On the feast of St Columban, November 23 this year, a new Columban Region will come into existence. Since 1952 there have been two Regions in this part of the world, the Region of Fiji and the Region of Australia and New Zealand. With the smaller number of priests in all three countries we are coming together. Our purpose is to continue responding to God’s missionary call in these new times.
Preparing for this change has pushed us to think deeply about the way we do mission in Oceania.
In Australia as we prepare for the Plenary Council the church is asking “What is God asking of us today?” As Columbans in Oceania we are asking the same question. This being the Extraordinary Month of Mission the timing could not be better.
In the past we often spoke of mission as going from one country to another but it seems to me that to consider Oceania as our mission opens up new ways of thinking. New Zealand has a clear boundary as does Fiji and Australia. We have had missionaries going from Australia and New Zealand to Fiji since the 1950s. Many of those Columbans had come from Ireland in the first place. Mission and movement go together. Now of course we have Columbans going from Fiji to other countries such as Peru, Pakistan and the Philippines.
When we think of ‘Oceania’ we can see that the word is a development of the word ‘ocean’. There is only one World Ocean. The salt water is all connected. The ocean embraces the earth. In a similar way the mission of God embraces the earth. But the ocean is not static. There is continuous movement so also for mission. The movement of the ocean is like the movement of God in our world. Our Columban mission can be imaged as the moving waters of the ocean around the whole earth.
Not only does the ocean speak to movement it also speaks to the connection between our three countries. It is the ocean that unites us. God’s mission is to unite the world and the church’s mission is to be the sacrament of that work. The sacrament makes visible to us what God is doing all the time. God is at work bringing people together and that is the mission of the Columbans. Across national boundaries, different cultures and religions God is building bridges between his sons and daughters. So the movements of Columbans are like the different currents in the ocean bringing life and connection to all.
There has always been plenty of movement and interaction within Oceania. We can talk of the effects of climate and climate change. We can talk of the movement of people from one country to another. Rugby is a great image of the relationship between the three countries. There are fierce contests between the national teams but then there are also individuals playing in one or other of the other countries. The network of rugby players binds the countries together. Politically and economically there are also relationships that are mutually beneficial but they can have their challenges.
Just as there are different colours of corals so there are different colours of Columban mission. In Fiji Columbans are involved in parish ministry. There are seminarians and lay missionaries and a growing lay support organisation, Columban Companions in Mission. The colour of the coral there is bright. In New Zealand and Australia we have plenty of great supporters for Columban mission in different parts of the world. This is healthy coral but of a different colour
The God of evolution is not going to stop creating. Our future as the Region of Oceania will be different but has a solid base in the commitment of God to the fullness of life for all. The God of life continues to bless us in our work and will continue to lead us and guide us into an unknowable future.
Let us pray during this Extraordinary Month of Mission for this new phase of Columban life and mission in Oceania.
Fr Trevor Trotter