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Missionary starts what looks to be his final posting

Aging priest takes on dangerous post in Mindanao

Fr. Peter Geremia will replace fellow Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio whose grave is pictured following his murder last year (photo by Ruby Thursday More) Fr. Peter Geremia will replace fellow Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio whose grave is pictured following his murder last year (photo by Ruby Thursday More)
  • Keith Bacongo, Kidapawan
  • Philippines
  • September 28, 2012
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For Italian missionary Peter Geremia, Arakan town in North Cotabato province, Mindanao could be one of his last missions.

Aged 73, he said he wants to keep going for as long as he can be of help, working within communities but “if the time comes when I become a burden then I will find a way out.”

The greater threat though could be kidnapping, or worse.

Father Geremia first arrived in the Philippines 40 years ago but has been the target of several assassination attempts since the 1980s.

In his new assignment, he will follow in the footsteps of others who have been less fortunate when it comes to staying out of trouble in this restive region in the south of the country.

Fr. Geremia vowed to continue the work of Father Fausto Tentorio as coordinator of the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate of the Diocese of Kidapawan.

On Monday, October 17 last year, a man walked up to Fr. Tentorio as he was getting into his pickup truck and shot him eight times in the chest with a gun fitted with a silencer and then sped away on a motorbike. Tentorio died in hospital the same day.

Like Geremia, he had received a number of death threats prior to his killing.

“As young as I used to be, I will try to continue what Fr. Fausto started,” he said, just over a month ahead of his 74th birthday in November.

Fr. Geremia had already volunteered to serve in Arakan when another Italian missionary left to go on holiday this year. But his superiors declined and instead sent Giancarlo Bossi, another Italian, who had been kidnapped by militants in 2007.

On Sunday, Bossi died after recently being diagnosed with cancer.

For Fr. Geremia, Arakan is the latest, and perhaps the last, stop of a long career in the Philippines.

His first mission work was in Tondo in Manila in 1972 and he then served as a parish priest in Tulunan, also in North Cotaboto, from 1980 until 1985.

The same year he was transferred to Columbio, a town in the center of Mindanao, and has remained there ever since, until now.

Fr. Geremia has developed a reputation as an outspoken advocate for tribal peoples’ interests by opposing large mining projects which have encroached on land occupied by ethnic minorities. He wears a colorful, traditional scarf, just like the tribal people of Mindanao, as a sign he is one of them.

Lory Obal, head of the intercultural organization for solidarity and peace in Fr. Geremia's former home of Columbio, said parishioners do not want the old priest to leave.

“But it was his decision,” he said.

Related reports

Missionary and former hostage dies
A Columban missionary who was held hostage by Islamic militants in 2009 retires
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