Dom Columba Marmion

La Béatification le 3 septembre 2000
Discours et interventions

Embassy of Belgium in Dublin Dinner on the occasion of the Beatification of Dom Columba Marmion, Speech of Baron Alain Guillaume, Ambassador of Belgium
October 2nd 2000 (english)

Your Grace,
Right Reverend Father Abbot of Glenstal,
Ladies and gentleman,

Twenty-seven years ago, Ireland joined the EEC, the European Economic Community, linking its fate, together with Denmark and the United Kingdom, to continental Europe. Economically, one can see today what a success story it has been : prosperity may not be everything, but the general aspect of this country has dramatically changed.

The EEC became the European Union at the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993. This change made it look more political than before and some objected, but don't forget that, from the very first day, going back to the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the Founder countries had always made it clear that the political aim could not be separated from the economic and commercial ones : building Europe is part of a great design.

In a recent speech that he gave on September the 21st, the Prime Minister of Belgium, Mr. Verhofstadt, reminded us of that. But he also made an appeal to go beyond the concrete problems we are facing everyday - and for witch solutions have to be found - and put more the accent on the nature of the ultimate goal that we have to pursue for Europe : what sort of Europe do we want our children and grandchildren to live in ?

We share the same past, the same culture; we should have the same aims, the same goals. The Europe we aim at, the world we would like to live in, has definitively many aspects. Commercial, economic, financial, political, security and defense, law and justice, immigration, are all very important fields, but the world we would like to live in is not only made out of that.

What we want is not only a world that would bring about material benefits. If we have the same culture, if we share the same civilization, if we have the same faith, we know that nothing in the long term can be done without a spiritual dimension.

Ireland and Belgium are two countries where one appreciates good living and where one loves good drinking, but they are also two countries where traditionally the spiritual has a major importance in every day's life. These two countries have their own history and traditions, going back to the very first days of Christianism. But these two catholic countries have more than that: they have links between them that also go back as far as the first centuries.

Thomas Cahill, in his entertaining book "How the Irish saved civilization", recalling what he names the dark age (that period when Rome was sacked by Visigoths and the empire collapsed), affirms that, at that time, Ireland "became the isle of saints and scholars that enabled the classical and religious heritage to be saved".

I am not sure that one can go as far as saying that Ireland saved then the Western civilization, but what is undeniable is that, going back to the sixth or seventh century, hundreds if not thousands of Irish monks expatriated themselves and went to Europe, founding monasteries all over the place. There is hardly one diocese to be found in mainland Europe which does not have a patron saint coming from here : no wonder that they had a very deep influence that lasted throughout the centuries.

Dom Columba Marmion is part of this great tradition.

Born in 1858, Joseph Marmion was from a family of nine children. Three of his sisters became nuns and he himself, tempted by the service of God, just escaped from a fatal destiny: he could have become ... a Jesuit, if not the intervention of the then Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Cullen, who put up as reason the shortage of diocesan priests.

But, if I may say so, the worm was in the fruit, and nothing would stop Joseph Marmion to join one day a religious order. Marmion spent six years in Clonliffe as a theological student and then was sent to Rome to complete his theological studies. He was ordained priest in Rome in 1881... but the worm was still there, and it revealed itself clearly during a visit to Monte Cassino: not only had he a vocation to enter a religious order, but also the order was the Benedictine rule.

At the time, there was no permanent Benedictine monastery in Ireland, so Marmion envisaged to follow his friend and fellow student Joseph Moreau and go, as missionary, to Australia. So, on his way back from Rome to Dublin, he made a detour to visit that same friend who was at the time in ... Maredsous.

Back in Dublin, his authorities refused to let him go and appointed him curate of Dundrum and later, professor at Clonliffe, but he never could forget Maredsous and the Benedictines. The religious persons call that vocation: the lay might say make a dream out of your live…

Anyway, in 1886 finally, Marmion received permission to join the Benedictine Order and left for Maredsous. 23 years later, in 1909, he became its 3rd Abbot, but he didn't spend all those years in Maredsous. He was sent, a bit against his will - but monastic life is made all of obedience - to Louvain, to be during ten years, the Prior of the just newly founded Mont Cesar. He took that a bit as penitence, but it is during those years that Marmion developed a lifetime friendship with somebody who had a huge influence in Belgium at the time, Cardinal Mercier. He was his spiritual director before he became a Cardinal; they remained very close friends that only death parted.

Keeping up with the traditions of the Irish monks, Marmion traveled to many countries during his lifetime in Belgium, preaching retreats, but he really became worldwide famous by publishing "Christ, the Life of the Soul", "Christ in his Mysteries" and "Christ, the Life of the Monk". Translated into thirteen languages, this trilogy was in a way to be considered as the "modern Bible" by a whole generation of priests, during the first half of last century. His beatification a month ago by Pope John Paul the 2nd is the supreme recognition of his strong personality and his influence around the world.

But the story did not end there. If Dom Columba Marmion, Irish born but Belgian by naturalization, was to be one day venerated as a saint, he was also a very important symbol of the links between Belgium and Ireland. To acknowledge that, and in a way to perpetuate it, the Benedictines of Belgium, Maredsous, decided, just a few years after he died, to found a monastery in the very country he came from.

In a way, it was a thank you to Dom Columba Marmion - but also through him a thank you to the whole Christian world of Ireland - for everything this country had brought to the monastic world in general and to Belgium in particular.

That is why Glenstal Abbey was founded by Maredsous in the late twenties, under the auspices - Your Grace - of your predecessor, the Most Reverend John Harty, Archbishop of Cashel, and with the great help of Mgr. Ryan, a former President of St. Patrick's College in Thurles, who bought the place from the Barrington family.

Maredsous sent their monks there from the year 1927 on, until the late forties when Glenstal was finally made an independent community. Until then, Glenstal had been a simple priory and the Abbot of Maredsous was its real superior.

Nowadays, the links between the two monasteries remain alive and strong as you can see, and even today, more than one monk living in Glenstal, has spend some of his lifetime in Maredsous.

Your Grace, Minister, dear Father Abbot, as Belgian Ambassador, and personally, as a Christian, I must confess that I am very proud of this spiritual link between our two countries : thank you Dom Columba Marmion !