Memory of two Filipino priests who disappeared without a trace

Where have you been, brother, for so long? Where are you my brother The powerful must answer… We will never stop until we find you.

Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar composed this verse to pay homage to his Redemptorist brother, Father Rudy Romano, who forcibly disappeared in Labangon, Cebu City, 36 years ago today. The priest has never been found.

July 11 usually comes and goes unnoticed. With the exception of the Redemptorist community and the friends and colleagues of Father Rudy, the Catholic Philippines have apparently forgotten the injustice committed against this man of cloth who, like the Most Holy Redeemer, gave his life for the ransom of many. Poverty, injustice, violations of human rights, the absence of real peace, these were the very reasons why he tied arms to the poor of the earth. In doing so, he won the wrath of the powers that be and was forced to disappear.

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Asked about his memories of the deceased priest, Bishop Carbajal said: “I have good memories of Father Rudy. He was two years ahead of me at St. Alphonsus Theologate in Cebu City, but we were classmates in some subjects. Common interests have often brought us together. Instead of taking a nap at noon, we would often do carpentry work or develop photographs in the darkroom or haircut a colleague. We affectionately called him “the scientist before his time” because of his inventiveness and creativity.

Almost four decades after his demise, the Philippines is far from the “New Heaven and New Earth” that Father Rudy dreamed of – a dream that, if it comes true, he will never be able to cherish.

Father Rudy would have been 81 on September 26th. If he were with us today, he would surely have the same, if not more, commitment to helping the starving farmers, the working poor, the urban poor homeless and the street children, who bear the brunt of the burden. violent “war on drugs” which causes countless deaths of little ones of God. His heart would have bled to see our current situation, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, he would have courageously pursued the same plea for the oppressed.

Father Rudy is said to have been reported missing by elements of the Military Intelligence Group, supposedly the protectors of the law

“I remember Father Rudy as a preacher of the word of God. He devoted much of his pastoral work to the ministry of the Word. He was engaged in rural missions… I saw some of his missionary footprints in northern Mindanao, from Iligan to Gingoog, ”Bishop Carbajal recalls.

“One morning, while jogging in Mambajao, on Camiguin Island, I saw a stone marker at a crossroads. It was engraved on an expression of the feelings of the local population: “Handumanan in Misyon”(Memory of the Mission) with the name of Father Rudy on it.”

During and beyond the darkest years of the Marcos dictatorship, the persecution of the progressive segment of the Catholic Church has taken and continues to take many horrific forms: incarceration, extrajudicial execution, torture.

Father Rudy was reportedly reported missing by elements of the Military Intelligence Group, supposedly the protectors of the law. There is no trace of his whereabouts.

“After years of unsuccessful struggle to find him, it was felt that for the sake of his dying relatives and friends, a shutdown had to be made. Without proof of his death, the Redemptorists decided to celebrate a funeral mass for him, ”said Bishop Carbajal.

Remembering Father Rudy, whom I was fortunate to know during my high school, college and freshman years on the job, I also remember another Filipino priest who forcibly disappeared.

Originally from Baguio City, Father Conrado de la Cruz was a missionary who disappeared on May 1, 1980 in Guatemala City with his sacristan. He joined the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) in 1965. Ordained on December 28, 1971, he was appointed missionary in August 1972. He arrived in Guatemala on December 13, 1972. For having embraced the pains and struggles of Guatemalan people, he was forcibly taken with his altar boy, Erlindo Cifuentes, a short walk from the National Palace and the Archbishop’s House.

Like Father Rudy, Father Conrado drew the ire of the culprits for his work in favor of the poor in Guatemala. Inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the oppressed, he is deeply involved in pastoral, social and prophetic work for the Guatemalan people. Forty-one years after his disappearance and that of his sacristan, they are still nowhere to be found. They are now part of Guatemala’s 45,000 desaparecidos – one of the highest figures in the world.

In the Guatemalan cemetery of La Verveine, which I visited in 2010, a mass grave contains more than 3,000 skeletal remains of desaparecidos. An identification process was carried out, facilitated by the campaign “Mi Number not es XX”(My name is not XX). In this ongoing campaign, the families of the missing are invited to provide saliva or blood samples. While indigenous peoples consider every part of themselves to be sacred, educating them on the value of these blood and saliva samples as necessary tools in the search for truth and justice has convinced them to cooperate.

The remains of Father Conrado and his sacristan, if killed, could be among the many skeletal remains in the many mass graves in a small country ravaged by 36 years of civil war.

The desaparecidos cannot be found. Their loved ones are still waiting. Shamefully, the authors roam free. And the plague continues

Father Rudy Romano, Father Conrado de la Cruz and thousands of desaparecidos in the Philippines and the rest of the world are calling for elusive truth and justice. Sadly, enforced disappearances continue to occur in the Philippines and around the world, prompting the United Nations to establish the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and its oversight body, the United Nations Committee. United on Enforced Disappearances.

The desaparecidos cannot be found. Their loved ones are still waiting. Shamefully, the authors roam free. And the plague continues.

The memories of Father Rudy, Father Conrado and many other desaparecidos must be kept alive. The struggles of truth against lies, of memory against oblivion, of justice against impunity, in all possible concrete ways, will ultimately lead to the realization of the famous Latin American slogan “Nunca more” (Never again).

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is President of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED).The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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