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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Remembering Fr. Gallardo’s martyrdom for peace in Basilan

By Rene V. Carbayas

ISABELA CITY, Basilan – The Claretian Missionary Fathers (CMF) and Basilan Bishop Martin S. Jumoad led the commemoration of the martyrdom of Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, CMF, who stood by his Christian Faith and endured pain and suffering under the brutality of the Abu Sayyafs in 2000.

The Claret community in Tumajubong, Sumisip in Basilan organized activities on May 4-5, 2015 in commemoration of the 15th  anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Gallardo with the theme, “Remembering, Rekindling and Reliving the Life of Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, CMF, and Martyr for Peace.”

Church workers and community leaders who came all the way from Maluso and Zamboanga arrived in Tumahubong to join the local community to remember that fateful day in May 2000 when Fr. Rhoel and some teachers and civilians were killed.

Many people may have forgotten that gruesome killing of the priest and other civilians by the Abu Sayyafs, but the survivors and families of those who were killed in 2000 still endure the pain of the loss of their loved ones, as they call for justice.

The pain came back with tears rolling down their cheeks, as some students and teachers reenacted the March 20, 2000 hostage-taking, when Abu Sayyafs stormed Claret School of Tumajubong and took Fr. Rhoel, four teachers and 22 students hostage. Everyone in that small hall of the school was trying to contain their emotion, some would rather simply wipe their eyes, and others could not explain how they feel.

It was more painful for Marie to remember. She was one of the teachers who survived the ordeal, witnessing the steadfastness and strength of Fr. Rhoel, which became the source of hope and strength of those who were with him in captivity. Marie, as a teacher and worker of the Claret school, was closest to Fr. Rhoel. She occasionally paused for a moment to hold back some tears as she tried to share what happened, especially the way Fr. Rhoel would handle the situation they were in. She remembered Fr. Rhoel as respectful, humble, obedient and enthusiastic.

Faith and hope amidst violence and hopelessness

“God must really be here!” The words that Marie remembered that was uttered by Fr. Rhoel when they arrived at PunohMahadji, where the hostages were detained for about two months. Marie recalled that Fr. Rhoel even wanted to go back to the area after they would be released, saying that “the place will be good for retreat” and that he planned to bring the teachers and church workers for a retreat in the area. Marie said that Fr. Rhoel gave them hope and strength.

“He never complained and showed he was in pain, in spite of the obvious signs of harm inflicted upon him. He used sunglasses to hide the black eye and continued to pray the rosary in the face of continued mockery and blows received from the Abu Sayyafs,” she recalled.

Fr. Rhoel became the source of faith and strength even among children in captivity. He continued to speak about the beautiful life ahead and encouraged the hostages to endure the challenges at hand for a better glory in life.

Fifteen years had passed Marie can already go back to Tumahubong after several years away from home to heal the wounds and pick up the life shattered by the experience with the Abu Sayyafs. Perhaps, not completely healed by the trauma, but Marie stood as living witness to the faith, hope, and love of God shown by Fr. Rhoel.

As a church worker and having witnessed that horrible incident, Miriam Suacito also shared the meaning of those events that unfolded in the life of the Catholic Church in Basilan then and today. Recalling how the church was devastated over the news of hostage-taking and eventual killing of some of the hostages, Fr. Rhoel, Suacito said despite the situation and persecution that the Church and its Faithful have experienced over the years, when Christians fall victims of kidnappings and killings in Basilan because there are Christians, the Church in Basilan remained hopeful that peace is still possible.

“We are indeed an Easter people and alleluia is our song,” she said during her message, asking the people present to reflect on what this offering of lives by the Christians brought to the lives of Catholic Christians today? “What has been the people’s response and the Church’s take on this situation?”

She challenged the Christians in Tumajubong to reflect on their faith and live a faithful life where Christ is at the center. She also asked the church to engage more in peace initiatives and inter-faith dialogue as a legacy in honor of the lives that Fr. Rhoel and other Christians have offered. “This is the Church in the world that works for peace and justice,” she stressed.

Strong faith in God

Bishop Jumoad, who led the Eucharistic Celebration commemorating the event said in his message that Fr, Rhoel had shown that one could overcome difficulties in life because of his strong faith in God.

Jumoad also cited the difficulties that the Tumahubong community is experiencing, where people continue to suffer because of economic difficulties, aggravated by volatile peace and order condition in the area.

The Bishop also asked the people to draw strength from the life of Fr. Rhoel in order to endure hardships and hope for better life.  “Challenges in life could easily be overcome with faith, hope and love,” he emphasized.

Like in any other conflict-affected communities in Basilan, Tumahubong remains one of the poorest communities where people long for a better life. Although its road has been paved now, security remains a concern in the area.
Fr. Rhoel Gallardo may have been killed 15 years ago, but for the Claretian Missionary community, the Church of Basilan, and the people of Tumahubong, they have never lost him because the seeds of peace had been planted. And the challenge now is for the people to take care of it and see that the seed will grow and bear much fruit.

Fr. Rhoel, you have died in peace amidst darkness and may this same peace brings light to our path so that every day we live this peace for Basilan. Intercede for us, that we may also “conquer our fears with faith and trust in God.”