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The Magazine of the Missionary Society of St. Columban

December 2011

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s Christians, one of the great gifts is that of relating to God in prayer. And an even greater gift is God communicating with us. What an awesome experience; to be able to make that link between heaven and earth, between God and ourselves as human beings. Recently, I was traveling on a plane and as I was boarding, walking down the aisle, I noticed so many people with their iPhones either up to their ear or in their hands, ready to talk to someone. I sat down in my seat, opened the magazine and the first thing I laid my eyes on was another iPhone. This is known as the age of communication; where everyone has to have the latest phone or iPad or computer in order to keep up to date with the world. I thought to myself how privileged I am to be able to call on God at any instant without holding an instrument up to my ear. Whether we know it or not, we have a tremendous yearning for God, and God likewise has a deep yearning for us. And prayer is one way of expressing our love and gratitude for God. It is our way of expressing our faith in God. Jesus, at various times asked people who were looking for help or healing, “Do you In So Many Words believe?” We all need forgiveness for our sins and failings, and so we need to pray like Jesus did on By Fr. Charles O’Rourke the cross, asking for forgiveness for ourselves and forgiving those who have offended us. The gospel scene of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well shows us how important it is to listen to God while at prayer. Jesus, by engaging this woman in small talk, eventually led her to look at herself and see where she was going with her life. Prayer should be with us. Certainly we have a lot of requests to make to God. And at the same time it is important that we try to appreciate God, the goodness of God, the warmth, God’s care for us and God’s wisdom in being there to guide and direct us in our lives. Allowing God to come into our hearts and trying to appreciate God’s presence with us, as well as in the world around us, is a way in which we can cultivate a close relationship with our God as we do in our ordinary life, sharing our most intimate ideas and dreams with a close friend. This calls for a radical trust in our God who embraces us. And God will in turn bring about a radical transformation within us.

Prayer is one way of

expressing our love and gratitude for God. It is our way of expressing our faith in God.

Fr. Charles O’Rourke lives and works in St. Columbans, Nebraska.

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I Dared to Call Him Father The Story of Bilquis Sheikh by Fr. Joe Joyce


s we travel the journey of life, we all come to know of people we never get to meet in person but who nevertheless leave a marked impression on us. For me, one such person is Bilquis Sheikh, and she was born on December 12, 1912, in what is now Pakistan. She belonged to a noble Muslim family descended from Nawab Mohammad Hyat, and her exhusband, General Khalid Masud Sheikh, was the Interior Minister of the country from 1962 to 1965. After her divorce from the General, she came to live in a village called Wah, just off the Grand Trunk


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Road between Rawalpindi and Peshawar. She owned a comfortable house there and kept an impressive flower garden that gave her much pleasure. It was in this garden that she had an experience which initiated a profound change in the course her life would take. One evening, as the sun was setting, she was taking a stroll in her garden when she felt a chilly breeze. Then a mist blew past her, and she felt something touch her hand. She screamed in fright and ran indoors where her maidservants took care of her. After hearing about her experience, they urged her to get a blessing from the local

mullah, but, not being a fervently religious person, she refused. Some days later, however, her little grandson Mahmud who was living with her became ill, so she relented. After the blessing, Mahmud quickly got better, and Bilquis felt drawn to read the Koran. As she read, she noticed that other religions were mentioned, including Christianity, and she decided to have a look at the Bible too. She acquired a small copy, and opening it at random, scanned the page. The passage that immediately caught her eye deeply touched her heart. It said, “I will say to a people that was not mine, ‘You

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are my people’, and to a nation I never loved, ‘I love you’. Instead of being told, ‘You are no people of mine’, they will now be called the sons of the living God.” (Rom. 9:25-26) She felt disturbed by these words and quickly closed the Bible. However, the following afternoon while relaxing on her bed, she felt drawn to read more, and continuing on from where she had left off, she read, “But the Law has found its fulfillment in Christ so that all who have faith will be justified… the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart… that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:4; 8-10) These words disturbed her even more, as they were alien to her faith as a Muslim, but, nevertheless, she fell asleep. Then she had a dream. She dreamt that Jesus had come to visit her home for two days, and they ate together in joy and peace. Then the scene suddenly changed, and she was on a mountaintop talking with a man she knew as John the Baptist and asking him if he would lead her to Jesus. The strange thing was that she had not yet read anything about John the Baptist and didn’t even know who he was. Some days later she had another dream. In this one a traveling perfume salesman came to her house, and as he departed, he left a golden jar filled with perfume on a bedside table, saying, “This will spread throughout the world.” Then she awoke and looked at her bedside table, but all that was there was the Bible. Later on a Christian friend referred her to a passage in the Bible that said, “Thanks be to God who, wherever he goes,

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“I will say to a people that was not mine, ‘You are my people’, and to a nation I never loved, ‘I love you’. Instead of being told, ‘You are no people of mine’, they will now be called the sons of the living God.” (Rom. 9:25-26) makes us, in Christ, partners of his triumph, and through us is spreading the knowledge of himself like a sweet smell everywhere.” (2Cor. 2:14) Her next experience came when her little grandson got an earache, and she took him to a Christian hospital in the nearby city of Rawalpindi where his mother Tooni worked as a doctor. They had to stay the night, and during that time, the doctor in charge of the hospital, a Catholic Sister, dropped by to check that all was well. While they chatted, the Sister noticed that Bilquis had a Bible with her, and asked why she, a Muslim, should be reading the Holy Book of the Christians. Bilquis told her of her search for God, and the Sister said in reply, “Why don’t you pray to the God you are searching for? Ask Him to show you His way. Talk to Him as if He were your friend… Talk to Him as if He were your father.” Bilquis had a very loving relationship with her father, and so for her this was a wonderful suggestion. Her father always took time to listen to her, and she sensed that her heavenly Father would too. At the beginning she struggled with the new concept of God she had discovered, but soon she found herself filled with confidence and love, and from then on, she lived and moved in the Presence of God

her Father. Whenever she had a decision to take or a choice to make, she let the sense of God’s glory be her guide. If she felt God was there, she could go ahead, but, if His glory faded, she knew she was not on the right path. As time went by Bilquis felt an ardent desire to become a Christian. She had read in the Bible that Jesus said, “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him.” (Rev. 3:20) This text reminded her of the dream she had had of His visit to her. She saw in it a positive sign to go ahead and seek baptism. She was well aware that she would get into deep trouble with her family, friends, and the whole Muslim community, but guided by her sense of God’s glory, she was sure that she must follow where she felt God was leading her. She spoke to some Christian friends about her desire to be baptized, but fearing the consequences for her, they hesitated. However, when Bilquis insisted, they finally agreed, and the date of January 25, 1967, was set for the ceremony. On the night of January 24, Bilquis felt an irresistible urge to receive the baptism of immersion as Jesus had in the Jordan. On impulse, she filled December 2011

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“Thanks be to God who, wherever he goes, makes us, in Christ, partners of his triumph, and through us is spreading the knowledge of himself like a sweet smell everywhere.” (2Cor. 2:14)

a bath, sat into it and baptized herself. She was quite aware that this was completely unorthodox, but, she felt God’s presence guiding her. The next day she mentioned nothing to her friends, but when they baptized her by simply sprinkling her with water, she felt very happy about what she had done herself. Once her extended family and her Muslim friends learned that Bilquis had become Christian, there was a period, first of all, of silence and isolation, then anger, and gradually, later on, acceptance. In the local community, threats began to be made, and there was fear her life and that of her little grandson might be in danger. An attempt to burn her house confirmed that the fear was well founded. Added to this there was also political upheaval in the country, and the rulers of that time were of an opposing party to the one to which Bilquis belonged. 6

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Soon, it became clear that she would have to leave Wah and possibly her country. She felt deeply the sacrifice this would entail but as usual,she let herself be guided by her sense of God’s presence. To give up her house, her garden, her wealth, her comforts, the proximity of her family and even her country, would be beyond her own capacity, but guided by God, she felt enough courage to take the step. Thus with the help of her prayers, her dreams, and the advice of family and friends, in 1973 she set out for the United States of America with her grandson. Since becoming a Christian in 1967, she had been invited to participate in various Christian assemblies and to tell about her journey with God her Father. In these meetings she had become friends with people who encouraged her to let her story reach a wider audience, but she didn’t feel ready at that time. Now, six years later, after all that had happened to her, she was prepared to do whatever would keep her in God’s Presence. As a result, she came to address many congregations and assemblies, and, in 1973, she published her autobiography, titled I Dared to Call Him Father. Bilquis lived in the United States until 1987. Then she suffered a severe heart attack and was persuaded by her immediate family

to return to Pakistan. She lived at first with her grandson Mahmud, who had also returned, and then she moved in with her daughter Tooni in Rawalpindi, in whose arms she died peacefully on April 9, 1997. She now rests in a Christian graveyard in Murree, a hill station in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas. Her tombstone bears the simple inscription: Bilquis Born 12-12-12 Died loving the Lord 9-4-97. It is through what Bilquis wrote that I came to know and admire her so much. Her sensitivity to the presence of God in her life, her openness to God’s word in the Bible, her courage to follow where she felt God was leading her, and her willingness to put her relationship with God her Father before all else have been an enduring source of inspiration and strength for me. In my estimation, she truly made her own the mind of Christ Jesus (See Phil.2:5-11), and now, I’m sure, enjoys the fullness of life and joy with Him forever. CM Columban Fr. Joe Joyce lives and works in Pakistan.

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Helpful Holidays Continuing Education in the Summer By Fr. Chris Baker


he long school holidays in Peru usually start shortly before Christmas and end at the beginning of March. Poorer families who cannot afford to go far from their homes are happy to sign on for summer courses at their parishes where they can keep meeting with friends and also learn more about living a fuller life. All Columban-run parishes encourage both young and old to participate in such courses to help their formation as catechists, pastoral teams and a leaven in public life.  The Association for People with Different Abilities (ASPHAD) follows the same pattern, dedicating January and February to “Helpful Holidays.” As nearly all the special people of ASPHAD have learning difficulties, their summer program provides a relaxed and happy atmosphere in which to learn new traditional dances, games, exercises, handicrafts, cooking and baking or computer games.   For the last four summers, we have been fortunate to have the voluntary help of Gerda Benz, a volunteer from Leitrim, Ireland. She is an expert in handicrafts, who shows the mothers of the ASPHAD students how to produce lovely items, partly hand sewn and partly machine

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ASPHAD particpants, parents and staff enjoy the summer programs.

finished. This summer she led them to make lovely backpacks for themselves and their special sons or daughters. Many of the daughters also sat beside their mothers and did their part to help along the production. After two months of practical lessons the mothers and our local teachers were able to continue with the materials left over until one hundred backpacks had been produced. A special treat in January was the picnic to a country area which provided playing fields, safe swimming pools and a good meal. Seventy people thoroughly enjoyed the day’s outing, especially as they rarely get away from the inner city.   The usual classes, workshops and various forms of therapy resumed in March, during which ASPHAD celebrated the 11th anniversary of its foundation. The special people

love an opportunity to dress up in traditional costumes for their fine Peruvian dances. After the dancing we share a meal of delicious foods prepared by the tireless mothers.  A birthday cake tops off the celebration. Our cooks are also getting many compliments on the way they serve up a plate of cuy (guinea pig) meat with potatoes, rice and tasty sauces. The cuyes are bred on the flat roof of ASPHAD Center, as that provides great interest for the special people as well as some income to help cover running costs. CM   Fr. Chris Baker lives and works in Peru.

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Christian Values Transcend Violence St. Patrick’s, Soyangno, Korea By Fr. Kevin O’Rourke


sat for several unproductive days at my desk. Not a line. The emotion of going back to St. Patrick’s, Soyangno, Korea, had been overwhelming. I served there from 1965 to 1967, my only curacy in over forty years as a crosscultural missionary in Korea. Soyangno was my boot camp, the place where I learned how to survive in Korea. I didn’t think of the place as St. Patrick’s. I didn’t think of it as a memorial church to our Korean War Columban martyrs, in particular Fr. Tony Collier who had been shot nearby. I didn’t think of it as an architectural jewel. It was just plain-old, no frills Soyangno, a place I came to love. Now forty years later, I was standing in the church yard with Jim Buckley, the man who had built the church in 1956. St. Patrick’s was now a heritage building, its halfmoon shape making it a building of distinction in a city that had been left without a stone on a stone after the destruction of the Korean War. The moment was filled with a pride I never experienced when I served there. Pongi-san, the mountain behind the church, dominated the scene as it had for thousands of years. The mountain had been the scene of bitter fighting during


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the war. Its strategic importance was obvious. One machine gun emplacement up there would have been devastating. Now all was peaceful. A large Buddhist temple occupied the site next door. It wasn’t there in the 1960s. I wondered if the old Shinto shrine that our confreres had to attend in the pre-1945 period was still on the other side of the mountain. Somehow I doubted it. Standing in the yard of St. Patrick’s, Soyangno, I experienced feelings of awe. It was a pleasure to stand in a beautiful church in China that had survived the Cultural Revolution, and it was a pleasure to stand now in St. Patrick’s, aware that this fine heritage church is also a symbol of how Christian values transcend violence. And just as it was a joy to meet the old Sister from the original founding group of Hanyang Sisters, in her nineties, blithely waiting for death and completion in Christ, it was also a joy to meet the group of elderly ladies who remembered Jim and had come out to greet him. I felt again that elusive sense of belonging which is integral to the Columbans, what we call the Columban spirit. For a brief moment I saw under the surface; I

understood the weave and warp of the Columban thing. The Welsh priest-poet, R.S. Thomas, wrote a beautiful poem called “The Bright Field,” (see next page) which sums up the experience. Perhaps old age makes us more aware of the insanity of “hurrying on to a receding future.” I feel that for both Jim and I, our time in Soyangno, then and now, was a finding and a re-finding of our bright field, an awareness that brightness is within as well as without, that life is now and our awareness of God in history is now. This is no imagined past. We are part of a vibrant tradition. St. Patrick’s is a symbol of what the Columbans are all about yesterday, today and tomorrow. St. Patrick’s, Soyangno, was Jim Buckley’s first parish. He was proud to succeed Tony Collier as parish priest, prouder still when Bishop Quinlan, a survivor of the infamous Death March during the Korean War, asked him to build the memorial church, and proudest of all (perhaps astonished would be more accurate) when the Bishop allowed him to build the church of his dreams, a half-moon building he had seen as a student in Rome.

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The Bright Field I have seen the light break through to illuminate a small field for a while and gone my way and forgotten it. But it was the pearl of great price, the one field that had the treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush. To a brightness that seems as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Now, 53 years later, Jim was looking at his handiwork, reliving his experience. Everything looked so good. The heritage people had put a new roof on the church, refurbished the inside, put in a new floor and installed new stained glass windows. The church looked better than the day Bishop Quinlan blessed it in 1956. Jim recalled the ROK army general who had given him two bulldozers to level the site. The general had been consistently losing money to U.S. army officers in their weekly poker games. Jim taught him how to play, and in no time the general was making money and was eternally grateful. Jim recalled the Chinese builder, the hiring of local labor, the buying of materials both in Seoul and locally, and the lighting system which came courtesy of the officers of Camp Page. Jim writes: “As I walked around the church in the company of the Korean pastor and some of the Catholics I had baptized, scenes came crashing in from my memory. In the first ten years or so, approximately 300 adults were baptized each year. A rectory and a parish hall were built. We made monthly visits to eleven outlying villages to baptize and/or offer Mass. We started the Legion of Mary around the diocese, and we held CCD and English classes every Saturday for the students, one of whom is the wife of the current Korean Prime Minister. Two of the ladies asked, ‘Do you remember us?’ and I was proud to say that I recognized their smiles.” CM Fr. Kevin O’Rourke lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.

—R.S. Thomas

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Is Life After Death for Real? The Shadow of Death By Fr. Frank Hoare

Asato ma sad gamaya… Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya… Myrtyor ma amritham gamaya… This is an ancient prayer in Sanskrit. For over 3,000 years it has been sung and said by billions of Hindus. It means, “Lord, from falsehood lead me to truth, from darkness lead me to light, from death lead me to eternal life.” That is a prayer not just of Hindus but of humankind. It is a prayer that resounds in our hearts too. In St. John’s Gospel we hear Jesus’ response to that prayer when He says, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.” (Jn. 11:25)


But what does it mean to believe in Christ, to have faith in God? You may remember the story of a mountain climber who slipped but then caught hold of a bush on a cliff-face, high above the ground. He prayed from the heart and said, “God, if there is a God, help me 10

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now.” He heard a voice saying, “Yes. I’m here. What can I do for you?” The climber said, “Where are you. I can’t see you?” The voice said, “I’m right down below you.” The man said, “Please save me from death.” The voice said, “Just let go of the bush!” Faith means letting go of the earthly security we cling to. It means trusting that God is love, that God does care, and that God will be there to uphold us. Our family saw that process happen for my dad, Dan Hoare, in his last illness. When my sister and I would help him from the bed to the toilet or to his armchair, he would always want to feel the arms of the chair behind him before he would finally sit down. But in his last few days he was not able to hold himself any more, and he came to trust that we would lower him gently and carefully onto his chair. He learned faith. Trust and letting go of control is the essence of faith. But you might say, “Why should we believe in God whom we cannot see?”

Signs of the Beyond

Look at our experience of life. The smile of a newborn baby

means more to us than just a facial expression. A beautiful sunset, when we are relaxed and at peace, speaks to our heart of something beyond. The intimate love of a spouse or friend, when you most want someone to understand you, is more than just someone listening to you. Our own bodies are more than just material, chemical substances thrown together. A handshake is not just a clasping of hands but has a much deeper meaning. It can mean a simple greeting, or it can be an expression of friendship, consolation or sympathy. So many experiences of life point beyond what is right in front of us to a greater depth and to a deeper meaning. We believe that the ultimate meaning behind these human experiences is God. At the center of the universe, despite its difficulties, problems and pain, there is love, eternal love, which we call God. Others can help us to a sense of the presence of God. A saint is not someone who keeps the rules perfectly or who denies himself or herself with heavy penances. The Pharisees did that, and they were not saints. So who is a saint? A saint is someone who gives us an WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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immediate sense of the presence of God. We have all met someone who, in that sense, is a saint. But the human being who most illuminated the presence of God in this world is Jesus Christ. Jesus has shown us the presence and power, the love and compassion of God.

Jesus is an honest man

Jesus cared for his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. When people complained that, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?” He was deeply moved at their lack of faith. He sighed for the way our debating minds often get in the way of the intuitions of our hearts. By raising Lazarus, who was not just dead but actually decomposing, He gave a sign of His own coming death and resurrection. It was also a sign to us, as He promised Martha and Mary, that we too would rise as He did because of our connection to Him through faith and baptism. Through the Spirit of God given us in baptism, we share in the resurrected life of Christ. That is the promise that allows us to let go of the bush and to entrust our security into God’s hands. WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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When John B. Keane, an Irish playwriter who was suffering from cancer, was asked on a television show if he believed in a life after death, he told a story of phoning a friend of his from Donegal, in the north of Ireland, after many years of not seeing each other. Since John B. lived in Kerry in the south of Ireland, they made an appointment to meet in a central place, Galway, at 12:00 p.m. on a particular day. Before he left home, his wife said, “But you haven’t seen him for years. Perhaps he will forget or won’t be able to make it.” But John B. responded, “Jack is an honest man. If he says he’ll be there, he will be there.” Then John B. said, “I know that Jesus is an honest man. He has told us that He has gone to prepare a place for us. He will be there.” We who celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ can let go of the bush now in this life too. We can live a resurrected life here and now and rely on Christ being with us at the hour of our death. “Threshold,” a poem by Rabrindranath Tagore, gently explores familiar experiences of hope:

I was not aware of the moment When I first crossed the threshold of this life. What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery Like a bud in the forest at midnight? When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, That the inscrutable without name and form Had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother. Even so, in death, the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well. The child cries out When from the right breast the mother takes it away, In the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.


Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.

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The Role of the Spiritual Year Where God Leads By Fr. Joe Joyce


was ordained in 1967 and spent the next eight years in Chile. I did studies in Spirituality for a few years and then was assigned to Pakistan. These days I live and work in Pakistan. On occasion, I spend time out of Pakistan to be with our Columban students during their Spiritual Year as their Spiritual Director for the year. The Columban formation program takes around ten-totwelve years, from when a student first enters to being ordained a missionary priest. The Spiritual Year is a time for the student to learn more about the Columbans and to intensely discern his vocation. There is a lot of time for prayer; for example, in the middle of the year the students will do a 30 Day Retreat. They also do three additional shorter retreats. They have to allot time for academic work and pastoral work. It is an intensive year with the emphasis being on helping the students know where God is leading them. We are missionaries. St. Columban’s way of life was to go out to people. He believed in Peregrinari Pro Christi (to be pilgrims for Christ); he also made it clear that he was working, not for his own benefit, but for Christ. So because we Columbans are a people on the move, and we do what we do for Christ, we are like the disciples. The disciples were followers of


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Jesus but also partners with Him in the building of God’s Kingdom. Therefore discipleship is a major focus of the Spiritual Year. Accordingly, it is vital that each student build up his relationship with Jesus. By the end of the Spiritual Year each student should feel that he is a companion of Jesus and in relationship with Him. I find it very satisfying work and very fruitful for myself in my own life. It’s great to meet students after they have been ordained and who are working far from home and to hear their stories about their

openness to discovery – discovering new things within ourselves. And when this openness is combined with the assistance of a guide or director, we find that we are being led. And God is always leading us to what is best for us. A student who has that openness discovers in himself freedom, freedom from his own presuppositions, biases, prejudices and from a limited image of God. The discovery of God is a discovery of oneself and vice versa. However in the journey of discovery we often will have a

The disciples were followers of Jesus but also partners with Him in the building of God’s Kingdom. Therefore discipleship is a major focus of the Spiritual Year. Spiritual Year and how it helped them. I do similar work in Pakistan. I am known as a “Minister to the Ministers,” i.e., I work with anyone who is in ministry. I work with catechists, priests, Sisters, students, anyone who is seeking spiritual direction. I love the work, and I feel blessed to have been called to do it. Knowing what God is calling us to do is a journey of discovery. A lot of the time we don’t know where the journey is leading us, but the key, the important thing, is an

resistance to something new in our lives. We question and wonder about this new direction we are being asked to take. In the spiritual life, this is a very positive moment. The resistance to taking a new direction is an indication that the person has discovered something deeper in himself that needs investigation. Where is the resistance coming from? What fears and worries are there? A spiritual director will help such a person discover the root of his fears and his worries, i.e., why is he resisting? If the person is open

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Communion of the Apostles by Fra Angelico, 1440-41

to continuing the journey then it can be a moment of breakthrough and change. Carrying our cross is an essential teaching of our Christian faith. We find meaning by taking the cross up and carrying it, not by running away from it. Though we need the means of dealing with the cross in our lives, we also find meaning in it. Viktor Frankl states in his book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” that we can find meaning in suffering in two clear ways: having someone to love and having work to do. By focusing on our love for someone we can endure the suffering that is part of daily living. Also if we have to produce a book or design a building or some other work, we are prepared to endure the suffering of making it, for the deep satisfaction we get from its completion. Having a goal in life gives meaning to life.

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For Christians we get meaning in life by having the same way of thinking as Jesus, by having the same attitude as Jesus. Jesus let go of being like God and became human; we too must learn to let go of trying to control and dominate others. Otherwise we become authoritarian. Jesus sacrificed His life for others. We can find meaning from giving ourselves to others. Instead of clinging to life like a hypochondriac or someone who is afraid to take risks, we freely give of ourselves and thus find meaning. Jesus also let go of death. At Easter, He let go of death and allowed new life to rise within Him. So we also must not allow ourselves to become depressed or despairing but rather let the seeds of new life grow within us. God gave Jesus new life, and He gives it to us too.

In praying about all of this, I find Phil. 2:5-11 very helpful: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. CM Fr. Joe Joyce lives and works in Pakistan.

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Thirty Days Alone with God Reflections on a 30 Day Retreat By Martin Koroiciri


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hey say that prayer is our conversation with God. If there was ever a phobia in my life, it was of prayer, one of seeing the reality of myself as I am, of seeing my imperfections and accepting them. On this particular journey of prayer, I faced my fear. My journey with God is personal and intimate and confidentiality restricts me from sharing all that happened to me on this journey. But there is one significant event that amazed me at how God has unlimited ways of revealing Himself to us, and how with just the right amount of attention and prayer, God showed Himself to me in ways I could never have imagined.

It was a dawn like any other as I woke up and went for my morning walk. The surroundings looked as they had on the day I arrived at Sacred Heart Retreat House. Seeing the sun up in the full glory of its light, I decided to stroll to the basketball court and then down the path to the Jesuit cemetery where I would pray a decade of the rosary for the souls of the faithful departed. As I approached the path towards the basketball court I heard the voices of nature, birds, bees, insects and many other creatures that I could not recognize. I heard the dancing of the leaves and branches, swaying in harmony to the rhythm of life. Somehow my senses extended WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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to accept all that was happening around me. I had never felt this way before, seeing nature in its glory, like waves of beauty, in various colors, untouched by human knowledge. I felt my heart pound with excitement as I pondered all that was going on around me. I began to pray, “Lord, the beauty of this earth never ceases to amaze me. How much more will be your beauty when I see you in all your glory! Thank you for all these gifts of nature, they truly show your beauty to me.” Suddenly a sparrow flew past me as I walked towards the cemetery. I thought of the words, “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31) I reflected, “God has shown so much love to these creatures that they praise Him with all the energy they have, and they depend on Him for everything. How much more love does God have for us, who are created in his image and likeness!” I went on further and sat on a bench near the cemetery. I thought about the words from Matthew and about my life, about all the moments of achievement and moments when I failed to live up to my expectations, moments when I noticed all my imperfections. Then I began to ponder about perfectionism. I thought, “How can one become perfectly human? Is it even possible? Who has ever been the perfect human? Do I want to be perfect? Can I be the perfect human? If I can be perfect then why am I not?” WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG

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I felt tears roll down my cheeks as I cried. I felt anger for all the times I had sinned, when I refused God’s love, when I decided to go my own way, thinking only of myself. If I held a mirror to my face, I would imagine seeing an ugly one, saddened by my imperfections. In the midst of silence, I found something that I had never thought possible to find in myself; I found desolation. With fear of what else might lay before me on this journey, I turned to God and asked, “What else do you have that could make me feel any worse than this?” I could feel the heat on my breath when I prayed these words. Slowly I stood and walked into the cemetery thinking, “Why me? Why me? Why do you have to make me feel this way?”

I never got an answer until that afternoon when I sat in the dining hall having a cup of tea thinking about what had occurred earlier in the day. It suddenly struck me that my imperfections and my history are all part of me. I may be imperfect in some ways, but there are also parts of myself that are good. When I saw this I realized that if I was a painting, I would be a mixture of many colors, some dark as night, some white as light, some grayish, a picture perfected only through God’s grace. As Blessed Mother Teresa said, “I may be a drop of water in the ocean, but without me the ocean would be a drop less.” CM Martin Koroiciri is a Columban seminarian from Fiji doing his spiritual formation year in Cubao, Quezon City, the Philippines.

“Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

–Matthew 10:31

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The Journey of Prayer

He Knows By Amy Woolam Echeverria


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s a child my prayer life was defined by learning the prayers of the Church: Our Father, Hail Mary, Apostle’s Creed, Acts of Contrition, the rosary. As a family, we prayed nightly at dinner and before bed. We were taught to speak special words of prayer in moments of sadness and gratitude. I was given the words I needed to begin to establish a relationship with God. I didn’t understand the words, but accepted that it was a way to connect with God. Growing older the words remained an intellectual exercise and thereby decreased in the importance of saying them. I began to silently relate to the

Creator through Creation—finding wonder and awe in a rising sun over the Atlantic, finding mystery in a midnight desert sky filled with stars to the point of spilling, finding power in the jutting rise of the Andes mountains against the horizon, finding hope in a lone flower surrounded by the poverty of makeshift homes made of old palates and tires. In connecting to God in this way, I began to feel the smallness of my life in relation to all that has gone before me and all that will come after I am gone. I began to seek words again, my own words, to speak to God. Mostly in the form of questions, my litany

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usually included requests, favors, negotiations and promises. I experienced God as a grantor of wishes and a gatekeeper to my happiness and suffering. The focus was on what I wanted for myself and less on trying to discern what God was calling me to. The birth of my children brought yet a new kind of prayer. The days of cocooned contemplation were over. My new “chapels” were standing at the ironing board, leaning over the bathtub, stirring the pot on the stove and cheering on the soccer sidelines. Daily life required a reimagining of how, when and what I shared with God. I began to understand the lives around me as the conduits to my conversation with God. In other words, I began to experience prayer as action driven by the needs of not only my family and friends, but the wider world and especially people and Creation that suffered from systematic injustice, violence, and marginalization. Prayer became not what I said to the Father, but how my life witnessed His love through the depth of my relationships in this world. This shift in focus has opened a door to a deeper and more vulnerable relationship with God. My asks have moved from external wants to internal needs. A life lived in true love brings joys and sorrows so deep that they become blurred. I have found that prayer becomes the instrument for the strength, courage, forgiveness, acceptance, patience, peace and freedom that is required to live in this world but to not be attached to it. St. Columban said it well, Christi Simus, non Nostri, We are Christ’s, not our own. My ministry of working with young adults has brought a greater appreciation of communal prayer.

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At the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, we have weekly faith sharing gatherings with our staff, interns and volunteers. The gatherings are grounded in reading scripture and talking about what we hear God saying to us through the Word. This bringing together of faith and social justice has offered new insights and dimension to making the Gospel relevant today. In sharing together we expand our hearts to hear how God speaks to those around us, thus helping us to cross boundaries of culture, gender, age and socioeconomic condition. In listening to one another, we are strengthened and our prayer becomes the justice, peace, and integrity of creation that we seek. As I reflect on the journey of prayer in my life, I am grateful to have experienced these various forms of prayer: the comfort and connectedness that comes from speaking the words of Our Father which have been spoken by countless people for more than two thousand years; the beauty and

grandeur that comes from seeing God in nature; the intimacy that is revealed in a daily life fully lived; the power of transformation that comes by having a humble heart; and the strength gained from sharing the Gospel with others. Ultimately, though, I believe prayer is not what I say or do. I am reminded of the wisdom my son shared with me shortly after his First Communion. We had just returned to our seats after receiving the Eucharist, and I leaned over to him and whispered that now was a good time to pray, talk to God about what is in his heart. To which my boy responded, “But if God is in our hearts always, we don’t need to use words. He knows it already.” Indeed, He knows. CM Amy Woolam Echeverria is the director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach in Washington, D.C.

Prayer became not what I said to the Father, but how my life witnessed His love through the depth of my relationships in this world.

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God Answers Our Prayers… All of the Time

By Angelica Escarsa

“God answers our prayers all the time, believe me all the time! I promise you. I can assure you God answers our prayers all the time.” This is what I share with the children when I visit schools around different parishes to do mission promotion. Many of you might think I could be in danger by telling this about God, that He answers our prayers all the time. It could create a big trouble alright. It could result me being excommunicated from the Catholic Church and called heretic. But I am sure you would want to know why I said it. And I can assure you I am saying it with conviction. Let me explain by giving you an example. 18

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When I was eight years old, I suffered from a urinary tract infection. It was not a very serious illness, but at that tender age, taking big tablets the size of kidney beans three times a day was like life is coming to an end. It was an awful experience, and I felt scared. However even at that young age, I knew about God. I knew that I could pray to Him, and He could make me well. That was what my godmother assured me. So I did. I prayed to God, actually I bargained with Him. I told Him that if He made me better I would go to Mass every Sunday. I promise–every Sunday–then I got well. I never prayed so hard as I did in 1995. It was the year I took

my board exam to become a teacher. That year it was the most important thing in my life as it was my future. If I passed the board exam, I could get a teaching job and help my family. I do trust in God’s mercy but without prayer I know I won’t get it. I did my best during the exam, but on my own I couldn’t be sure. I need God’s help. So I prayed every day until the results came out. And I can tell you it was the most exciting and life giving experience of my life when I saw my name on the list those who passed the boards. God again answered my prayer. In January 27, 2002, I was standing in front of our lady in Columban Church in Olongapo City, the Philippines. It was the night I was surrendering my sister to God when she was struggling for her life with the life support machine. She had been in a coma for almost a week. It was the only way I could comfort myself, entrusting her to God. At four o’clock the following morning my sister passed away due to complication from her rare illness of systemic lupus E. On September 25, 2002, just eight months after my sister died, I was lying on the bed in tears, praying so hard after getting the text message from home that my father was brought to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest and had a 50/50 chance of survival. He was in a coma.

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School visits in Ireland

Did God answer my prayer? My father died twelve hours after he had the cardiac arrest. Did God answer my prayer? Yes. He did! What did I pray? I asked God to help my father. Did He help my father? Yes, He did. You see, God answers our prayers. But it doesn’t need to be always “yes.” God answers our prayers according to what is best for us. He knows exactly what is planned for us. Remember what He said, “even before you were born, I knew you.” When we pray to God, and we don’t get a yes, it doesn’t mean God did not answer our prayer. “No” is also an answer, isn’t it? I remember during my first year on mission there were moments when I was homesick and upset, and I felt alone and lonely. I took refuge in a chapel in Ilac Center in Dublin, Ireland. There I knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament and started to cry. Then a woman came to me and asked me, “Are you okay?” I told her that I was upset and missed my family and that I wished I was at home. She was so sympathetic and was trying to console me. She told me, “Pour out everything to Jesus,” (pointing to the Blessed Sacrament) “Tell Him everything. He will listen to you, and you will be okay.” I thanked her for her kindness, and my heart was lifted. I was longing for my mother and there she was, a woman who talked to

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me the way my mother would speak to me. After few minutes, she came back and handed me 20 pounds. She said she returned the trousers she bought and had her money back. She is giving it to me so I could go to the cinema and treat myself. It was such an overwhelming experience. You see, I was only asking God for comfort when feeling sad and alone. But I got more than comfort. He sent me to the cinema. Maybe for that woman what she did was just a simple act of kindness, but the impact for me was tremendous. It was like experiencing God face to face. It was an affirmation that God is

so close to me and walks with me always. In that simple act I was assured that God reveals Himself through every person I meet, allowing me to know that He loves me no matter what and that He loves me especially in the lowest times of my life. May in our life we meet the God who is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He is the God who answers our prayer all the time. Believe me, He answers all of the time. CM Originally from the Philippines, Angelica Escarsa (below) is a Columban lay missionary working in Ireland.

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Christmas Crabs Traditional Rituals in Fiji By Fr. Patrick Colgan


s always, Fiji provides stunning new vistas not just for tourists but also for those of us who have the privilege to live and work here. One such place is the small island of Cicia, in the Lau group, a once-a-year plane ride for this priest from the capital of Suva. On the island, there is a community of about 50 Catholics looked after by three catechists and their wives. Their lives consist of fishing, subsistence farming and the harvesting of copra. Generally they receive a visit from a priest only once a year, so there is great expectation and plenty of work to do when one does get there. My Christmas visit in 2010 consisted of the daily confessions and Eucharist, evening sessions on the “Year of the Family,” First Communions, a marriage and a baptism of a ten year old boy. I was also intrigued to take part in some of the traditional rituals for this time of the year. One of the annual rituals is the yava irau where the whole village stitches together palm leaves as a large trap for fish and slowly draws them and the sea crabs to land with the tide. Another ritual is the drinking of wai tanutanu which is sea water boiled with lemon and chilis. Believe me, it blows your mouth off! There is great intermingling of the Catholics with the majority Methodist community on the island, and their minister even came with a gift of money and food for my stay.


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Christmas scenes from Cicia

The islands are very vulnerable to climatic events such as hurricanes and tsunamis and are still recovering from Tomasi’s visit in March 2010 which destroyed most of their root crops. Catholics in Australia and New Zealand sent 30 bags of rice, flour and other essentials through our local bishop and this sustained everyone, including the Methodists, through the roughest days. There are plans to build a small factory to convert coconut oil to biofuel and this is causing some excitement, but it is

the basic sharing of life that keeps the community functioning. The late Catholic chief of the area saw his dream of a secondary school being opened and one hopes this might stem the drift of young people into the city and often into unemployment. So the small parish of “Divine Mercy” continues to look and trust to the source of all good grace and in that they are a light to us, too. CM

Fr. Patrick Colgan lives and works in Fiji.

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Praying In a Climate of Chaos The Lord God Breathed Over Chaos and Brought Forth Life! By Fr. Barry Cairns


odern Japan is a country of constant noise and movement. I live in Yokohama, a city of three million people. The word I most often hear, almost as a greeting, is isogashii (I am busy). I sense that this business is a state of mind rather than the actual pressure of doing things. I, too, am infected with this insidious virus. The continuity of sound comes from various sources. There is of course home television, speakers inside shops pressing you to buy, but also outside street loudspeakers. But especially there is the almost constant use of sophisticated cell phones and iPods. Just yesterday I was in a commuter train in which 90% of the passengers had ear plugs from cell phone or iPods. The youth next to me had a strong metal beat pounding his ear drums. These days many Japanese find silence scary and unmanageable. How do we encourage prayer in such a difficult environment? Let’s call it chaos!

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First we need to accept the situation and face it with understanding. Sadly, the ancient tradition of Zen Buddhist prayer has not touched the modern city dweller. Meeting the situation has influenced my own prayer life, and I share my experiences with the people. Last Easter twelve newcomers began a nine month catechumenate. They have been introduced by friends or through the parish website. I team teach with two parishioners. The three of us pray aloud from the very first class even when the catechumens are in the pre-catechist stage. The second stage is called “Meeting Jesus.” We use the Gospels to gradually build up the gentle, approachable Jesus. People in the Gospel such as Zacchaeus and The Woman at the Well found Him so easy to talk to. He is the same today. Jesus is our God who has experienced our human frailty. He understands us. He is 100% God and at the same time 100%

human. He is very much alive now and listens to us. The Japanese expression translates literally as “He bends down and inclines His ear to us.” In the eternal present tense of the Scriptures, Jesus says in a living voice to each one of us, “I call you my friend.” Prayer, put simply, is a heart to heart conversation between friends. We leaders have been praying aloud for four months and now enter into classes specifically on prayer. Rather than giving methods of prayer, we would emphasize that prayer is a relationship between friends. This leaves the person’s prayer open to the Spirit working. After all, prayer is a gift from God, not a do it yourself exercise! To enter into this conversation, we have a relaxation exercise. It goes like this. Feel your feet on the floor; consciously relax your ankles, then legs; now your back shoulders and neck; relax your jaw (clenched teeth and prayer do not mix!); and finally quiet your heart. We are going to meet the living Jesus. Relate to Him as a close, trusted friend. Sometimes we may use words; sometimes it will just be the silence of enjoying a friend’s company. In introducing prayer we are progressive. First we start with Jesus as our friend; He leads us to Abba our gentle Father, and He sends us the Holy Spirit. This conscious creation of silent prayer in the midst of noise has a healing effect. Perhaps a modern version of Jesus’ invitation to prayer would be like this: “Come to me in prayer all you who are busy, tired, worried and stressed. I will put new life in you!” (after Matt. 11:28) CM Fr. Barry Cairns lives and work in Japan.

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Consider a Gift to the Columban Fathers Legacy Society You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:11)


s the warm and joyous feelings of the season surround us, and our calendars become filled with celebrations including friends and family, the holidays are upon us. This holiday season, give a gift to those who need it the most and include the Columban Fathers in your year-end giving. One of life’s greatest rewards is helping us spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have a special role in this effort, building a better place by helping others experience the transforming power of Christ’s love. And it is that same love that will be returned to you in abundance. If you would like to know more about gift-giving options, please contact us to discuss a plan that meets your unique philanthropic and financial needs. Here are a few ways for making a year-end gift: • Gift of cash • Gift of stock • Gift of real estate If you are considering more long-term tax savings or if life income is important, you may want to consider becoming a member of the Columban Fathers Legacy Society with your gift of a Charitable Gift Annuity or Bequest.

Charitable Giving through Your Individual Retirement Account The special tax-code provision that allows donors to make a tax-free gift from their IRA account to not-for-profit organizations will expire on December 31, 2011. This special tax break allows donors to make a direct distribution from their IRA account to a qualified charity tax free. Individuals taking advantage of this opportunity before the end of the year can avoid some taxes they would otherwise have to pay. Here are three of the primary provisions: • You must be 70½ years or older; • Gifts must be made directly to the charity of your choosing; • You can give a gift up to $100,000 (single) or $200,000 (married). 22 0

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For More Information…

We would be pleased to provide you with additional information that will assist you with your charitable giving decisions. For more information contact: Fr. Mike Dodd, Planned Giving Officer Columban Fathers P.O. Box 10 St. Columbans, NE 68056 Phone toll-free 1-877-299-1920 E-mail:

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Our Primary Relationship is with God


ission is about relationship, and our primary relationship is with God. It is in being in union with God that we are able to give of ourselves and meet the joys and sorrows of every day with faith, hope and love.  One way that Columbans in the United States nurture our relationship with God and one another is through our annual retreat at the Miramar Retreat center in Duxbury, Massachusetts. It is a time of quiet and prayerful listening to the Spirit.  It is also a time when we hold you, our supporters, your families and your intentions in our prayers in a special way. We remember the sacrifices you make in support of mission and in this way understand that we are

From the Director By Fr. Arturo Aguilar fellow missionaries, companions on the journey of building the Kingdom of peace and justice.     I recently read a prayer that speaks to our universal Christian vocation which is to live a life of love and service. It says in part, “Loving God of power and mercy from whose fullness we have received; Direct our steps in our everyday efforts. May the changing moods of the human heart and

“Faith gives us the promise of peace and makes known the demands of love.”

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the limits which our failings impose on hope never blind us to you, source of every good. Faith gives us the promise of peace and makes known the demands of love.” In our missionary spirituality, we understand and experience the fullness of God’s love and mercy when we place ourselves in a reality other than our own. In this relationship with people, cultures, languages and faiths different from own, we begin to experience Christ in a way that is transformative.  When we have an authentic cross-cultural encounter which is not only defined by geography but also by the reality in which we live, we become the One Body in Christ.     Although we can focus on our missionary work, our primary call is to have a missionary life. This is defined not by certain works, but by a life rooted in prayer, a life rooted in intimate relationship with God which brings us to a level of sacrifice that is joyful. We give thanks to you for the many ways you witness God’s love in your generosity to Columban mission. We are humbled by your faithfulness and missionary spirit to bring the Good News to those who live in the darkness that is poverty, exclusion, and injustice. In this season of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace, we are united in our belief that Light will prevail, for in Your light we see light…   Wishing you and all of your loved ones a blessed and joyful Christmas.    

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Columban Fathers PO Box 10 St. Columbans, NE 68056

Remember Our Missionaries This Christmas Season

Christmas reminds us to give of ourselves and to be thankful for the many blessings and gifts God bestows to us. As you remember family and friends this year, please also remember that your tax-deductible Christmas gift to the Columbans enables you to become a partner in mission. Your gift can help Columban missionaries continue to bring Jesus Christ’s message of love and forgiveness to some of the poorest of our brothers and sisters. Simply put your donation in the envelope enclosed in this magazine and send it to us today. Or, you can make a donation online through our secure website: www. Also, watch the mail for your free 2012 Columban calendar! You can order additional copies for yourself or loved ones by writing to us or sending an email to: Columban missionaries around the world wish you a joyous and peaceful Christmas season!

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

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: Website:

Sister Virginia Mozo National Vocation Director Columban Sisters 2546 Lake Road Silver Creek, NY 14136 626-458-1869 Email: Websites:

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

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Columban Mission Magazine December 2011  

Columban Mission Magazine December 2011

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