Goodbye, Father Rey

Father Rey’s  final journey took 54 minutes from the cathedral to the cemetery of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Tamontaka, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan and 11 minutes from the final rites officiated by OMI provincial, Fr. Ramon Bernabe, to the time the first spade of earth was heaped on his lowered casket.

At the cathedral, the mass was concelebrated by 65 priests, five of them bishops, with Fr. Rey’s bishop, Angelito Lampon of the Vicariate of Jolo, as main celebrant.

“How can people harm such a real nice person?” Bishop Lampon asked during his 25-minute homily, interrupted first by a 35-second silence then another 10-second silence as tears clouded his eyes.

Many of those inside the jampacked cathedral, among them a few parishioners from Tabawan in South Ubian, Tawi-tawi, wiped their tears as the bishop did his.

The bishop, however, answered his own question. “Somebody,” he said, “was bound to hurt Fr. Rey” because of his work for the poor and his commitment to justice and social issues.

Fr. Rey  was adamant in his commitment to various issues “to the extent that he irritated me sometimes,” the bishop said, smiling.

He said while in the capital town of Bongao in Tawi-tawi last Monday, somebody from the Department of Education told him how Fr. Rey during a conference in Tawi-tawi, “in a no holds barred speech described the corruption and shenanigans going on.”

“Everybody was spellbound,” the bishop narrated. It wasn’t as if what he said was not true, the bishop said. It was, and everyone knew it was but nobody dared say it as Fr. Rey did, he said.

Bishop Lampon also quoted from the latest encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI to describe the life of Fr. Rey.

The Pope wrote, “His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire.’ But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.”

Fr. Rey’s life, according to Bishop Lampon, was “fire that sears through.”

The bishop, who started his homily by greeting the public in Taosug, welcomed everyone “to this final journey of Fr. Rey,” fell silent when he spoke about how Sama people in Tabawan told him it’s alright if they could not come to Cotabato City, Fr. Rey’s hometown, because as they explained to the bishop, it was just going to be a send-off to Fr. Rey.

“They lost a father. They all want to go with him all the way. All the way,” he said.

“Can we count with our fingers how many will die for us because we’ve entered their lives?” the bishop asked.

“Rey has disturbed the status quo,” he said.

Initial police and military reports said Fr. Rey was killed by suspected Abu Sayyaf members. The Abu Sayyaf is more known to be in Sulu and Basilan than Tawi-tawi, much less Tabawan, which is eight hours away from Bongao.

Bishop Lampon told MindaNews after the burial rites that since Fr. Rey’s killing on January 15, the police or the military has yet to communicate with him on their findings.

There is no word as yet on what has happened to the Notre Dame teacher Omar Taup, who was taken by the armed men that night.

Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, regional police chief in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) told MindaNews Tuesday night that “one of the suspects, Salvador, former Bantay Dagat  member, surrendered yesterday to Governor Sahali of Tawi-tawi, but claimed innocence in the abduction with murder of  Fr. Roda.”

Goltiao said the suspect was “placed under the custody of the Philippine marines because of the ongoing pursuit operations by joint PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

Lampon ended his homily by saying how Fr. Rey loved his scholars so much he even went all the way to Iligan to look for boarding houses for them. “Have you done that? I have not done that,” the bishop said.

With Lampon at the altar were Archbishops Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato and Romulo Valles of Zamboanga and Bishops Romulo dela Cruz, the former bishop of Basilan now bishop of San Jose de Antique, and Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Colin Bagaforo.

Fr. Rey’s sister, Pet, told those who attended the mass that her brother was the middle child. “As brother he was our friend and confidante, as an uncle, he was an inspiration to his nephews and nieces, as cousins, he would tell them to love one another and as a person, he was simple, humble, caring and loving.”

Fr. Bernabe apologized to Fr. Rey for not following his last will. Fr. Rey had wanted to be buried in Tabawan. “Quits na tayo,” he said, adding Fr. Rey also reneged on  a promise, that when he turned 60, he would either return to Thailand or be novice master to young Oblates.

He would have turned 54 on February 5. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)