It was March 20, 2000, when the heavily-armed group Abu Sayyaf stormed Claret School of Tumahubong and other nearby schools in Sumisip, Basilan, and took in captivity Claretian missionary priest, Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, together with some teachers and students. After 43 days of captivity in the mountains, that fateful day of May 3 witnessed the death of Fr. Rhoel from the hands of his captors. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his martyrdom and though the Claretian Philippine Province originally planned to gather together to celebrate, the global pandemic of CoVid-19 inspired us to bring the celebration in the cyber space.
To heighten the awareness of the story of Fr. Rhoel especially to the young generation, a series of trivia posts were published on the official Facebook page of the 75Years of Claretian Presence in the Philippines. The platform also sponsored the live streaming of Malou Jacob’s Batang Mujahideen, a stage play that follows the story of a Muslim girl who witnessed the kidnapping of Fr. Rhoel and his companions in Basilan. At the same time, Bihag: Into the Mountain, a documentary film narrating the ordeal of Fr. Rhoel and his companions, was also made available on the internet.
The evening before the celebration, some Claretian Missionaries led by Fr. Elias Ayuban, Jr., CMF, had an online sharing with youth leaders. Dubbed as Sharing Rhoel: An Evening of Shared Reflections, the virtual encounter allowed the young to listen to the personal stories and reflections of our missionaries on the martyrdom of Fr. Rhoel. In turn, the youth also shared how they were inspired by the example of Fr. Rhoel. Claretian seminarians in different formation centers of the Province also had their sharing of reflections.
The day of the celebration, May 3, fell on the 4th Sunday of Easter which is also Good Shepherd Sunday and World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The best way to remember Fr. Rhoel – the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep – is through the celebration of the Eucharist by different communities and parishes, most of which was live-streamed. After an online recitation of the rosary in the evening, a special program entitled Rhoel with an H: We Tell His Story was shown in the evening. It was a special tribute through songs, poems, testimonies, and reflections which included a video message sent by the parents of Fr. Rhoel.
Commemorating the 20th anniversary of Rhoel, a martyr for peace goes beyond these many activities. This occasion challenges us to continue to reflect and live the memory of our brother Rhoel who was gallant in his faith and mission, especially in this time of pandemic when we are called more than ever to bear witness to our prophetic life and mission.
(Note: All online materials of the anniversary celebration are available on Facebook page 75 Years of Claretian Presence in the Philippines 1946-2021)