A gift from heaven, Father Rudy Romano CSsR remains alive in the hearts of the poor

Redemptorist mission community in Legazpi on July 11, 2018

Priest disappeared 35 years ago lives in Filipino minds

Three decades and a half ago, a great teacher, a staunch human rights defender, a front-liner in anti-Marcos demonstrations, a man-of-the cloth, a humble servant of the poor, deprived and the oppressed involuntarily disappeared in broad daylight in Labangon, Cebu City. Father Rudy Romano of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer was forcibly taken by alleged elements of the Military Intelligence Group in Labangon, Cebu City. Since then, he has never returned.

Where is Father Rudy Romano? The question was repeatedly splashed in headlines of national dailies, local newspapers and TV, aired over the radio and written on placards. National and international pressures failed to surface Fr Romano, CSSR, whose enforced disappearance was one of the most visible cases of the practice during the darkest years of the Marcos dictatorship.

In this time of the pandemic, if Father Romano were with us, “he would still be busy with his work as a missionary for the most destitute. It was him, he lived and involuntarily disappeared doing that,” said Father Ben Moraleda who worked with Father Romano in the same congregation.

Reflecting on the missing priest’s anniversary, Father Ramon Fruto, CSSR, Vice Provincial Superior of the Redemptorists for the Visayas at the height of the campaign for the release of the missing missionary, pondered: “Medical experts continue to search for an effective and lasting antidote against the spread of the coronavirus. Lawmakers and lawyers continue to question the wisdom of the anti-terror law…In the midst of all these disturbing concerns, we draw inspiration and strength from the examples of little-known heroes…To pursue this dream, they risked their own freedoms and even their lives…They pursued their dream of building a society that is a reflection of God’s kingdom on earth, built on the foundation of stones of love and concern for all people, especially the marginalized and the downtrodden…”

Among these little-remembered heroes of our recent past is the Filipino Redemptorist missionary priest, Father Rudy Romano, CSSR, who was reportedly abducted by the military intelligence agents of the Marcos regime…”

I personally knew Father Romano from my high school and college years. Young activists that we were, we linked arms with him in various rallies during the most obscure moments of the Marcos dictatorship. As a missionary, he followed Christ’s footsteps. He opened his doors to weary activists, listened to the anxieties of his parishioners, comforted them in their fears and embraced their dreams for a society that values the sanctity of life and aspires for the realization of the “New Heaven and New Earth.”

For accompanying the workers in their cry for better working conditions, for his encouraging presence during demolitions of urban poor communities, for immersing himself with landless farmers in their struggle for land and life, Fr. Rudy earned the ire of the powers-that-be. As a real follower of the Most Holy Redeemer, on many occasions, he was harassed, teargassed, maligned. imprisoned until he was made to disappear.

Father Romano is one of the more than 2,000 desaparecidos in the Philippines.

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(Mary Aileen D Bacalso, Manila. UcaNews, 13/07/2020)