A Concert in Hong Kong for Anniversary Year of St Columban

By Fr Patrick Colgan

The author, from Northern Ireland, is a member of the General Council of the Missionary Society of St Columban in Hong Kong. He has worked in Fiji for many years.

On 11 June this year a quite historic confluence of ‘worlds’ came together: the Oriental and the Celtic, diplomats and business people, missionaries and music lovers, as the Anglican Cathedral Church of St John in Hong Kong quieted for ‘The Journey – a Celebration of the Life of St Columban’, an Irish monk-missionary who died exactly 1400 years ago, patron of the Columban missionaries.

The  anniversary concert was the fruit of over a year’s collaboration between the Celtic Connections Choir, the International Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, the Irish Consulate, St Patrick’s Society and the Irish Chamber of Commerce, the China- and Hong Kong-based Columbans,  the Columban Lay Mission Leadership Team and the Columban Sisters' Associates' Group.

A Portrait of St Columban

It all began with a conversation at the  St Patrick’s Day celebration of 2014 in Hong Kong when Fr Tommy Murphy, Superior General of the Missionary Society of St Columban from 2006 till 2012, and I mused with a number of Hong Kong-based Irish business women about the St Columban Anniversary Year ahead. Little did we realize how it would grow into a busy year of events - with many hours of preparation in committees! - culminating in an opening Chinese Banquet in March, this concert in June, a Christian Meditation Retreat in September dedicated to St Columban, the year  rounding out  with a Mass  to be celebrated by Cardinal John Tong, Bishop of Hong Kong, at St Joseph's Church, Hong Kong, on 21 November.

The Irish Consul to Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Peter Ryan, told the congregation at St John’s that the wider Irish and Hong Kong  community ‘had only been waiting’ for the Columbans to ask for help to celebrate appropriately this Anniversary year. Peter, having personally come to know many Columbans during stints in Korea, Japan and New York, roundly praised missionaries as being ‘the truest’ ambassadors of their home nations, and icons of hope for many thousands, particularly in Asia. He spoke affectionately of Columban Sr Mary Dillon, who runs an AIDS hospice in Myanmar (and for whom a collection was made during the concert), the famous ‘Fr PJ McGlinchey (and horses!!)’ of Jeju-do, Korea, and many others. 

The song High is the Heaven, Deep is the Sea (commissioned for the year and composed by Fr Liam Lawton of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, Ireland) started and became a fitting finale to the concert. But, I feel that if St Columban himself could have talked, he would probably have used the very Irish expressions of another song that night, the 'Gaelic Blessing' of the English composer, John Rutter:

‘Deep peace of the running wave to you,
The flowing air, shining stars, the gentle night to you,
Moon and stars pour their light on you,  
Deep peace of Christ, the Light of the World, to you.’

A Gaelic Blessing

High is the Heaven, Deep is the Sea

Chorus. High is the heaven, deep is the sea
Wide is your wisdom that calls us to be
Formed in your Spirit that we might reveal;
Love is your dwelling, love is your dwelling,
O eternal mystery

1. And what of the world that it may reflect
The presence of God, this beauty on earth!
Wise be the soul who longs to respect
The Creation of God from its birth to its death.

2. And what of the time that passes away,
While only God's love for all still remains;
For all things shall pass and all things know change
For we are but Pilgrims, still finding the way

3. And what of our Joy that our hearts should know
(The) harvest of saints, gathered and grown,
The gift to our day from cells hewn in stone;
Columban of God, your name we make known.
4. And what of the day Columban set sail
From Bangor to Britt’ny, then on to Luxeuil;
You rowed up the Rhine, arrived in Bregenz;
T’was in Bobbio where you arrived in peace.

5. And what of the heirs who carry your name,
Your daughter and sons with hearts set aflame;
Christi simus non nostril;
We are for Christ and not for ourselves.

Lyrics and music by Liam Lawton
Arranged by Mark Cahill

Stanzas 4 and 5 written by the Columban priests in Malate Parish, Manila
Finale arranged by Cris Añago, Musical Director, Malate Parish.
Performed by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

Choir: Voices of Ireland Chamber Choir

You may listen to the original version and read the original text by clicking here.