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DOVE OF PEACE

Father Francis's picture
Saint Columba

The little island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, seems an unlikely choice of headquarters for any enterprise. But it became a stronghold of faith and the hub of Christianity because of an lrish monk.

Born in Donegal around 520 and ordained at the age of 25, Columba set out on a preaching mission travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. He attracted many followers and with their help founded several monasteries, notably the great houses of Durrow and Kells.

It is not known for certain why Columba chose to leave his native land but at the age of 42 he crossed the sea to Scotland accompanied by a small group of monks. Preaching the peaceful message of Christianity, he quickly won over the warlike Picts who gave him the island of Iona to establish a permanent base, and there he built his monastery.

On their remote island the monks lived a simple life, following the customs of the Celtic Church and the Rule which Columba drew up for them. They prayed, studied and copied the scriptures, and did manual work such as farming and fishing. The monastery became a centre of learning and devotion, attracting many pilgrims, while kings and princes came to ask Columba's advice and Royal sons were sent to Iona to be educated.

It was also a centre for missionary activity. Churches and monasteries were founded and Columba trained many missionaries who were to carry the Gospel message even further. One of them was St. Aidan, who founded a similar monastery on Lindisfarne and converted the English people of Northumbria. He never liked to waste time, but was always busy praying, reading, writing or preaching.

The name Columba means 'little dove' which suggests a man of peace although the description suits this gentle saint who won people's hearts by bringing charity and peace to all he met.

No doubt he found his inner peace in the solitude of Iona, loving the beauty of God's creation and seeming to have a special affinity with all living creatures.

Columba left this world on 7 June 597, dying at the altar of his church. His great achievement was the evangelisation of the North of Britain and, remarkably, another great missionary, St. Augustine, arrived in England at Pentecost in the same year.

Today, 1400 years later, Iona is still a place of prayer and pilgrimage. Our world still needs peace, but perhaps we need to learn from Columba that we can only bring peace to others when we have peace in our own hearts. We are not all called to the monastic life but we can try to find a balance in our lives, creating a little solitude somewhere in our daily life, so that God can fill us with His peace.

Saint Columba, pray for us.