Columban General Assemblies since 1994

Fr Tim Mulroy celebrating the opening Mass at the 2024 General Assembly in Peru with Fr Brian Vale (left) and Fr Tony Coney (Right)
Fr Tim Mulroy celebrating the opening Mass at the 2024 General Assembly in Peru with Fr Brian Vale (left) and Fr Tony Coney (Right)

By the time the GA came to Santiago, Chile in 1994, a good deal of the tension of previous years around the understanding and practice of mission had dissipated. In the preface to the Acts of the Assembly then Superior General Nicholas Murray spoke of reaching a critical stage in our history. As national churches became self-sufficient there were questions about the role of foreign missionaries.  We were also faced with severe personnel and financial shortages. Very much as with the 2024 Assembly the questions clustered around a sustainable future for the Columbans. Do we just hope for the best?  Do we rationalise? Do we plan our demise, or do we choose renewal and new life? That the Acts of the Assembly were entitled Choosing Life reveals which way the decision went.  

This assembly embraced partnership as “a necessary response to present and emerging challenges”. Partnership was seen as the model across all levels - within the society itself, with local churches, with laity, with priest associates, and with those of other religious traditions. The call of Pope Francis for a Synodal Church is a further development of the theme of working together in partnership.

The GA of 2000 was held in Sydney, Australia as we entered a new Millennium and celebrated a Jubilee Year.   Every assembly looked seriously at what was happening in the world as that provided the context in which mission is carried out.  This assembly considered the positive and negative effects of globalisation. A key issue identified was that “it theoretically offered a first world consumer lifestyle for all”. Our planet cannot support this. The assembly also recognised that “an economic system free of political control cannot avoid promoting savage inequalities”. This means that the poor repeatedly miss out on the benefits of this system. In a globalised world faith becomes privatized and more fundamental in form. The assembly called for prophetic witness to the value of all human life. It advocated working in partnership with other groups who are also addressing these issues.  

Former Superior General Fr Tony O’Brien addressing the Irish Regional Convention 2024
Former Superior General Fr Tony O’Brien addressing the Irish Regional Convention 2024

The 2006 General Assembly was again back in Ireland. Looking at the state of the world then it noted some developing trends that mission needed to address. Among them they noted the threat posed by climate change, an unprecedented increase in human migration and a rise in fundamentalism in religious traditions.

The Assembly of 2012 was held in Los Angeles in the USA.  In this gathering some matters that had been emerging in earlier assemblies were brought into clearer focus among them the importance of increased transparency and accountability at all levels, a focus on spirituality, aging and retirement, the role of coworkers and the acknowledgment of the impact of the abuse of minors in the church.

In 2018 the GA was in Taiwan. This assembly took place as we celebrated 100 years of Columban Mission. The delegates remembered with gratitude the faithful witness of so many Columbans and coworkers and the constant help of our supporters and benefactors.  They also shared concern over the depth of alienation from the church that has developed in many places. This was linked in part to the failure of the church to respond quickly and honestly to victims of sexual abuse. It was also related to the experience of exclusion and discrimination in the church. 

Preparation for 2024 assembly have been aided by the traditional process of holding assemblies/conventions in each Region and Mission Unit.  An independent report into the situation of the Society was commission and delivered.  The Preparatory Committee arranged a series of 6 guest speakers on zoom meetings where we could explore together this report as well as discussing some of the other major issues this assembly must address.  Our delegates go into this assembly prepared to engage in courageous conversation about the future of Columban Mission.  We pray for them and for the success of the assembly.

Columban Fr Pat O'Shea lives and works in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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