Father Rohel Gallardo’s cause for martyrdom opens

The beatification process begins for the Claretian clergyman abducted by Abu Sayyaf in 2000. For Father Calvo, “People already think of him as a martyr, a hero” who gave his life for others.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Bishop Leo Dalmao, Prelate of Isabela, officially opened the cause of beatification of Father Rohel Gallardo, yesterday, anniversary of his death.

The Philippine Claretian priest was killed on 3 May 2000 on the island of Basilan. He had been abducted by Abu Sayyaf 43 days earlier along with a group of other hostages.

The solemn opening of the canonical process took place at St Vincent Ferrer's Church in Tumahubong, the village where the priest carried out his ministry. Fr Gallardo was 33 years old at the time of his murder and had volunteered to work in that difficult mission.

“Tumahubong has a Claretian primary school where Father Gallardo – along with the administrative manager, five teachers and 22 pupils – was taken away by Islamist gunmen.

“Three teachers and five children were also reportedly killed with him on 3 May 2000, during a gunfight with the army,” the prelate explained. The Basilan mission is particularly important in the history of the Claretians.

“Our congregation arrived there in 1951, invited by the then Bishop of Zamboanga after we were expelled from China in the 1950s,” explained Father Angel Calvo, also a Claretian and a major player in Christian-Muslim dialogue in the difficult context of Mindanao.

Father Calvo was also a missionary in Basilan. “I had to leave in 1972, when another confrere of mine was kidnapped,” he said, speaking about the difficult history of this Christian community  that became an apostolic prelature precisely with the Claretians.

“Father Gallardo was the first priest kidnapped in Basilan to be killed,” Fr Calvo noted. “Other priests and nuns had been seized, even beaten, but in the end everyone was freed.”

“People already think of him as a martyr, a hero. The other hostages said that he did not want to give up the cross and the rosary, as the Islamists wanted. That's why they tortured him by ripping off his nails.

“He suffered a lot; yet, as school principal even in captivity he cared first of all about the teachers and the children entrusted to him. He offered his life for the people around him.”

The opening of Father Gallardo's cause of beatification is an important step for the Prelature of Isabela.

“Even after his death, the Claretians remained in Basilan,” Fr Calvo said. “The bishop belongs to our congregation; other priests are in Maluso and Tumahubong, the most exposed areas.

“Abu Sayyaf's group has moved to the island of Jolo and has been less active in Basilan in recent times. Father Gallardo's testimony remains an example that no one has forgotten.”