Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: May 04, 2021 09:52 AM GMT
The Territorial Prelature of Isabela in the Philippines has begun the formal process to have Father Rhoel Gallardo declared a saint. (Photo courtesy of the Territorial Prelature of Isabela)
The cause has begun in the Philippines for the beatification of a Claretian missionary priest murdered by Muslim extremists in the south of the country more than 20 years ago.
The Territorial Prelature of Isabela in Basilan province in the Mindanao region said it hopes Father Rhoel Gallardo will eventually be declared a saint.
Father Gallardo was killed by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group on May 3, 2000, after he was taken hostage the previous March together with teachers and students of a Catholic school run by the Claretians.
Bishop Dalmao and other Claretian priests celebrated Mass at San Vicente Ferrer Parish in the town of Sumisip, where Father Gallardo had served.
The event was attended by dozens of parishioners and friends of Father Gallardo.
He was murdered when government forces launched a rescue operation to free him and the rest of the hostages
“Father Rhoel Gallardo … volunteered to go to Mindanao when the assigned priest there fell ill in June 1999. He served as the director of the Claret School of Tumahubong in Basilan and as parish priest,” Bishop Dalmao told the gathering.
“On March 20, 2000, the Abu Sayyaf group attacked the school and burned it. Father Gallardo and 52 others, including teachers and schoolchildren, were captured and held hostage for six weeks.”
Abu Sayyaf is a jihadist group affiliated with the Islamic State terror group seeking a caliphate in the southern part of the Philippines. It has become notorious for taking and executing hostages, including several foreigners.
The group released some hostages soon after the school attack but kept Father Gallardo because they saw him as a "high value" captive.
However, he was murdered when government forces launched a rescue operation to free him and the rest of the hostages. An examination of his body revealed he was tortured prior to being shot multiple times. Three teachers and five children were also killed in the rescue operation.
Witnesses later testified that Father Gallardo had sought to protect the other captives and even prevented some female hostages from being raped by their captors. He also provided spiritual leadership and encouraged others not to give up hope.
Many churchgoers believe Father Gallardo deserves sainthood because of the example he set.
“He could have chosen to escape. But he did not. He prayed the rosary together with his fellow captives. He chose to suffer with them,” said Mindanao churchgoer Frances Arnaiz.