FIELDS OF HOPE: Fr. Rey. By Fr. Roberto C. Layson, OMI

They came from friends and people I know – Muslims and Christians.  Some came from people I do not even know.

The death of Fr. Rey brought back in my memory that fateful day on February 4, 1997 when Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI was murdered in front of the Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, where I served as parish priest.

After four months, I left Jolo with a bitter heart.  I left Jolo because I was not myself anymore.  I developed a strong sense of hatred not only for the murderers of Bishop Ben but towards all Muslims.  

To rescue myself from depression, I was transfered by my superior in Pikit, a Muslim- dominated town in Cotabato but with strong Basic Ecclesial Communities.  It was supposed to be a break from the vicious cycle of violence that had characterized the island of Jolo.

But twelve days after I arrived in Pikit, war broke out between government troops and MILF forces in Camp Rajahmuda.  It sent 30,000 civilians running away from their homes to the evacuation centers where they lived in deprivation and misery for several months.  They were mostly Muslims from the interior of the Liguasan Marsh.

I remember that during the day, I would find myself in the midst of the “murderers of Bishop Ben.” Then in the evening, I would lie on my bed and see images of babies and children crying inside the makeshift tents.  No, I was not imagining.  The images were all true. That was when I began to realize that helping the poor is not a matter of choice.  For any human being, it is a duty and a social responsibility.

Honestly, it was the Rajahmuda war in 1997 that brought back my humanity.  I began to distinguish who the real victims are and who the real perpetrators are.  I realized I was just a victim of my own anger and biases.  It was then when I began to shed off my hatred and focused on God’s dream for his people – Peace in Mindanao.

Just like what happened during the death of Bishop Ben, the Muslims mourned.  In Fr. Rey’s death, the Muslims also mourned, especially the people of Tabawan whom Fr. Rey had learned to love after spending ten years in this remote but beautiful island of Tawi-Tawi.  I could sympathize with the people of Tabawan.  They lost one of them.  

I saw Samud on TV.  He is the same convento boy whom I met when I was assigned in Bongao from 1990 to 1994.  He is a Muslim.  

I wonder what happened to the Notre Dame teacher and the fisherman whom the kidnappers took.  Their lives are just as valuable as the life of Fr. Rey.  

While I grieve for the death of a fellow Oblate, I find solace not only in the support of fellow Christians but also in the support given by our Muslim brothers and sisters through their personal condolences and public condemnation of the incident.  This outpouring of support tells something and offers hope – that human goodness transcends even religious boundaries. Let’s continue to cultivate this human goodness in our hearts and as Lumads, Muslims and Christians, let’s unite against all kinds of evil in our society and in our midst. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Roberto C. Layson is a former parish priest of Pikit, North Cotabato and presently the coordinator of the Oblates of Mary Immaculates' Inter-Religious Dialogue, still based in Pikit. Fr. Layson  is the 2004 Ninoy Aquino Fellow for public service.)