Donaghadee, County Down, Northern Ireland
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Matthew 22:34-40 (NAB)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him,
"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
Sister Perpetua was Mercy Sister from County Down, Northern Ireland, who died earlier this years. A nurse by profession, she spent some years in Iceland, working in a Catholic hospital there. She had a great love for those who were sick and especially for those who were bereaved.
A few years ago when I visited her in her convent in Downpatrick, where St Patrick is buried, she took me to St Comgall's Church in Donaghadee, probably the most Protestant town in the whole of Ireland. St Comgall's Catholic Church is on a side-sreet. It is part of the parish of Bangor, about the kilometres further north, also on the coast. The parish church there is also St Comgall's.
This saint founded the famous monastery in Bangor in 555. Some years later, during the lifetime of St Comgall, St Columbanus (Columban) entered there. Later he and twelve companions left for Continental Europe as Peregrini pro Christo, 'Pilgrims for Christ'.St Columban, the patron of the Missionary Society of St Columban to which I belong, founded a number of monasterieson the European mainland,preaching the gospel wherever they went. The saint's last monastery was in Bobbio, in northern Italy, where he died in 615.
St Columban set out from Bangor as a missionary. More than thirteen centuries later an Italian ice-cream seller, whose name I do not know but will call 'Luigi, found his way to the area from which St Columban had set out on his long journey. This Italian, to earn a living, opened an ice-cream parlour in Donaghadee, where he spent the rest of his life.
On another occasion when I went to visit Sister Perpetua she had just come back from the funeral of Luigi. She told me she had been afraid that very few would attend. But the church was packed and Sister Perpetua found herself sitting beside a Protestant man who had probably never entered a Catholic church before in his life. He told Sister why he was there.
He was one of a large family that never had money to spare. Occasionally during the summer his father would bring the children to Luigi's for ice-cream, even though he never had enough to buy for them all. 'Luigi never let us go', he told Sister,'without making sure that each of us had ice-cream, no matter how little money my father had. That is why I am here'.
St Columban left Ireland to be a missionary and died in Italy. Luigi left Italy to make a living in the area from which St Columban had set out and died in Ireland. He probably never thought of himself as a missionary but he crossed the religious barrier in Ireland by his simple love for poor children.
'You shall love your neighbour . . .'
I am posting this early because I probably won't have access to the internet for the next eight days as I give a retreat to some Missionaries of Charity in Tagaytay City, an elevated and pleasantly cooler area south of Manila. Please keep the Sisters and me in your prayers. Perhaps you can invoke St Columban and Blessed Mother Teresa.