A line I heard in a recent discussion among a group of parents left me smiling! Several of the parents were bemoaning the fact that their youngsters’ ability to read and write properly was going to be affected by their constant texting on mobile phones. Part of me acknowledged quietly that there was a good chance that the parents had been involved in buying the mobile phones – or at least in buying the first one, which has now been upgraded and has had extra features added. Another part of me was amused because my mind flashed back to a similar argument being made about a character called “Pudsy Ryan” in my own youth.
Pudsy’s diary is in a magazine published by one of the missionary societies in Ireland. “The Far East” is published by the Columban Fathers who were established to spread the Gospel in China. The diary of Pudsy Ryan is written specifically for younger readers. However, Pudsy spells everything incorrectly. In my younger days, adults browsed articles about Irish priests working as missionaries in the unknown corners of Asia, while the children of the house waited to get their hands on Pudsy’s stories of his exploits much nearer home.
Pudsy still features in the magazine and has even made his way onto the Internet (www.columban.com). In the September issue he writes that “Lass Satirday mum askd me to dust the sittin room.” So his spelling has not improved after all these years!
The society of missionaries which Pudsy and his history are part of featured recently in the Person of the Year Awards. Marian Finucane presented the International Person of the Year Award to Fr. Shay Cullen, a Columban Missionary. She said she was delighted to give him the award for his “relentless courage and commitment to protect vulnerable children from abuse, cruelty and exploitation and for giving them the opportunity to rebuild their lives with dignity”. Fr Cullen’s work in the Philippines revolves around caring for the poorest and most trampled on children – children who would have no reason for hope without the work of the Columban missionaries and their supporters across the world. The children he cares for cannot read Pudsy’s Diary but Pudsy would understand them.
The Missionary Society of St. Columban and the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban were born from the vision of two young priests who met up in the years between 1916 and 1920. Fr. Edward Galvin was born in Newcestown and was ordained in 1909 for the Cork diocese but was sent on loan to the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, where he heard from a missionary about the religious situation in China and volunteered to go there himself.
Four years later he returned to Ireland to seek the support of the Irish Church. John Blowick, who had recently been appointed to the faculty of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, had long been haunted by the thought of the multitudes of China’s people still untouched by the Gospel. He resigned his chair of theology to go to China as a missionary.
What was then known as the “Maynooth Mission to China” was formally established 90 years ago this year and the first missionary society of diocesan priests was born. Mission and Ireland did not just come together then. The Society takes its name from St Columban, Ireland’s missionary to Europe in the 6th century.
The first Columbans went to China in 1920, to meet the challenges of its language and culture and to share the suffering of its poor. They remained there until they were expelled by the Communists in the 1950s and then transferred their zeal to other parts of the world where the poor would welcome the Gospel. (Some Columban priests are back in China today ministering to the growing number of Catholics in that country.)
The Columbans are but one element of an amazing commitment to mission which is part of the Irish Catholic experience. There’s hardly a family in Ireland which has not had a relative as a missionary priest or sister. The experience of our diocese in adopting parishes in Peru and Ecuador was also part of a deep seated commitment in our people to take up the words of Christ which are the theme of this year’s Mission Sunday: “Go Tell!” On the weekend of October 20th, on Mission Sunday, we recall the enormous contribution by Irish people down through the centuries to bringing the Good News to every corner of the plant.
This Good News is not just words. The Irish missionary commitment has always had tangible effects in the lives of the people. Work for justice and peace go hand-in-hand with teaching the Gospel. Everywhere that Irish missionaries have established faith communities, schools, homes, hospitals, churches, convents and the various elements of a community life have been developed. This has been made possible through the generosity of the missionaries who remained at home but supported the work with prayer and funds.
This missionary movement is still alive and strong. It has changed its hue a bit – and that’s natural – but it is still evident. Most of the new members of missionary societies these days come from the continents being served by the same societies. However, there is a strong and highly committed strain of mission alive and active in a new generation. It is evident in the people who volunteer to devote part of their summer holidays to improving the lives of others in the third world. It is the same desire to sow hope, faith and love which inspires thousands of Irish people to join Niall Mellon and his foundation in building hundreds of homes in the townships of South Africa. It is alive and active in the people who work to make a difference in the lives of children who are abandoned in eastern Europe and Asia.
As Pudsy might say, it’s not how we spell it or what we call it that matters. It’s the fact that people are alive to the needs of one another and willing to make sacrifice so that others may know the life and hope that God has shown to us. In this sense, every month is a mission month.