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Shock and grief as priest's corpse is returned

Parishioners mourn shot Italian activist missioner

Parishioners mourn as they look at the remains of Fr Fausto Tentorio yesterday Parishioners mourn as they look at the remains of Fr Fausto Tentorio yesterday
  • Keith Bacongco, Arakan Town
  • Philippines
  • October 18, 2011
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Within hours of his death, friends and supporters were arriving by the hundred at the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in North Cotabato, to pay their respects to Father Fausto Tentorio, the Italian missioner who died that morning at the hands of an unidentified gunman.

Most of the mourners were elders from the communities of  lumads - indigenous people – who live in nearby villages. Some of their sons and daughters, who fondly called the priest "Father Pops" or "Tatay Pops", won scholarships through the Indigenous Peoples Program run by the local diocese of Kidapawan.

Local police said Father Tentorio, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, was gunned down shortly before 8 am at the garage beside his convent. He was preparing to leave for Kidapawan City for a monthly clergy meeting.

Police chief Benjamin Rioflorido said the priest was shot 10 times, but so far only seven empty shells have been recovered. He expects there will be unusual pressure on the police to solve this case.

“He was such a good priest,” the chief said. “He really cooperated during our meetings or with any activities. This killing is a big issue here.”

At around 5 pm, a blue casket arrived at the church. It was laid in front of the altar where dozens of parishioners waited. The eerie silence that filled the church was suddenly broken by wailing from the mourners as the casket was opened.

Apart from that outpouring, the atmosphere was one of shocked incredulity.  Gigie Liboon, one of the two Church workers who rushed the stricken priest to hospital, said she still “could not believe Father Tentorio is gone."

“It is really hard for us to accept his death since we have no idea why this has happened,” she said.

Fr Tentorio’s assistant, Father Giovanni Vettorello, said the news of the killing also stunned him.

“A fellow priest received a text message that Father Pops was gunned down. My first reaction was, I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed my mobile phone and called Pops’ number. And one of his staff answered my call. It was then I believed he is gone.”

Town councilor Richard Gayatin, a former parish church worker, said he was not aware of any security issues surrounding the priest and knew of no one who may be motivated to kill him.

“Father Pops had been opposing the entry of large-scale plantations and mining here, but that was years ago. No other controversial issues these days have involved the priest or the church,” he said.

As the day went on, thoughts turned to Fr Tentorio’s last wishes.

Liboon said, “Father Tentorio told us that, given a choice, he wanted to be cremated and his ashes divided into three: one lot to be scattered at Sitio Bantok in Barangay Tumanding, where he set up a day care center, one in the parish grounds and one in Kidapawan diocese where a fellow missionary is buried.

Another parishioner, Jerome Tacudao, recalled that Father Tentorio planted some mahogany trees at the back of the convent in 1990.

Although he was only nine at the time, Jerome remembers that Fr Tentorio wanted wood from those trees be used for his coffin.

“He told us if he died and the trees are not yet fully grown, he would still want us to make a coffin out of those trees,” he said.

The blue casket that the corpse was brought to church in will be replaced; the mahogany to make Fr Tentorio’s coffin was felled yesterday.
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