As a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban I was delighted to read that Pope Benedict spoke at his Wednesday audience yesterday about our patron saint. His talk gives a good synopsis of the saint’s life and an accurate description of his character and sanctity: 'St Columban's message is centered on a firm call to conversion and detachment from the goods of the earth in view of our eternal heritage. With his ascetic life and his conduct free from compromises in face of the corruption of the powerful, he evokes the severe figure of John the Baptist.'
I don’t know if Pope Benedict timed his talk yesterday deliberately for the eve of the referendum today in the Republic of Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty, the only one of the 27 states in the European Union to have such a vote. Polls indicate that the vote could go either way.
Robert Schumann, considered one of the 'Fathers of the EU' and whose cause for beatification has been introduced, considered St Columban to be 'the patron saint of all those who now seek to build a United Europe'. Pope Benedict echoed this: 'Today I would like to speak of the holy Abbot Columban, the most famous Irishman of the early Middle Ages. With good reason he can be called a "European" saint, because as monk, missionary and writer, he worked in several countries of Western Europe. Along with the Irishmen of his time, he was aware of the cultural unity of Europe.'
One of the major themes of the pontificate of Pope Benedict is his great desire for a renewal of the Catholic Christian faith in Europe. He ends his talk by describing St Columban in terms of his impact on that continent: 'A man of great culture - he also wrote poetry in Latin and a grammar book - he proved himself to be rich in gifts of grace. He was a tireless builder of monasteries as well as an intransigent penitential preacher, spending all his energy to nourish the Christian roots of Europe, which was being born. With his spiritual energy, with his faith, with his love for God and for his neighbor, he truly became one of the fathers of Europe: He shows us even today the roots from which our Europe can be reborn.'