Pinoy martyr in Cambodia remembered
() - October 17, 2006 - 12:00am
Ten years ago, Richie Fernando, a young Jesuit missionary, died while trying to restrain a troubled student who ran amuck and tried to hurl a grenade inside a classroom at a school for handicapped children in Cambodia.

Richie or Bro. Richard Michael Fernando acted instinctively, not knowing that it would cost him his life, to try and protect the students in the Cambodian school on Oct. 17, 1996 in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Bro. Richie tried to get the grenade from the student identified as Sarom. The grenade, however, fell and exploded on the Filipino missionary who later died of multiple wounds. He was only 26 years old.

The young Jesuit seminarian was convinced of his mission of walking the path of Jesus Christ; his wish was for people to remember how he loved and followed Christ. Ten years ago, this Jesuit died while saving lives in Cambodia. He became a hero and an inspiration to those who know his story.

Fr. Ari Dy, SJ, executive director of the Jesuit Communications Foundation, said that on the 10th anniversary of Bro. Richie’s death, he should be remembered as a role model for the Filipino youth.

"He (Richie) is a young person who had many opportunities in life but chose to serve others to the point of laying down his own life in a foreign land," Dy said.

Richard Michael Fernando was born on Feb. 27, 1970. He attended elementary school in Dominican School, and finished his secondary education in Claret School. He graduated with a degree in Developmental Studies from Ateneo de Manila University, then entered the Society of Jesus right after college and took up Philosophical Studies.

Richie and other Jesuit missionaries went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for his Regency in May 1995.

It took him only three months to master the Khmer language. He served in the Technical School for the Handicapped which was run by Jesuits in Phnom Penh. Here at Bantay Prieb or "Center of the Dove" Bro. Richie catered to the material and pastoral needs of his students who were mostly landmine victims.

Soon he found himself affected by the lives of the people. He had great love for them and he wanted to help all of them as God would, and offer his life to them to the fullest.

Then on Oct. 17, 1996, at around 9:30 a.m., Sarom, a troubled student who was holding a grenade rushed into Bro. Richie’s classroom.

Sarom, a student in the school, was habitually involved in gambling. While everyone else was in panic trying to get out of the room, Bro. Richie was determined to pacify Sarom.

He embraced Sarom, and after moments of struggle, the grenade dropped and bounced back at Bro. Richie. The grenade exploded and Richie was hit by shrapnel in the head, upper and lower back, and legs. He died later in a local hospital.

His remains were brought back to the Philippines and Bro. Richie was laid to rest at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City. Some of the departed man’s blood from the scene of the grenade blast was taken and is now enshrined on top of a small mound in a tomb in Cambodia to serve as a sort of monument for the courageous missionary.

On the 10th death anniversary of Bro. Richie’s death, the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus honors his memory by offering him to the Filipino youth as a model of selfless service.

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