Fr Tentorio, a prophet among tribal people but above all a witness of Jesus
Hundreds of people from Italy and the Philippines, including hundreds of priests, took part in the Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs for the PIME missionary killed in the Philippines. Attacking him amounts to attacking “God’s spine”. Contrary to some who would reduce his action to “social activism”, Fr Tentorio was first and foremost someone who “followed Jesus.”
Rome (AsiaNews) – Fr Fausto Tentorio, the PIME missionary killed on 17 October, was above a “witness of Jesus Christ”. He gave his life for the tribal people of the Arakan Valley, in Mindanao, to be like Jesus, helping to settle situations of conflict and right human rights violations, said Fr Gianni Cesena, president of the Pontifical Missionary Works in Italy, during the Mass held yesterday at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome. The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) had proposed the celebration to remember the slain missionary on the same day of his funeral in Kidapawan. Some 300 people, plus hundreds of Italian and Filipino priests, were at the ceremony, which was also attended by Filipino diplomats.
At the start of the Mass, Fr Luciano Benedetti, PIME, a friend and former collaborator of Fr Fausto, described in detail who the priest was and what he did to help tribal communities under threat of extinction because of land expropriations by agricultural and mining companies that are expanding into their region.
Fr Benedetti said that Fr Tentorio’s work for adult literacy, youth education, water and jobs was in line with that of the Diocese of Kidapawan.
“The killer who shot Fr Fausto hit him in the spine and face,” Fr Benedetti said. The mountain where the priest lived is known to local tribal people as “God’s spine”. His murderer, Fr Benedetti said, “hit Fausto’s spine, God’s (actual) spine”. By shooting at his mouth and face, the assassin sought to “silence” someone who preached and proclaimed the Kingdom of God.
During Fr Cesena’s homily, the Catholic nature of the witness of the slain missionary was made clear. In the Philippines and in Italy, many think of Fr Fausto as a political activist, an advocate of Gandhian non-violence, an environmentalist who tried to defend the forest and a social worker. In fact, in his death and life, Fr Fausto “was the revelation of a life given to mission and the poor in the name of Jesus, “Fr Cesena said.
Speaking about the Gospel passage in yesterday’s liturgy (John, 12: 23-28), when Jesus says, “where I am, there also will my servant be,” Fr Cesena stressed that hope in the future is found whenever Jesus and his servants share life. “The Good News endures chains and killings; it does not fear them. The Kingdom continues its journey.”
Mgr Orlando Quevedo, the current archbishop of Cotabato (Mindanao), attended the service. He had welcomed Fr Tentorio in his early years of mission.
Mgr Quevedo described the island of Mindanao as a “land of conflict” between poor tribal people and rich landowners, between Communists from the New People’s Army and the Filipino military.
Since everyone has denied responsibility for the priest’s death, the archbishop has called on the Filipino government to shed light on his murder.
At the end of the function, a representative of PIME’s governing board, Fr Mark Tardiff, thanked all those who came and all those who expressed their solidarity and condolences to the Institute.
He also asked everyone to pray that Fr Tentorio’s sacrifice may make more Christians “witnesses of Christ, our peace.”