Here is a translation of the Letter that the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent yesterday, in the name of the Holy Father Francis, to H.E. Monsignor Gianni Ambrosio, Bishop of Piacenza-Bobbio, on the occasion of the 18th International Meeting of the Columbanus Community, on the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus.
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Most Reverend Excellency,
On the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus, which occurred at Bobbio on November 23, 615, the Holy Father Francis is happy to send his best wishes and greeting to you, to that Diocesan Community and to all those, from several countries of Europe, taking part in the 18th International Meeting of the Columbanus Community.
Irish by family and formation, Columbanus always cherished the “European” idea of his ecclesial commitment. In a letter of the year 600, addressed to Pope Gregory the Great, 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 (cf. Epistula I, 1). His life of prayer, ascesis and study, begun in the Monastery of Bangor, at the school of Abbot Comgall, never rendered him far from or inattentive in regard to the religious and political events of the time, in which he intervened in fact many times, with decisive tones, evoking the severe figure of Saint John the Baptist.
After thirty years in the Monastery, Colombanus carried out the ascetic ideal typical of the Irish communities, that of the perenigratio pro Christo, and 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. Therefore, he landed on the Breton coast with a group of monks and, with the benevolent welcome of the King of the Franks, he began the great work of evangelization of Europe, not through the imposition of the Creed, but through the attraction exercised by the monks style of life: the testimony of men that prayed, tilled the land, studied and led a sober life, based on the essential spiritual and material things, and rigorous on the moral plane.
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.
Several were the nations involved in his itinerary of evangelization and attraction to Christ, in as much as his Monasteries became beacons of spiritual, intellectual and social radiation: Bangor in Ireland, Annegrey and Luxeuil in France, Sankt Gallen in Switzerland, and the Bregen region in Germany.
The last earthly stage of the saintly Abbot was Bobbio: Bobium civitas columbanensis. The Monastery where he lived his last years, until his death, became a center of culture of the level of Montecassino and today it houses his mortal remains. He promoted the spiritual unity of the European peoples also in the last phase of his mission, struggling to overcome the lacerations due to the presence in northern Italy of the Arian heresy, which had broken the communion between the Longobards and the Bishop of Rome.
Saint Columbanus, who according to Benedict XVI we can truly consider one of the “Fathers of Europe” (cf. Catechesis in the General Audience of June 11, 2008), was convinced that there can be fraternity in the heart of Europe between people only if a civilization exists that is open to God. His great learning, his spiritual energy and his moral style show us clearly where to draw from because, in our time also, such a civilization can be revived in the European Continent.
May the Jubilee celebrations contribute to make the human and spiritual figure better known of this intrepid evangelizer totius Europae (Epistula I, 1). The Holy Father expresses his earnest appreciation of the many pastoral and cultural initiatives organized in the present circumstance and, while he 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, he imparts from his heart a special Apostolic Blessing.
I add my cordial best wishes and take advantage of the circumstance to express my personal regards.
Pietro Cardinal Parolin
Secretary of State[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]