Pope Benedict mourns death of Tawi-Tawi priest

() - January 19, 2008 - 12:00am

Pope Benedict XVI expressed sadness yesterday over the killing of Roman Catholic priest Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda and called on his murderers to renounce violence.

Benedict relayed the message through Papal Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone to Bishop Angelito Lampon of the Vicariate of Jolo and a confrere of Roda’s in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Archbishop Edward Adams, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, released the message to the media.

At least 10 unidentified men shot Roda when he resisted a kidnapping attempt Tuesday night inside the chapel of Notre Dame school, which he managed, in Tabawan, Tawi-Tawi. The fleeing suspects – believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf – abducted a teacher, Omar Taub.

Bertone said the Pope “was saddened to learn of the brutal and tragic killing” of Roda but praised the slain priest for being an “example to priests and people throughout the region, and especially to the young.”

The Pontiff also called on Roda’s killers to “renounce the ways of violence and to play their part in building a just and peaceful society where all can live together in harmony.”

“Entrusting the people of Tabawan to the maternal protection of Our Blessed Lady, the Holy Father is pleased to impart his apostolic blessing as a pledge of comfort and strength at this time of sorrow,” Bertone said. 

Island hopping

The killers of Roda have been spotted moving from one island to another in Tawi-Tawi.

Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police chief, said he received reports from Tawi-Tawi police chief Superintendent Wyneright Taup that the suspects were seen fleeing near Languyan island, one of the island villages in Tawi-Tawi. The reports did not say anything about the whereabouts of hostage Taub.

The suspects reportedly include two former policemen, but authorities have withheld their identities. The suspects also include a former Bantay Dagat volunteer.

Marine Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said he was sure that one of the killers of Roda was a policeman.

Police also said the 10 suspects linked up with about 20 other gunmen as they moved from island to island on a fast craft.

“The group is mobile to avoid our pursuing police and military forces,” Goltiao said.

“The kidnappers and killers of Fr. Roda seemed to be prepared because they have watercraft that traveled in shallow waters from island to island,” Goltiao said.

Ready to die

Roda was shouting at his would-be abductors to shoot him as he was being dragged out of the Notre Dame school chapel.

Witnesses said the 55-year-old priest told the gunmen that he was prepared to die rather than be taken hostage.

“He was in fact due for transfer to another area, but he declined because he wanted to remain in Tabawan to continue with his missionary works there,” said Bishop Lampon, head of the Jolo Vicariate, which has jurisdiction over Tabawan’s Catholic community.

Lampon said Roda, who belonged to one of Cotabato City’s pioneer Christian families, was aware of the dangers of missionary work, but insisted on helping poor Muslims and Christians in the impoverished town of Tabawan.

“People there in Tabawan loved Fr. Rey dearly and were so appreciative of his projects that they even appealed for the continuation of his programs for them even if he is gone,” Lampon said.

Lampon said the tragic death of Roda, the fourth OMI priest killed in Mindanao since 1974, will not in any way affect the congregation’s missionary work in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.

Lampon said that aside from managing the school in Tabawan, Roda was also involved in livelihood projects for the island’s marginalized fisherfolk.

“His scholarship project has produced several Samal and Tausug professionals. Some of them became teachers who have returned to Tabawan to help educate their own people,” Lampon said.

The OMI has scheduled Roda’s burial on Jan. 23 at the congregation’s cemetery in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan.  Roel Pareño, John Unson

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