Bishop Benedictus Estephanus Rolly Untu of Manado (center) leads a special thanksgiving Mass on May 2 at St. Francis de Sales Parish Church to celebrate the beatification of Father Juan Alonso Fernandez. (Photo: YouTube)
Catholics in Manado Diocese in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province are celebrating the beatification of Father Juan Alonso Fernandez, a Sacred Heart priest killed in Guatemala who once served as a missionary in the diocese.
Bishop Benedictus Estephanus Rolly Untu of Manado along with several priests led a special thanksgiving Mass on May 2 at St. Francis de Sales Parish Church in Kokoleh, where Blessed Fernandez served for two years.
The Mass was part of a series of thanksgiving Masses held at several churches in the diocese to celebrate his beatification on April 23.
Bishop Untu told churchgoers that as Blessed Fernandez had worked in his diocese, the people in the diocese had subsequently taken part in the beatification process.
"This beatification is part of the testimony of our journey of faith in Jesus Christ," he said.
He also called on them to learn from Blessed Fernandez's life to show testimony of faith in their own lives.
This is an expression of our love and respect for this brave figure who used to serve the people here
Father Fernandez was one of 10 martyrs killed in Guatemala — three priests and seven laypeople — whom Pope Francis beatified on April 23.
He was born in Cuerigo, Spain, on Nov. 29, 1933, and shot dead on Feb. 15, 1981, by the Guatemala military regime. The other two martyred and beatified priests were Father Jose Maria Gran Cirera and Father Faustino Villanueva.
Father Fernandez served in Indonesia’s Manado Diocese from 1963-65.
Father Yance Mangkey, former general secretary of the Sacred Heart Missionaries, said Blessed Fernandez was specifically sent to Indonesia in place of Dutch colleagues due to tensions between the Netherlands and its former colony.
While serving in Manado, the missionary priest reportedly baptized hundreds of Catholics, both in Kokoleh Parish and in surrounding areas.
In St. Petrus Parish in Langowan, where he baptized 72 Catholics, parishioners placed a large photo of him on the altar, which was also decorated with flowers for a celebratory Mass.
"This is an expression of our love and respect for this brave figure who used to serve the people here," said Frelly Tulangow, a church administrator.
I am grateful for his testimony of life and selfless service
Even though he did not meet the missionary, he said, his testimony of life was a matter of pride for all people.
"Hopefully his spirit and the blood of his martyrdom can stir a mission among people here to become priests," he said.
Emeritus Bishop Josephus Theodorus Suwatan of Manado, who was a seminarian when he met Blessed Fernandez, said the missionary loved traveling to remote areas in the diocese.
"He was an explorer," he said. "I am grateful for his testimony of life and selfless service, even though he only served here for a short period of time."
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