Tuesday, 03 May 2011 00:00
May 3 is a very significant moment for the local Church of Basilan for it is on this day that a martyr offered his ultimate sacrifice in the service of the community. Forty-four days after being held captive, Claretian Father Rev. Rhoel Gallardo, cmf, lay dead with bullet wounds on the head and bleeding toes. Three other dead bodies were retrieved by rescuers: that of teachers also kidnapped by the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group.
From Tumhubong, Sumisip, Basilan to Mt. Punoih Mahadje then down to Kumalarang where pursuing troops clashed with the extremist group with the remaining hostages in tow. The captives passed trough a grueling journey, some were lucky enough to have survived while others didn’t.
Tales of torture and brutality have been experienced by the diminutive priest while they were in the mountain hide out of Punoh Mahadje. Only the surviving hostages can divulge what really transpired during the ordeal in the mountains prior to the bloodshed.
All throughout their terrible journey, Fr. Rhoel ministered to the needs of the captives. When hopelessness sets in, he cheered them up and led them in praying the rosary. He acted as a shepherd to the defenseless captives during their difficult journey while in captivity.
Fr. Rhoel Gallardo accepted one of the most dangerous assignments in Basilan, to become the Parish Priest of Saint Vincent Ferrer Parish in the isolated village of Tumahubong. Two of his predecessors in the parish also experience violence in their own way. Fr. Eduardo Monge, cmf, almost got killed with an assassin’s bullet in the convent, while Fr. Andy Legas, cmf has been shocked when a hand grenade was lobbed inside the church at the height of the Mass years back.
His faith and Claretian zeal is greater than the danger and challenges that await his ministry among the poor in Tumahubong and Basilan for that matter. Its eleven years since his martyrdom, and the local church has continued with its mission among the poor in the province.
Like Fr. Rhoel, may all those who perished in the vicious cycle of violence in Basilan and nearby areas will receive their eternal rewards in heaven. May this be an encouragement for young people to strengthen their faith and embrace the mission of the Church in whatever capacities they are called for.
By Danny Escabarte
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