in Chile for more than 25 years, he shared his experience of interreligious dialogue in the context of a predominantly Catholic country. His intent was never to convince, conform or convert the people of other faith traditions to Catholicism but rather to unearth values that transcend religious affiliation and bind us together in our common humanity. In my reading about the history and mission of the Columbans, as well as in my interactions with them, I hear them speak about how they have grown from their experiences of other religious traditions, rituals, customs and beliefs. In listening, sharing, challenging and reevaluating experiences we are better able to know others, ourselves and God. It is through dialogue that we begin to better understand the profound struggles people endure around the world. CM For more information about the Columbans or service opportunities, please visit our website at or email us at

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Dialogue through Labor

Missionary Visitors By Fr. Mike Hoban


t is a curious but blessed fact of missionary life that geographical distances do not produce emotional distances. Columban missionaries often live in countries which are a long way from the countries where they were born and raised. We can spend years without visiting family and friends at home. Yet, we remain very close to our loved ones. Visits home are a special time of grace for us. There is always a great welcome. Everyone is anxious to catch up on what has happened since the last time we met. We usually go back to our missions weighing several (or more) pounds more than when we got off the plane. Our bags are full of new clothes, books and other gifts. Over the years, my family and friends in the United States and in Ireland have helped to finance many projects here in Chile: chapels, community centers, libraries, soup kitchens, training programs, etc. In the past, they had to rely on letters and photos to inform them about the progress


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of these projects. Unfortunately, I am not a great letter writer! However, in recent years, I have been visited by various members of my family as well as friends. It has been gratifying for me to see their interest in the work of the Columbans in the poblaciones (housing projects) of Santiago, Valparaiso, Iquique and Vallenar as well as work in the campo (countryside). Their visits are always memorable for me, and I try to return the hospitality which I experience on my visits home. At different times, my brother Stephen and his wife Carole sent their two older teenage children, Stephen Jr. and Maureen, to visit their missionary uncle in Chile. Their parents wanted them to see another reality and to appreciate

how the poor struggle to maintain their families. My nephew and niece came with strict instructions that they were not to be tourists. They had to do something useful. So they cleaned drains and vacant lots, painted meeting rooms, dusted library books and helped in soup kitchens. For young people who were used to a more prosperous lifestyle, they adapted well. Their Spanish improved. They ate different foods and lived with their uncle in the parish house without the comforts of home. They had to get used to the dogs barking late into the night. But they approached it all with good humor and made friends with the young people in my parish. I was proud of them. I figured that despite a few hardships, they had a good time. The eldest, Stephen Jr., has visited me several times since then! Later my brother Stephen decided to make a visit himself. He came with his youngest son Patrick. Like his children, Stephen insisted on doing something useful. A lawyer by profession, he was always quite good and skillful with his hands. He repaired the roof of the training center which the Columbans had built in La Pintana. We also traveled south to the Columban mission in Puerto Saavedra among the Mapuches. He was fascinated by the country and promised to return. He kept his promise and came back for a second visit which coincided with the celebration of the 50th

The training center

The chapel

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anniversary of the Columbans in Chile. For years, he had been active in Columban fundraising events in New York. He felt privileged to take part in an historic occasion for the Society in Chile. In 2001, I was assigned to the Columban parish of San Pedro Nolasco in Puente Alto. Puente Alto is the most populated municipality of Chile with over 500,000 inhabitants. In ten years, the parish of San Pedro Nolasco had grown 700% from 10,000 people in 1992 to 70,000 in 2002. The government had built numerous new housing projects for the poor in the area. Within a few years, this part of the municipality was listed among the most densely populated areas of Chile with all the social problems which overcrowding brings. The Columbans responded to the challenges by developing new Christian communities and building new chapels and meeting rooms. When Stephen came back, he followed me through the streets of the parish as I celebrated Mass in neighboring centers or in the streets. In the community of Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), we were using a small house for our catechetical programs and other meetings. It was not in great shape, so he decided to paint and repair it. I would leave him and his son there in the morning, pick them up for dinner and bring them back in the afternoon. He was always interested in people and with his improved Spanish he conversed with the neighbors and enjoyed an occasional beer with them. Some nights, I did not collect them until 11:00 p.m. The people of the parish were impressed that a lawyer could roll up his sleeves and be so efficient at manual labor. I was scolded several times by my parishioners for exploiting my brother and nephew! Before he left,

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Fr. Mike Hoban with the children of the parish

Stephen promised that he would help them to build a decent chapel. When he returned to New York, he began to contact family, friends and business associates and to interest them in making a donation for the construction of the chapel of Sagrada Familia. Just a few months later he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent surgery and began chemotherapy. He was determined to try and beat the cancer. The battle with the deadly disease only served to strengthen his motivation. He wrote letters and made more phone calls. He contacted Fr. John Burger who was the U.S. Regional Director at the time. By mid-2004, Stephen had gathered enough money to begin building the first stage of the future chapel with meeting rooms. He was in constant contact with me about the progress of the building. In September, he learned that the cancer had come back in a more aggressive form and that the drugs were not working. The doctors were going to try another form of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, his weakened condition did not allow his body to accept the new drugs. He was in and out of the hospital several times. A man of deep faith, he kept on praying his favorite

devotion, the Rosary. He had been listening to tapes in Spanish of the Rosary and told me that sometimes he even prayed in Spanish. He was convinced that the Lord had sent him to Chile with a purpose. By October 2004, we were able to start celebrating Mass in the new building even though it was not finished. In December, I decided to go home to New York to see Stephen. I knew that it would be our final meeting. I arrived on the morning of December 20, 2004. When I got to his home, he was not conscious and was having difficulty breathing. I anointed him and stayed by his side praying. He died two hours later. The Lord called him to make his last missionary journey. The community of Sagrada Familia continues to grow. We need now to expand the chapel to facilitate all the people who are coming to Mass on Sunday. Somehow, I know that Stephen once again will help me. In the meantime, I will try to be more faithful in thanking the Lord for the generosity of my family, friends and Columban benefactors. They are all real missionaries. CM Fr. Mike Hoban lives and works in Chile.

February 2011

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A Positive Example of Dialogue Who Is My Neighbor? By Fr. Patrick McInerney


ecently Fr. Patrick McInerney from the Columban Mission Institute’s Center for ChristianMuslim Relations gave a formal response to “A Common Word,” the 2007 open letter from Muslim leaders to Pope Benedict XVI, the Orthodox patriarchs, the heads of the Protestant churches and “leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere.”* When the letter was first issued, the Center for Christian-Muslim Relations recognized its significance and published it in English and Arabic so that it would have a wider readership in Australia. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the World Council of Churches and many other Christian organizations have made formal responses to the letter. The gathering at Greenacre in inner Western Sydney was the first public forum of Christians and Muslims on this topic in Australia. It was hosted by Archbishop Issam Darwish of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand, the Australian ChristianMuslim Friendship Association and the Melkite Welfare Association. Ms. Amal Dardass introduced the document. She summarized its background and content. The Muslim religious leaders propose that love of God and love of neighbor are common to both Christianity and Islam and form a basis for common agreement


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Although Christians and Muslims disagree over the nature and role of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the Church, they do agree on love and service of neighbor. and cooperation. Given that the authors represent a broad consensus across the spectrum of Muslim groups, the document is authoritative and merits the consideration of Christians and Muslims alike. In his response Fr. Patrick McInenerny expressed his appreciation for the many positives in the document and indicated his basic agreement with the authors’ direction and intent. He acknowledged the scholarship of the authors and their very positive example of dialogue. They put their case simply, respectfully, and eloquently, backing their arguments with texts from the Qur’an and

the Bible, inviting intelligent and informed response. However, Fr. Patrick McInerney proposed some qualifications and nuances. For example, while love of God and love of neighbor are very important in Christianity, the true foundation of Christianity is not our love for God, but God’s love for us. This grounds the Christian acknowledgement that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), and the Christian confession of God as a community of love between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. Although Christians and Muslims disagree over the nature and role of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the Church, they do agree on

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love and service of neighbor. Fr. Patrick McInerney again quoted from the Bible to deepen and broaden the topic. When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” he recounted the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, and then asked “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Lk. 10:25-37) Jesus turned the original question inside out. It is no longer “who is my neighbor?” with me at the center, but the focus turns to the periphery, to those in need, and acting neighborly towards them. What matters is not geographical proximity—who lives next door—but rather whether one shows practical compassion for those who suffer, no matter their tribe, nation or religion. In

our world, where Christians and Muslims together make up over 50% of the world’s population, there is much that we can do together in responding to the needs of the poor, the hungry, the refugees and those who suffer injustices, war, and natural disasters. Irfan Yousaf, a freelance journalist and social commentator, then made a response. Irfan is a Pakistani Muslim who migrated with his family as a young boy. He related his experiences of growing up and going to school in urban Australia. He argued that the recent tensions and conflicts that are reported in the media are cultural rather than religious and commended “A Common Word” for bringing us back to the fundamentals of our respective

religions, namely, love of God and love of neighbor. His sociological analysis complemented Fr. Patrick McInerney ’s theological response. Questions and answers followed. Then, after official thanks from the organizers, the evening concluded with Christians and Muslims continuing the conversation over refreshments. CM Fr. Patrick McInerney lives and works in Australia.

* Details of the document, the signatories and the official responses are available from the dedicated website  

Listening through the Noise By Sr. Redempta Twomey


Tuning in to God

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man and his friend, who was a scientist, were walking along a busy street when suddenly the latter said, “Stop! Do you hear that?” They both stood still but all that the first man heard was the sound of traffic and of the people hurrying by on the pavement. Puzzled, he said, “What do you mean? What are you hearing?” Then the scientist, bending down, moved a loose stone at the foot of the building and uncovered a chirping cricket. His friend was amazed. On that busy street, with the noise of cars and the bustle of people all around, February 2011

21 1/17/11 9:58 PM

how could his friend have heard the sound of that tiny insect? “I suppose I’m attuned to them,” the scientist said, “having studied them for years and years.” They walked on. Later that evening, recalling the incident, the man remembered an event in the story of Elijah the prophet (I Kings 19:11-15). Elijah recognized God not in the tearing wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the tiny whispering sound that followed. God, he thought, is found not only in the great happenings of life, in the big stories, but also in the little events that come our way like hearing a cricket chirp on a busy street. How right he was. And how searching was the question he put to himself as he thought of his friend and of Elijah. How tuned in am I to hearing the voice of God in my life? It is a question we all need to ask ourselves in our busy lives. How essential it is for us to develop sensitivity to hearing God over

“now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened” – e.e.cummings

the clamor and din of our days, to find Him in the ordinary, the unexceptional, the mundane. If we wait for the great revelation, the grand vision, the perfect insight, it will never come. To put our lives on hold in that way is to betray the Spirit living in us, the Spirit that uncovers riches beyond measure in the most unlikely, the most unexpected places. It is the Spirit who helps us develop new eyes and new ears so that we perceive reality

Journey With Jesus! Parish Program The Journey With Jesus parish program is a supplementary mission education curriculum for Pre-K through Grade 8 from the Columban Fathers. Based on the call to mission of all baptized Catholics and the principles of Catholic social teaching, the program introduces children to a variety of cultures and the missionaries working in them. Each lesson includes: • Opening and closing prayers • Video presentations (DVD or VHS) • Activities The program is available free on loan or for purchase. To learn more about the Journey With Jesus parish program, visit the Columban Mission Education website: or call toll-free at 877/299-1920.


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in a deeper way. Our response then will be from the heart, and not just a surface reaction to events. All too often we skate along on the surface of our lives, bombarded by experiences but without understanding. Our dull hearts produce actions which are without life or vitality. How different it is when we are tuned in to the great rhythm of the Spirit, when we hear that still, small voice underneath the cacophony of every day. Then we learn to really listen, to give our full attention to the person with us, to the task in hand. Our lives may still be very busy, even hectic at times, but we are centered and at peace in the depths of our being. If we ask our most gentle God to help us tune into His wavelength, we can be sure He will respond. Our desire, our willingness to spend even a little time each day quieting down, creating space for Him, will sharpen our focus and move us to a new level of living. “now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened” (e.e.cummings). We may not hear a cricket on a busy street, but the cry of our brother’s or sister’s heart will not go unheard. CM

Sr. Redempta Twomey is the assistant editor of The Far East in Ireland.

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We Were Once Strangers Ourselves


ne of my special memories growing up was visiting my grandmother’s house every day. She lived just up the street and without fail she had a hug and a special treat like an orange or a cookie waiting for my brothers, sister and me at the kitchen table. Looking back now, I realize the treat wasn’t so much the orange or cookie, but time spent with mi abuela. The joy came from being welcomed in a special place. In my ministry as the regional director, I travel the U.S. and visit many parishes to share our Columban missionary story. As a stranger coming into the parishes for a weekend, I am always

From the Director By Fr. Arturo Aguilar grateful for the welcome I receive. So often I feel that same kind of hospitality as when I would enter my grandmother’s house through the back door and sit at her table.   We’ve all experienced that feeling of being a stranger whether it is to a new school, neighborhood, parish, country or some other new

The Church has

always had a tradition of welcoming the stranger.

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place. Feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, and even discrimination can keep us in the shadows. How comforting it is when we receive a warm smile or hug that says “You belong.” Following Jesus’ example, we are called to be that welcoming “hug” with our arms and hearts stretched open wide. The Church has always had a tradition of welcoming the stranger. In the U.S., from our Irish and Italian immigrants of the 19th century seeking greener pastures to our Asian, African and Hispanic immigrants today in search of a better life for their families, the Eucharist is the table that brings us together as a family of sisters and brothers united in God’s love.    Pope Benedict XVI chose “One Human Family” as his theme for the 97th World Day for Migrants and Refugees which was celebrated last January 16. His message begins, “ ‘As I have loved you, so you also should love one another’ (John 13:34), is the invitation that the Lord forcefully addresses to us and renews us constantly: if the Father calls us to be beloved children in His dearly beloved Son, He also calls us to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.”  He continues, “It is the Holy Eucharist in particular that constitutes, in the heart of the Church, an inexhaustible source of communion for the whole of humanity. It is thanks to this that the People of God includes ‘every nation, race, people, and tongue’ (Rev. 7:9).”  May our missionary hearts hear these words and be inspired to welcome the stranger among us, for once we were strangers ourselves. May the communion we exchange at the table of the Lord extend to all.

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Columban Fathers PO Box 10 St. Columbans, NE 68056


Columban Advocacy Internship Program

An Invitation Calls for a Response We are but clay, formed and fashioned by the hand of God.

As a Columban Advocacy Intern, you will: • Attend Congressional meetings, hearings & briefings; • Write articles for our newsletter, website, action alerts & more; • Participate in meetings, rallies & prayer vigils with fellow activists; • Learn about the political process in a faith context; • Live in vibrant & multicultural Washington, D.C.

Ana (Summer 2010): “Being at the heart of political action has helped me make new connections between advocacy and my faith.” Learn more and apply online today! Missionary Society of St. Columban Attn.: CCAO Department P.O. Box 10 St. Columbans, NE 68056 877/299-1920

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That is to say, we are weak and vulnerable but with God’s grace we are capable of great generosity and idealism. Is God calling you to spread the good news? To a life of ministry among those who are less fortunate and more vulnerable than you are?

We invite you to join this new generation by becoming a Columban Father or Columban Sister. If you are interested in the missionary priesthood, write or call…

If you are interested in becoming a Columban Sister, write or call…

Fr. Bill Morton National Vocation Director Columban Fathers St. Columbans, NE 68056 877/299-1920 Email:

Sr. Grace De Leon National Vocation Director Columban Sisters 2500 S. Freemont Avenue #E Alhambra, CA 91803 626/458-1869

Japan + Korea + Peru + Hong Kong + Philippines + Pakistan + Chile + Fiji + Taiwan + North America

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Columban Mission - February 2011  

Interreligious Dialogue: A Quest for the Sacred

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