TABAWAN, Tawi-Tawi (AsiaNews) – A Catholic priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) who had been doing missionary work for the last ten years in Tawi-Tawi was killed Tuesday night (Jan 15) in the province's South Ubian town during a kidnapping attempt, according to local bishop.
Tabawan, an island town off Tawi-Tawi, is a Muslim dominated area in the Mindanao, southern Philippines.
Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI, told AsiaNews that the slain Filipino priest was Fr. Reynaldo Jesus Roda, OMI, 54 years of age. Fr Roda was assigned as parish priest of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Tabawan, in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo.
"It's very sad news for us, the Oblates and the Catholic Church," Archbishop Quevedo said.
Fr Roda was praying in a chapel in the village of Likud Tabawan at about 8:30 p.m. (local time), when a group of gunmen (about ten) tried to kidnap him. He resisted and was grabbed and then shot several times, according to Fr. Loreto Daquipel, OMI, the victim's associate in Tawi-Tawi.
Fr Roda struggled against his kidnappers until they reached a basketball court in front of the chapel. Then one of the kidnappers pulled a handgun and shot him in the head, Daquipel said.
Daquipel said a teacher who was with Roda was taken by the gunmen and put onto a waiting motorboat.
Roda was also the director of the Notre Dame in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. The mission in Tabawan was opened in 1957.
Fr Roda was born on February 5, 1954, in Cotabato City. He made his first vows on May 21, 1975, and perpetual vows on June 17, 1979. He was ordained a priest on May 10, 1980.
Fr Domingo in Cotabato City said that Roda's remains would be brought to the town of Bongao in Tawi-Tawi, where his body would be embalmed, before it is brought to Cotabato.
Domingo said Roda was beloved among the local people.
"His death was unthinkable. He helped a lot of people there, he had many scholars, mostly Muslims. He was very vocal about peace and development issues in the area, but he did not have enemies," said Domingo.
"It was a quiet night when the kidnappers arrived. This is a very sad story for us missionaries who serve our people regardless of faith and culture," Daquipel said, recalling what happened to Bishop Benjamin de Jesus in Jolo a few years back.
In 1997, Bishop De Jesus, another OMI missionary, was shot dead by gunmen in front of the Jolo cathedral.
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, auxiliary bishop of Cotabato, expressed sadness over the killing and asked the Catholic faithful around the country to offer prayers for Roda.
Several Oblate priests have been subjected to physical harassment by hostile groups in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. In 2000, gunmen also tried to kidnap a priest. He resisted and was shot, but survived.
The last missionary to be kidnapped was Fr Giancarlo Bossi, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
The island of Mindanao is a region known for the presence of Islamic fundamentalists, who in the last few years have carried out numerous attacks, kidnappings, and killings. The largest group is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Also very active is the movement of Abu Sayyaf [editor's note: "Sword Bearers" in the local language], made up of guerrillas affiliated with al-Qaeda, whose aim is to create an independent Muslim state in the country's south. Since the beginning of the violence in 1970, more than 150,000 victims have been recorded.