If you want to know about a fearless and outspoken defender of human dignity and rights, you have to know about the life of a man known as Columban. He was a true Christian, an Irishman who dedicated his life to the service of others. He was a missionary, a fiery preacher, fearless and dedicated.
Columban went on a mission with his band of Irish priest monks. They were greatly welcomed, admired, and honored by the ordinary people as they traveled by foot throughout Europe, stopping in towns and villages, teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus of Nazareth.
He and his group brought education and learning to the people. He and his growing band of enlightened and educated followers civilized communities in the Dark Ages of Central Europe. He was criticized, rejected, and falsely accused by jealous clergy and deported. He and his followers suffered harassment by the authorities but he endured it all and built monastic communities around Europe of learning and prayer and provided service to the poor.
He was a writer of sermons and a poet, and he defended his rights when he appealed for justice to the Pope. He was a poet and a campaigner for social justice and called for the reform of a wayward clergy.
It all started when he was a young man, sometime around the year 560 AD, Columban became a monk in a famous monastery in Bangor Ireland, and was a born leader. Europe was in the dark ages and there was civil strife and corruption in the Institutional Church. In Ireland, an island that was somewhat isolated at the time, true Christianity flourished in the many monasteries which were communities of ordinary folk living in villages clustered around a central monastery.
Together, the monks worked the farms and fields around the monastery with the people and they all shared in the harvest. It was the center of their life. The monastic communities at the time were centers of learning, agricultural development, and innovation and produced fantastic works of art such as the Book of Kells.
Columban was inspired by the story of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and the monks strove to imitate him in his teaching and life. Columban eventually became the Abbot of the monastery in Bangor and in 590 he was inspired to carry the message of the gospel to the people of Gaul in central Europe.
With determination and mission in his heart, he chose to leave the monastery in Ireland and with his band of fellow monks, he traveled throughout what is now France and Germany, then known as Gaul, and inspired many to follow his example.
He was outspoken and unafraid of the tribal leaders, kings, authorities, lords, and bishops who ruled society at that time of great poverty and inequality. Columban preached the Good News to them all. He had many hundreds of followers and together they built a monastery at Annegray, Luxovium, and Fontaines to accommodate the many new believers and missionaries. Their fame spread throughout Gaul, what is now modern-day Europe.
Columban was outspoken and intolerant of the corruption in society and the clergy. He challenged the oppressive elites and family dynasties of the time. His message of reform was rejected as he himself was rejected like Jesus of Nazareth. He was accused falsely and criticized by the local clergy when he called for reform.
They were really angry at him as he was a powerful preacher and influencer who exposed the abuse and wrongdoing in the church and called for them to confess, repent, do penance, and believe in the Gospel message. He and his followers lived frugal lives and challenged the clergy to change and leave their lives of luxury and be true servants of the people. He taught them to be humble washers of feet as Jesus taught and challenged his disciples to follow his example. Columban’s challenge was too much for the clergy then and they rejected him and his message.
What motivated and drove him was his faith in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, which was a powerful, unshakable conviction that the force and power of goodness, love of neighbor, social justice, speaking the truth, and giving a better life to the poor was the heart of Christian faith and that one day it would overcome injustice, wrongdoing, and evil in the world. That is the heart of all Christian faith.
Columban wanted a society built on justice for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, and respect, dignity, equality, and justice for all.
He was believed and respected by many yet ignored by some, scorned and rejected by the local clergy and by the corrupt bishops and rulers. Undeterred, he continued to preach unselfish love of neighbor as the heart of the message of Jesus of Nazareth.
The corrupt clergy and bishops struck back at Columban to silence him but could find no fault to accuse him of wrongdoing so they accused him, an outsider, of violating liturgical custom for celebrating the Easter liturgy on another date than that of Gaul. Columbans followed the Celtic (Irish) calendar. He appealed against this accusation to the Pope, claiming he was wrongly accused as many Christian human rights defenders are today.
They conspired against him at the court of King Theodoric II. He was at first deported from Gaul and the boat he was forced to board ran aground when a storm blew in as it departed.
This was a sign to him and his faithful and trustworthy followers that God was protecting him and he continued his mission in Gaul. The authorities tried to close his monastery but failed. He and some monks were later forcibly removed from his monastery at Luxovium in the year 610. Columban went with his faithful friend Gall and other monks to Switzerland. He established a mission in St. Gallen and continued his mission challenging, teaching, and writing sermons and poems. He eventually crossed the Alps and founded a monastery at Bobbio in Italy where he died on November 23 in the year 615.
Columban has inspired countless men and women throughout the world to follow his example and continue his mission of spreading the values of Jesus of Nazareth. This spirit of service and faith that goodness, truth, and justice will win out and overcome injustice and human suffering inspired the establishment of The Missionary Society of St. Columban in 1916 in Ireland.
The mission continues in many countries today. Members and their helpers are serving the poor and the defense and promotion of human rights and dignity. Columban missionaries have chosen the preferential option for serving the poor and oppressed people and protecting God’s creation.
The Missionary Society of Saint Columban carries on this mission today in many countries around the world, especially in the Philippines. Everyone is invited to join.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.