Pope Benedict XVI spoke of St. Columbanus, the 6th-century Irish monk, at his regular weekly public audience on June 11.
After his education and spiritual formation in an Irish monastery, Columbanus and a group of 12 companions became missionaries on the European continent, the Pope recalled. They spread the faith "where the migration of peoples from the north and the east had caused entire Christian regions to lapse back into paganism."
This first "re-evangelization" of Europe succeeded, the Pope said, because of the powerful witness of sanctity in the missionaries' own lives. Soon Columbanus and his monks had to found a new monastery to accommodate the young men seeking to enter their community. Then a third monastery was started and the movement began to take root.
St. Columbanus wrote Regula Monachorum, which, Pope Benedict remarked, is "the only ancient Irish monastic rule we possess today." He also introduced the practice of private confession to continental Europe.
After rebuking King Theodoric for his adultery, St. Columbanus and his Irish companions sent into exile. But when their ship headed for Ireland ran aground, they returned to Europe, setting out to evangelize new territories around Switzerland and northern Italy-- a region deeply infected with the Arian heresy. The Irish monk wrote against the heresy and urged Pope Boniface IV to take action to restore orthodox Church leadership. In Bobbio, Italy, the Irish monks founded a new monastery, where St. Columbanus died in 615.
Because of his "ascetic life and his uncompromising attitude toward the corruption of the powerful," St. Columbanus invites comparisons with St. John the Baptist, the Holy Father said. Yet his uncompromising and sometimes severe attitude gave him the ability "to open himself freely to the love of God and to respond with his entire being."
Today, Pope Benedict concluded, the example set by St. Columbanus is a special challenge to Christians who, like the 6th-century Irish monk, wish to "nourish the Christian roots" of European culture and bring the message of the Gospel to a society that has become estranged from the faith.
Learn more about St. Columbanus at EWTN.