Two years ago I had to break the news to our associates (Friends of St. Columban) that the Columban Sisters would gradually be withdrawing from Hong Kong They had invited me to join them after their retreat, when they would be electing their new leadership team. As I walked through the gate of the retreat centre in a pensive mood, I was approached by one of them. She said she had just been reflecting on her experience as a ‘Friend of St. Columban’ and on how much she had received over the years. She felt that they should now be taking on more responsibility. This gave me courage!
As I watched them conduct the meeting and finish the election process, I felt very proud of our associates. The little seed planted almost twenty years before had now matured and was sending out new shoots. I recalled the day when we Sisters were reflecting on our mission in Hong Kong. Sr. Lucia So stated that she would not like to see us leave Hong Kong until we had shared our charism with lay people. This was the spark that ignited the fire. At that time we as Congregation recognized that lay people also share our Columban charism. We were ready to invite them to a partnership with us.
A few of our Sisters accompanied them over the years and they gradually began to imbibe the Columban spirit and share our mission experiences. These were people we had come to know in our various ministries and who had been a great support to us over the years. We encouraged them in their own faith life and in their involvement in their own Parishes. But their participation as Friends of St Columban helped deepen their awareness of their own missionary calling and the widening of their horizons.
As I reflected on their journey that day, I felt we had now completed our task. As they listened to my sharing I could see that they too were growing in confidence and acknowledging that the time had come for them to become more independent. Since we had another year left before our departure from Hong Kong they immediately began planning how they could make best use of this time. They planned to visit all the places where our Sisters had been missioned over the years, since our beginnings in Ruttonjee Sanatorium. For all of us, this was a trip down memory lane and a fitting tribute to all the Sisters who had gone before us. It was sharing the history of our years in Hong Kong since 1949. During that last year we also celebrated the 90th anniversary of our foundation and the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Columban so it was a great chance for them to appreciate even more our Columban heritage.
Our associates continue to meet every two months sharing on faith and life. Every year they celebrate the Feast of St. Columban and renew their commitment according to their handbook, which they have drawn up over the years. They have been involved in projects on care of the earth and reaching out to people who are marginalized. Some of them have made a few trips to a small community of lepers in a remote area in China. This has been a very touching experience for them as they realized how grateful they were not just for the gifts they brought but for their presence, care and concern. Becoming aware of the needs in Myanmar they did fundraising for our mission there. Some have visited our Sisters in the Philippines and seen the projects they are involved in with the poorer children. They have been able to respond to this by sending donations of toys and books and in this way raising awareness of needs outside of Hong Kong. These encounters have enriched their lives. They assure us too that they continue to visit the graves of our Sisters who are buried in Hong Kong. This is a great consolation for us.
I give thanks for all we have shared together over the years and I know their strong community spirit will keep them united. They pray the prayer of St. Columban each day and the Columban Motto ‘Let us be Christ’s not our own’ continues to inspire them in their daily lives. We continue to keep in touch and although miles separate us we are always united in spirit, in prayer and in deep gratitude for all that has been and all that will be.
-Sr. Isobel Loughrey,SSC