Backstage missionaries

Photo: AndreyPopov/ Photo: AndreyPopov/

Former editor of the Misyon magazine in the Philippines, Fr Sean Coyle explains why he believes lifelong readers of Columban magazines are in fact ‘backstage’ missionaries.

On a beautiful summer's afternoon on a Saturday in July last year I found myself in the village of Whitwick among the rolling hills of Leicestershire in the heart of 'England's green and pleasant land'.

I was at the door of the church greeting parishioners coming for the Saturday evening Mass. The women were dressed in colourful outfits reflecting the glorious weather, not at all inappropriate for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus that is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

One white-haired woman, the archetypal 'little old lady,’ approached me with a glint in her eye and told me in a 'conspiratorial' manner that she would see me after Mass. And she did. She told me with clear delight, "I will be 86 tomorrow." Her name was Mary Ferguson.

Mrs Ferguson has been reading The Far East magazine since she was about seven. She continued her mother's tradition of subscribing to the magazine. Her mother used to read the stories of Columban Missionaries to two friends who could not read.

While in England I had a visit in the Columban House in Solihull from an old friend, Frances Molloy, who founded an ecumenical ministry located in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. It is a Pastoral Care Project, the purpose of which is "raising awareness of the spiritual needs of the frail elderly, enabling carers to support them in their journey to the fullness of life". I had become involved with the Project when based in Solihull from 2000 to 2002.

Some months ago Frances told me in an email, "My parents, Alex and Margaret Morrison, lived on Rathlin Island which is where I became aware of The Far East. It’s striking covers attracted me to read it during my childhood from a very young age. I expect the parish priest encouraged every family to buy the magazine."

Columban magazines have been part of the vocation journey of many, including myself.

I was often moved by articles and letters I received. Some of the articles I read in The Far East magazine before and after I was ordained still remain in my memory and make me aware of the presence of the Risen Lord Jesus in our daily lives and how he speaks to us through those on "the peripheries", as Pope Francis might say.

One Filipina Carmelite nun in Belgium attributes her vocation to our magazine in the Philippines, Misyon, and now, which I edited from 2002 until 2017.

Readers like Mary Ferguson, her mother and her mother's friends who could not read, readers like Alex and Margaret Morrison and their daughter Frances Molloy, are the 'backstage' Columban Missionaries whose prayers and support are absolutely vital to the work of Columban missionaries 'in the field'.

Columban Fr Sean Coyle is based in Dalgan, Ireland.

Columban magazines have been part of the vocation journey of many, including myself. 

Listen to "Theological shorthand"

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