Muslims Mourn Death Of Priest Who Served Them

2008-01-17 00:00:00

Hundreds of Muslims are coming to the parish church here to pay their final respects to a slain priest and condole with the small Church in their province.

Armed men shot and killed Father Jesus Reynaldo Roda, 53, as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) priest resisted their attempt to take him from the chapel of Notre Dame High School on Tabawan, an island of Tawi-tawi province, on Jan. 15 evening.

His body was brought to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Bongao, Tawi-tawi, more than 1,100 kilometers south of Manila. Holy Rosary is the closest parish to Tabawan, where Father Roda has headed the Catholic mission for 10 years.

The body will lie in wake in the church until it is brought for burial in Cotabato province, on the Mindanao mainland northeast of Bongao, on Jan. 20. Interment in the OMI cemetery is set for Jan. 23.

Perong Dremarld, a Muslim teacher at the Church-run high school on Tabawan, came with 13 other Notre Dame faculty members on the boat that carried the priest´s body on the eight-hour trip to Bongao on Jan. 16.

"Father Roda would be so pleased to see what is happening here," Dremarld told UCA News on the morning of Jan. 17 in the church packed with women, many of them veiled under Islamic hijab.

He admitted he could not tell the religion of the men from their attire. But pointing to more Muslim women arriving with plates of food, he said Mayor Albert Que of Bongao, a Muslim, was coming that day to pay his respects to the slain missioner who helped Tabawan islanders "so much."

Tabawan is one of Tawi-tawi province´s 457 islands. Tawi-tawi and neighboring Sulu province comprise the area served by Jolo vicariate, where only 2.2 percent of 1.02 million people are Catholics, according to the latest Catholic directory. The 2006-2007 directory reports 4,690 Catholics belong to the Bongao parish.

Dremarld said he believed the sight of people bringing food to share would make Father Roda "happy" because "he always taught us to share what we had with those who are in need."

The Muslim school coordinator said the slain priest is "well known" on Tabawan for his work in education and "sharing of goods with the poor."

During Father Roda´s decade-long mission on the island, he ministered to 20-30 Catholics and cared for more than 2,000 Muslims. Most of Notre Dame´s 400 students are Muslims.

In December, Father Roda had assigned Dremarld to coordinate the building of a health clinic for which the priest was seeking funds. "I was to buy the materials this week, but now I am not sure what will happen," the coordinator said, adding that he would pause from these concerns so he could "mourn properly" his late director´s death.

Thousands of Muslims and a "handful" of Catholics had gone on procession in Tabawan on Jan. 16 to bring Father Roda´s body from near the school to the pier, he reported.

"Men and women were crying," Dremarld said. "They loved him because of the way he worked." He recalled Father Roda telling Tabawan people "he never wanted to leave, because (there) he could do his work and had time to pray."

The Holy Rosary parish priest, Oblate Father Rito Daquipil, told UCA News later that the Bongao mayor "promised" OMI officials he would "do all in his power" to find the killers.

He also said Governor Sadikul Sahali of Tawi-tawi had met with OMI priests and told them police suspect Father Roda may have been killed by Abu Sayyaf extremists who are being "forced" to flee to Tawi-tawi by military operations targeting their hideouts in Jolo.

Father Roberto Layson, who is based in Cotabato and coordinates the OMI interreligious dialogue program, had suggested another possible scenario. He told UCA News politicians may have been involved in the killing of his confrere, who had denounced fraud and preached against cheating in last year´s election.

Father Roda is the third OMI priest killed in the vicariate in 11 years. Bishop Benjamin de Jesus of Jolo and Father Benjamin Inocencio died after being shot in 1997 and 2000, respectively.


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