Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 23, 2008
Canadian Spiritans choose Edmonton priest as head
Fr. Bob Colburn has been pastor of 3 parishes, now is VICS director
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"It's a challenge in these times to take on any leadership with the Church."
The challenge for the Canadian Spiritans is to integrate foreign priests who are coming to serve here.
"Over the years we've invited people from Portugal, the Caribbean, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Poland to come and work with us here in Canada. We have to welcome them, incorporate them and utilize all their gifts and talents," Colburn explained.
"But at the same time they are the hope. We have to continue the work that we began here in Canada over 50 years ago."
There are nearly 4,000 Spiritan priests and brothers around the world, the majority of them south of the equator. It is basically a missionary congregation and its members are involved in education, pastoral ministry and overseas mission work.
In Edmonton, two Spiritan priests do parish ministry: Father Daniel Abba from Nigeria who serves as assistant pastor at St. Thomas More Parish, and Father Michael Troy, who does school ministry and assists at Holy Spirit Parish, which the Spiritans founded many years ago.
The Spiritans also have a good number of lay associates "and the challenge is how to best utilize their gifts and talents," Colburn said. Lay associates make a life-long commitment to the spirituality and mission and vision of the order.
Born in Carrot River, Sask., Colburn met the Spiritans in 1978 when he became a VICS volunteer and was sent to Africa to teach. He spent four years in Kenya and Gambia and then, after his return to Canada, he joined the order and began studies for the priesthood.
"There was a strong confirmation while I was in Africa that this is what I should be doing with the rest of my life," he said.
What he liked about the Spiritans was their welcoming nature, the fact they involved laymen and women in their ministry and the work they were doing in challenging places, mainly caring for those who had sort of been overlooked by society and even the Church.
"That was very attractive," he said. "There is something very special about this community; plus the fact they are also very laidback, very simple. They are not into structures. They are not into having everybody do the same thing or everybody live the same way.
"We don't have religious garb. We are invited to dress as the clergy do wherever we work. We are not distinctive; we are not standing out. We try to be part of the local cultures where we work."
Colburn was ordained in 1989 in Gull Lake, Sask., where his family lived at the time. He worked in vocation ministry for his community until he was sent to the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He served as pastor in Stettler, Hinton and St. Theresa Parish in Edmonton before taking over the directorship of VICS seven years ago.
VICS volunteers make a commitment to serve in overseas missions for a minimum of two years. Some teach in high schools or universities. Others are part of the "medical component" made up of doctors, nurses, nursing instructors and physiotherapists.
There is also the community development side to VICS. "Community development workers are often trying to enable our local people through programs usually initiated by a diocese to help them to have a better life."
VICS' community development volunteers currently serve in countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Gambia and Togo.
"We always have more positions open than we ever have people to do the work and that usually a huge challenge." VICS usually has 20 to 25 people serving at any one time.
Colburn will continue to serve as director of VICS until "we can put in place the transition" in the next two or three years.
"This is one of the challenges we face," he said. "In our religious community today we have many positions that have to be filled but we don't always have the people. You can't put all the people into administration because you lose your whole reason for being."
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.