Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Witness

PAST REVISITED – Reflection # 5: The Witness

In life, we look for witnesses that inspire us and show us the path to a meaningful life.  Yes, it is a search, as well, as a journey through a life that is worth dying for.

In the OMI Philippine Province, we have four witnesses who shed blood and offered their lives for what they believed in and what they stood for as believers and witnesses of Jesus, the Lord.

The first was Fr. Nelson Javellana, OMI and companions who died for their belief that clean and honest elections in the Municipality of Ampatuan then Province of North Cotabato was possible in the Local Elections of November 1971. That early on in our electoral history, Fr. Nelson and some volunteers joined CNEA and organized the local chapter to prepare for the Elections in November 1971.

On the way home to Ampatuan from Cotabato City after a conference meeting of CNEA volunteers, the bus they were riding was “ambushed” somewhere in Tambunan, Talayan and they were all killed on November 3, 1971.

Next was Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI – Bishop of the Vicariate of Jolo. The bishop was known for his gentleness and kindness and above all for his belief that Muslims and Christians can live in peace and partnership in building the future of the two provinces of Sulu and Tawi Tawi.  His witness of peace and reconciliation and dialogue was a threat to then emerging Islamic Extremism and the fanatics murdered him in public and in a broad daylight at the Jolo Plaza in front of his Cathedral in Jolo on February 4, 1997.

Following the martyrdom of Bishop Benjamin, another Benjamin fell victim to the virulent extremism in Sulu. Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI was shot at the back of the Cathedral with his driver on December 28, 2000. His driver survived, but Fr. Inocenio was killed instantly.

Like Bishop Benjamin, Fr. Benjamin was also the epitome of kindness and availability to all – Muslims and Christians alike. Prior to his assignment in Jolo, Sulu, he was a Missionary to an island in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Sulu Sea – Cagayan de Mapun.  There he managed Notre Dame of Cagayan with passion and moving all resources to give quality high school education to the Jama Mapuns “physical marooned” in that remote island.

Fr. Benjamin was also martyred, because of his threatening presence and witness of friendship, availability and service to the least of the Sulu society.

The bullet struck again on January 15, 2008, this time in a remote island of Tabawan in the Municipality of South Ubian. Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI who spent his life in serving the poor people of Tabawan both in Notre Dame School and in the public schools was brutally martyred by ‘Extremists’ who came to his residence. They attempted to kidnap him; and finally they brutally riddled his body with bullets.  Fr. Rey was yet another witness of faith, friendship, and service to the least fortunate. 

There, you have four OMI witnesses who paid dearly for what they believed in and what they stood for.  The price was martyrdom! In all the above, the witnesses stand tall and their blood albeit spilled continues to give inspiration and life to the people of the place. 

But the question is what is a witness…?

I cannot find words to describe the witnessing of our four martyrs.  What I find appropriate is the description of Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel speaking about the survivors of the Holocaust as witnesses. He describes witness this way:

How can we therefore speak, unless we believe that our words have meaning, that our words will help others to prevent my past from becoming another person’s or another people’s future.  Yes, our stories are essential to memory.  I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role, They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, ‘I was there.’

What is witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it.  Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

The lives of our four martyrs, by their blood, describe the ineffable! They are, truly, witnesses of a new melody that tells us that life even in the midst of storm is a gift and a beauty!

Jun Mercado, OMI

NDU – January 20, 2008

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