Arriving in St Peter's Square to greet a cheering crowd of pilgrims and tourists, Pope Benedict spoke today about St. Columban, an early Irish saint who helped re-evangelise Europe in the early Middle Ages, and can serve as a guide for Europe to return to its Christian roots.
Seated under the shade of a large canopy, the Holy Father began recalling the life of the saint. "Columban made his monastic profession in Bangor and was ordained a priest. At the age of fifty, he left the monastery to begin missionary work in Europe, where entire regions had lapsed into paganism. Beginning in Brittany, Columban and his companions established monasteries at Annegray and Luxeuil. These became centres for the spread of the monastic and missionary ideals brought by the monks from their native Ireland. Columban introduced to Europe the Irish penititential discipline, including private confession."
The Pope went on to say that this Saint revived and nourished the Christian roots of Europe and is still serves an example for us today.
"His stern moral teachings led to conflict with the local Bishops and the Frankish court, resulting in the exile of the Irish monks, first to the Rhineland and then to Italy. At Bobbio, where he established a great monastic centre, Columban worked for the conversion of the Arian Lombards and the restoration of unity with the Bishop of Rome. It was there that he died, leaving behind not only the example of an austere monastic life, but also a corpus of writings which shaped the monastic culture of the Middle Ages and thus nourished the Christian roots of Europe."
“St. Columban's message focuses on a powerful call to conversion and detachment from worldly goods, with a view to the eternal reward. With his ascetic life and his uncompromising attitude to the corruption of the powerful, he evokes the severe figure of John the Baptist. Yet his austerity ... was only a means to open himself freely to the love of God and to respond with his entire being to the gifts received from Him, reconstructing the image of God in himself, and at the same time plowing the earth and renewing human society."
"A man of great culture and rich in gifts of grace, both as a tireless builder of monasteries and as an uncompromising penitential preacher", the Pope said, Columban "spent all his energies to nourish the Christian roots of the nascent Europe. With his spiritual strength, with his faith, with his love of God and neighbor, he became one of the Fathers of Europe, showing us today the way to those roots from which our continent may be reborn."
At the conclusion of the audience Pope Benedict offered warm greetings to all the English speaking pilgrims including those from Thailand and Nebraska in the United States.
"I offer a warm greeting and prayerful good wishes to Cardinal Kitbunchu and the pilgrims from Thailand who are present today, and also to the large group of delegates from the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska. To all the English-speaking visitors, from England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Korea, and the United States of America, I extend a warm welcome. May God bless you all."
Taking a final turn around St Peter's Square in the popemobile, the Holy Father waved to all those gathered before returning inside the Vatican.