Basilan church to open martyrdom cause for slain Claretian priest

Basilan church to open martyrdom cause for slain Claretian priest

File photo of the Servant of God, Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, CMF. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By CBCP News

April 30, 2021

Manila, Philippines

The Prelature of Isabela on the southern Philippine island of Basilan is preparing to open cause of beatification of the Servant of God, Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, a Claretian missionary who died at the hands of terrorists.

Bishop Leo Dalmao of Isabela, himself a Claretian missionary, will formally open the “cause of martyrdom” on May 3, the 21st anniversary of the priest’s death.

It will be held during Mass at San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church in the village of Tumahubong in the town of Sumisip in Basilan province, where Gallardo last served as parish priest.

For the Claretians, Tumahubong is tantamount to Gallardo and to many others who also shed their blood for their faith and principles.

“It is the promised land, the testing ground of arduous hearts for the mission, the love of those who see Jesus amidst religious and political conflicts,” they said.

Rome-based Fr. Krzysztof Gierat, the General Postulator for the Causes of Saints of the Claretian missionaries, will serve as postulator, with Fr. Efren Limpo, also a Claretian, as Vice Postulator.

Gallardo died on May 3, 2000 in a crossfire between the Abu Sayyaf group holding him hostage and the security forces trying to rescue those kidnaped.

The priest had been held in captivity since March 20 that year, along with four teachers and students from the Claret School of Tumahubong.

He was found with several bullet wounds on his body and signs of torture. The bandits also killed three teachers and five children.

Basilan is a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, a group notorious for kidnapping for ransom and other atrocities.

The month and a half-long hostage crisis were also days of heroism for the 33-year-old priest.

Witnesses said he would always look for the female teachers when they were separated from other captives.

His concern irked the bandits who punched and kicked him until he was badly bruised.

Those who survived also recalled how Gallardo asked them not to lose hope and pray the rosary. They would do so discretely as their captors prohibited them from praying, even forcing them to denounce Christianity.

Born in Olongapo City, north of Manila, in 1965, Gallardo had a first taste of missionary life during his novitiate in Zamboanga City’s town of Bunguiao.

He made his first religious profession in 1989 in Isabela and completed his pastoral year in Maluso town, also in Basilan.

In his application for the perpetual profession, he wrote, “My pastoral immersion in Basilan last year made me experience concretely our witnessing and evangelizing life and mission to the poor (as well as) our Community’s presence in the dialogue of life and faith with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

“These experiences as a whole have become a real challenge to me to be a committed missionary and active witness to God’s liberating love for humanity… conscious that our life and mission demand a total giving of ourselves for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humankind,” he added.

Gallardo made his first perpetual profession in 1993 and was ordained to the priesthood at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Quezon City in 1994.

A few years after his ordination, he had volunteered to go to Tumahubong, where he served as the director of the Claret School and as parish priest.

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