Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Witness of Fr. Rey Roda

A year ago today, in the small island of Tabawan in Tawi-Tawi province-- so small that you might not even find it on the map -- Fr. Rey Roda of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate was beaten and shot dead in front of his chapel.

Here is an account of how he died:
Fr. Jesus Reynaldo A. Roda, director of the Notre Dame of Tabawan and head of the mission station there for the last ten years was praying in the chapel, as he used to do every night when armed men barged in and tried to take him. He struggled and resisted being taken away, and explicitly said that he preferred to be killed right there and then. A witness said that he was beaten and then shot dead.

For me the anniversary would have passed by unremarked had I not decided to attend Mass at the Ateneo chapel this noon. Fr. Albert Alejo, a friend of Fr. Roda, was the celebrant; in his homily, he reflected at some length on the death of Fr. Roda.

Fr. Roda was 54 years old when he was killed. He had been director of Notre Dame of Tabawan since 1998. He was known as a tireless advocate of education. According to a blog set up in his memory:
Among his Oblate brethren, Fr. Rey is known for his almost obsessive advocacy of his scholarship program for the youths of Tabawan. Given the meager island resources, he believed that only through education could they escape the cycle of poverty and hopefully give something in return to the island and its populace. Thus, he unceasingly sought assistance from whatever source not only for his own school and scholars but also for the whole formal education system of Tabawan and the rest of Tawi-tawi.

Not only that, he was also instrumental in assisting deported Filipino workers from Sabah, which is a stone's throw from Tabawan.
When in 2003 Malaysia deported thousands of illegal Filipino workers, many of them from Tabawan, Fr. Rey became involved in caring for these deportees — helping to find assistance for and to organize the building of core shelters, day care and feeding programs, and alternative livelihood projects.

And to all this, we still have to add the other livelihood projects and peace initiatives that Fr. Roda was involved in. He was due for transfer to another assignment but declined because he wanted to remain in Tabawan to continue missionary work there.

Fr. Rey Roda is the third Oblate missionary to die in the area. The other two were Bishop Benjamin de Jesus in 1997 and Fr. Benjamin Inocencio in 2000. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo explained the mission of the Oblates among the predominantly Muslim communities:
Theology is no longer Mission as understood at the time of St. Francis Xavier. In 1971, a Synod of Bishops from all over the world gathered in Rome and taught that ‘action for justice and participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.

Fr. Rey’s generation of seminarians and young priests had this in mind when going to the missions, as in Sulu. Helping create a world more peaceful and more just, more harmonious and more ‘fraternal’ in collaboration with peoples of other faiths — that is at the heart of the Oblate missions in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. And why? Because such a world is a fuller reflection of the universal Reigning of God. That is part of Catholic belief and is probably shared in one form or another by various religious traditions.

In a time when many accuse religion of hindering progress, when martyrdom is sullied by those who would use it only for violence, Fr. Rey Roda and the Oblates stand as witness to the continued dedication of the Church to its mission.

May we follow in their light.

Some links to other blogs:
Fr. Rey Roda, Servant of Peace
In Memory of Fr. Rey Roda
Burial of Fr. Rey Roda
Fr. Rey Roda, OMI
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate