On December 28th, the Feast of the , we trooped to Barangay Ugong in Pasig to celebrate with the family, friends and the people of the barangay, the 10th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI. On the same day in 1990, Fr. Benjie as he was fondly known was shot just behind the Jolo Cathedral.
was new to Jolo after spending about ten years of missionary life as teacher and a ‘factotum’ in a somewhere in the called Cagayan Mapum.
To many, Fr. Benjie was the least likely victim of . He was one of the kindest and one of the most peaceful creatures on earth. As a scholastic and a missionary, he would prefer to do house chores to street demonstrations. Yet, in the end, the lamb-like Fr. Benjie ended in the altar of sacrifice –victim of wanton violence and fanaticism in the name of God!
Then in January 15th, in our small of the OMI Provincial House in Cotabato , we remembered the of yet another Oblate martyr, Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI. In the evening of the same day in 2008, Fr. Rey’s house was attacked by several . The murderers tried to kidnap him. He was bludgeoned by rifles, hacked and later shot in another remote island called Tabawan somewhere near the Celebes Sea.
Fr. Rey was a man full of passion for the islanders. He worked for in the said God-forsaken island to give the young people opportunity to pursue . He invited NGO’s and some benefactors to journey with his people as they eke a livelihood in an island forsaken by the powers that be.
In the month of February, the OMI’ will be remembering the 14th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI. Bishop Ben was brutally shot in front of the Jolo Cathedral on February 4th, 1997.
Bishop Ben and Fr. Benjie were made of the same stuff. They were kindness personified. Bishop Ben would go around Jolo and the whole Vicariate always with a smile and a greeting of peace on lips. He would listen endlessly to the cry of his people, Muslims and Christians alike.
The fourth martyr was a bit controversial, because of his passionate commitment to clean and credible elections in the Municipality of Ampatuan during the election of 1971. Fr. Nelson Javellana, OMI, then Director of of Ampatuan, and a group of CNEA volunteers believed that clean and credible elections were possible in Ampatuan. Riding back home in a mini bus after a seminar on the conduct of elections in Cotabato City, they were ambushed somewhere in Tambunan on November 3rd, 1971.
The brutal ambuscade just days before the 1971 local elections, many claimed, galvanized the Christian votes that marked the shift of leadership in the Cotabato Province and the City from the Muslim hands to the Christians. Carlos Cajelo became the first elected Christian Governor of North Cotabato that included then the Province of Sultan Kudarat. Teodolo Juliano became the first elected Christian City Mayor of Cotabato.
As we remember our martyred confrères, in many ways, we are forced to re-think the meaning of ‘martyrdom’. This does not mean that everything in our world has changed, but the actual situation provides new examples and trends of martyrdom.
In the re-thinking of martyrdom, two prominent theologians, Johann-Baptist Metz and Edward Schillebeeckx, have offered three points by way of appreciating this phenomenon.
The first is labeled as responsive mercy in a cruel world. The situation of injustice and poverty produces people albeit few in number who respond with mercy to defend the victims of the economic order, and for this reason they are violently and unjustly without being able to mount any defense. And there are also those who, in the midst of ethnic conflicts, work and struggle to overcome differences and to defend the human rights of the most oppressed.
Not everything in these conflicts can be lumped as ‘terrorism’, as some would lead us to believe. Many people go to the length of giving up their own lives for the weakest. All the deaths mentioned are, above all, an expression of love for the poor and the victims, and their exceptional nature stems from this love. Even if we do not give such people a particular title, they are responsively merciful to the end.
The second point is called as Suicide and terrorism. With the outbreak of terrorism and fanaticism, religions, which claim to be bearers of something good and absolute, can come to defend this something absolutely, which involve violence. They can also induce their members to be prepared, and even willing, to give their lives in defense of this absolute. This carries with it the double danger of generating the fanaticism of suicide (often undertaken from a belief in a reward after death) and of using suicide to bring about the death of innocent people.
The third point is to give a name to the crucified peoples. Here we speak of the deaths of millions of people, especially of children, in what used to be called Third World countries, in the form of poverty, exclusion, wars, massacres, in the everyday form of hunger in sub-Saharan countries (Somalia, Darfur, Eritrea, and others) and in some regions of Asia, of deaths from AIDS, particularly those of children, who are in no way to blame. What is happening is undeniable, but society and government do not even give these victims a name, let alone grant any sort of dignity to these deaths.
These nameless masses of people share with the ‘’ the fact that they suffer death, indefensibly and unjustly, sometimes slowly through hunger and oppression, sometimes violently in wars and massacres imposed on them. The term used to designate these millions of human beings can be debated, but what cannot be done is to leave them without a name in a distant and everlasting anonymity.
The martyrdom of our four confreres in the Southern Philippines can only be understood within the three points outlined above. In many ways, the brutal killings of Bishop Ben, Frs. Nelson, Benjie and Rey give platforms to these nameless deaths, in society, a sort of giving one’s to bring these crucified peoples down from the cross.
The martyrs teach us a great lesson that living is learning to suffer with grace, with elegance; to struggle, certainly, but at the same accepting suffering and tragedy without hatred or loss of hope.
In a similar vein, a liberation theologian, Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, tells us that re-thinking martyrdom communicates, in our contemporary times, what he has seen, thought, and experienced over the course of many years. ‘Martyrs die with no trace of masochism or ‘sacrificialism’. They die with the joy of giving life to all, even to one’s enemies, and not taking it from anyone, with commitment, gratitude, and hope.’