Manila (AsiaNews) - Pope Benedict XVI yesterday expressed "great sadness" over the death of Fr Jesus Reynaldo Roda of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and asked his 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". Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent the pope's message to the bishop of Jolo, Angelito Lampon, and to his fellow OMI religious.
Fr Roda was killed by a group of at least ten persons, when he resisted a kidnapping attempt on the evening of January 15 in the chapel of the Notre Dame school in Tabawan (Tawi-Tawi). The kidnappers fled, taking with them a Muslim teacher, Omar Taub.
Cardinal Bertone added that the pope "was saddened to learn of the brutal and tragic killing” of Fr Roda but grateful that he had been an “example to priests and people throughout the region, and especially to the young”. "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”.
Meanwhile, as the criminal investigation continues, the police say they believe that the group responsible is linked to the Islamic extremists of Abu Sayyaf. Joel Goltaio, head of the police in the Mindanao region, says that the assassins fled to the nearby island of Languya. Various sources say that the group includes at least one and perhaps two members of the police. It is believed that the 10 are linked to about 20 other armed men who are able to move quickly around the islands by boat.
"The group", Goltaio says, "is mobile to avoid our pursuing police and military forces. The kidnappers and killers of Fr. Roda seemed to be prepared because they have watercraft that travelled in shallow waters from island to island".
According to eyewitnesses, the priest told his assassins that he would rather die than be used as a hostage.
Bishop Lampon says that Fr Roda, the son of one of the leading Christian families of Cotabato City, knew that missionaries in the region are in danger, and that "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", especially on behalf of all of the poor, both Christian and Muslim.
"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”. Bishop Lampon says. In addition to directing the school in Tabawan, Fr Roda worked on projects to improve the standard of living for the marginalised local fishermen. "His scholarship project has produced several [local] Samal and Tausug professionals. Some of them became teachers who have returned to Tabawan to help educate their own people”, Lampon says.
His tragic death - he was the fourth OMI priest killed in Mindanao since 1974 - will not stop the Oblates' missionary work in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. His funeral will be on January 23, and he will be buried in the order's cemetery in Datu Odin Sinsuat, in Shariff Kabunsuan province.