Fr. Rey had always wanted to work among Muslims

“He had always wanted to work among Muslims, either in Malaysia or Indonesia. Rome assigned him instead to the Philippine Oblate missions. He did receive an assignment to
Thailand but as a seminary formator for five years,” Quevedo wrote.

But in the last ten years, Fr. Rey “finally had his dream fulfilled,” he said.

Fr. Rey was first assigned to Bato-bato then to Tabawan in South Ubian, Tawi-tawi.

“There are only a very few Catholics in Tabawan. Probably more than 98% of the students in Notre Dame of Tabawan High School are Muslims. The small scale livelihood projects that he managed were with Muslims on behalf of Muslims,” the archbishop said.

The Oblates of  Mary Immaculate (OMI) have been serving predominantly Muslim areas in mainland Mindanao and the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi.

Fr. Rey was no exception. He was assigned in a predominantly Muslim area. He lived with Muslims, Father Ramon Bernabe, OMI provincial, told MindaNews.

But his mission, just like the other Oblates and two other martyred Oblates  — Bishop Benjamin de Jesus in 1997 and Fr. Benjamin Inocencio in 2000 – did not include converting Muslims to his faith.

So why do the Oblates continue serving in these areas with no intention of proselytizing and converting?

Fr. Roberto Layson, who is based in Pikit, North Cotabato, also a predominantly Muslim area, says they are in these areas “to be instruments of God’s love to his people whoever they are and wherever they are through charitable acts, health care, and education such as the Notre Dame schools.”

Fr.  Jonathan Domingo,  chief executive officer of the Mindanao Cross,  replied, “Ministry of presence. Dialogue of life. Uplifting socio-development of people. The OMI have been doing that in Sulu and Tawi-tawi for almost 70 years.”

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., who served as Notre Dame University president for a decade and who is presently in Madrid said in an e-mail that at their dining table with several OMI priests and Jolo Bishop Lito Lampon a few days before he left for Madrid, “I jokingly posed the question of the rationale of our presence in those places… since in the economy of God's salvation, I believe that all are saved by God's mercy and compassion…! Yet what the mind cannot fathom… the heart can understand… Only in faith, hope and great love, can we begin to understand such a presence, such heroism and such senseless deaths…. Rey, Ben, Benjie and the rest of our colleagues in the same mission have that faith, hope and great love…!”

Mercado said he expressed his “deep admiration and appreciation”  in July 2007 to those who worked in these areas, including Fr. Rey. “Such presence and the ministry elude understanding…. when approached through the mind… In fact they are senseless! That kind of life and ministry can only be approached through the heart. Akin to a mystery, it can only be understood in faith hope and love!”

Arcbhishop Quevedo’ answer to question on the OMI’s presence in these areas: “Let me give one answer to that important question by referring to Fr. Rey Roda. Fr. Rey learned his Theology after Vatican II (held in 1962-65) and it helped him to understand that Mission in contemporary Catholic Theology is no longer Mission as understood at the time of St. Francis Xavier. In 1971, a Synod of Bishops from all over the world gathered in Rome and taught that ‘action for justice and participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.’”

Quevedo said he is “sure that Fr. Rey's generation of seminarians and young priests had this in mind when going to the missions, as in Sulu. Helping create a world more peaceful and more just, more harmonious and more ‘fraternal’ in collaboration with peoples of other faiths — that is at the heart of the Oblate missions in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. And why? Because such a world is a fuller reflection of the universal Reigning of God. That is part of Catholic belief and is probably shared in one form or another by various religious traditions.”

Values necessary for the mission — respect for others, service to others, generosity, kindness, integrity, love – “are values that Oblates strive to live by. We do not always do so, we must admit quite humbly. But I believe that Fr. Rey's life and death testify that he, indeed, lived such values.”

“We pray with you, dear friends, that the many people, mostly Muslims, who have appreciated the work as well as the lessons taught by Fr. Rey would grow in number
from year to year so that from the small ripples of his life, a socially transformed harmonious community may emerge,” Quevedo said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)