Friday, July 06, 2012

Remembering Father ‘Pops’

A Maryknoll priest pays tribute to fellow missionary murdered in Philippines

By Jeremiah R. Burr, M.M.
Reprinted from Maryknoll Magazine, July-August 2012

We were all shocked to hear of the murder of Father Fausto Tentorio, the most gentle and humble of missioners. He had been in the same area of Kidapawan Diocese since coming to the Philippines in 1978, and was dedicated to the indigenous peoples of Mindanao.

News reports said at least 10,000 people turned out for the funeral of Father Tentorio, 59, who was riddled with bullets at point blank range as he was about to get into his car the morning of Oct. 17, 2011. Known affectionately by the local people as “Father Pops,” Father Tentorio had been a tireless defender of the people’s struggles to preserve their ancestral land from the logging that has decimated the country’s once lush tropical forests, and more recently the mining industry, which has left a trail of pollution, ruining streams, farmland and even ocean bays. Initial speculation was that his opposition to mining may have been the reason for his killing.

Father Tentorio’s murder created such furor in the Philippines, from President Benigno Aquino on down, that a serious investigation was ordered. After an uncooperative local police commander was removed from his post, people began to open up. They told of two men seen fleeing by motorcycle and waved through a police checkpoint without being stopped. As of this writing, unofficial reports say the investigation is focusing on a disgruntled local politician as a suspect.

For the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), the Italian counterpart of Maryknoll, Father Tentorio is the third of their priests to be murdered in Mindanao, following the killings of Father Tullio Favali in 1985 and Father Salvatore Carzedda in 1992. Maryknoll has long had a close relationship with PIME missioners. We worked with them in Hong Kong for years, and they study at the Maryknoll language school in the Philippines. Maryknollers respect that for the most part PIME missioners choose needy, difficult areas for their work.

At Father Tentorio’s funeral, Kidapawan Bishop Romulo de la Cruz recalled the Italian missioner’s response to Father Favali’s death 26 years ago: “He could have changed course then, packed up his bag, and headed for a safer and kinder place on the missionary map. But he did not. He had fallen in love with his people.”

The bishop quoted from Father Tentorio’s own last will and testament, written in the indigenous Bisayan language to his people: “Your dream is my dream.Your struggle is my struggle. Therefore, you and I are one, companions in constructing the Kingdom of God.”

Noting that Father Tentorio disliked ceremonies that drew attention to himself, the bishop said the missioner had to endure in death the notoriety he eschewed in life, as he is called “an environmentalist-priest, a human rights defender, the anti-mining activist, the protector of cultural minorities.”

“Father Fausto’s death is simply an emulation, a following and imitation of Jesus’ own death on the cross,” Bishop de la Cruz said.

The overall theme of the liturgy was “while we seek justice, we do not seek revenge.” The procession of thousands to the burial grounds was no easy hike, three miles in the noonday sun. Father Tentorio was buried beside Father Favali.

In closing his homily, the bishop addressed our departed friend, who “must be fidgeting in spirit,” waiting for the ceremony to end: “So, I shall be brief. ‘Father Fausto, rest in peace. Your labors have ended. With your prayers, we will take up and continue your work.’”

—Father Jeremiah Burr from Helena, Mont., is local superior of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in the Philippines.