Vatican City, August 31, 2015
“Saint Columbanus, who according to Benedict XVI we can truly consider one of the ‘Fathers of Europe,’ was convinced that there can be fraternity in the heart of Europe between people only if a civilization exists that is open to God.”
This statement was made by Pope Francis in a letter that Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent on Francis’ behalf for the 18th International Meeting of the Columbanus Community, on the 1400th anniversary of the death of the saint. It was sent to Bishop Gianni Ambrosio of Piacenza-Bobbio, Italy.
Born in 543, Columbanus was a well-educated, Irish missionary who became a celebrated monk and founded several monasteries known for their strictness throughout Europe. He left writings and a monastic Rule which emphasized obedience, silence, poverty, humility, and chastity. Recalling that Saint Columbanus died in Bobbio on Nov. 23, 615, the Holy Father sent his best wishes and greetings to the bishop, diocese, and all those participating in the meeting.
“Irish by family and formation, Columbanus always cherished the European idea of his ecclesial commitment,” the papal note began, referring to a letter the missionary had written to Pope Gregory the Great in 600 AD, in which he made direct reference to the task of all Christians to collaborate so that the different peoples of the continent would live in peace and unity.”
After thirty years in the monastery, the cardinal recalled, Columbanus “carried out the ascetic ideal typical” of the Irish communities, that of the perenigratio pro Christo.
The missionary, the Pontiff’s letter stated, “became a pilgrim in Continental Europe, with the intention to have the light of the Gospel rediscovered in some European regions then de-Christianized after the immigration of peoples of the North East.”
“Saint Columbanus was a privileged channel of God’s grace, attracting crowds of pilgrims and penitents, and receiving in the many new Monasteries very many youths, who embraced his Regula monachorum. Convinced, as he was, that grace is the specific help that providence gives to every human creature that receives the love of God in his existence, he was the intrepid diffuser of Confession, Sacrament of a personal nature, to be repeated in everyone’s life, as irreplaceable means for a serious path of conversion.”
The nations which the now-saint evangelized and attracted many to Christ, he underscored, were many. Columbanus’ monasteries, he also added, became “beacons of spiritual, intellectual and social radiation,” such as Bangor in Ireland, Annegrey and Luxeuil in France, Sankt Gallen in Switzerland, the Bregen region in Germany, and Bobbio.
Cardinal Parolin reminded those gathered that Pope Francis expresses his earnest appreciation of the many pastoral and cultural initiatives, invokes the heavenly intercession of Saint Columbanus for the journey of the whole ecclesial community of which he is patron and for the peoples of Europe, and imparts a heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.