“Where are you, brother, during such a long time? Where are you, brother? The powerful have to answer … We will never stop until we find you.”
Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar composed this verse to pay tribute to his Redemptorist brother, Father Rudy Romano, who was forcibly disappeared in Labangon, Cebu City, 36 years ago today. The priest has never been found.
July 11 comes and goes generally unnoticed. Except for the Redemptorist community and friends and colleagues of Father Rudy, the Catholic Philippines has seemingly forgotten the injustice committed against this man of the cloth who, like the Most Holy Redeemer, gave his life for the ransom of many. Poverty, injustice, human rights violations, absence of genuine peace — these were the very reasons why he linked arms with the wretched of the earth. In so doing, he earned the ire of the powers-that-be and was made to disappear.
Asked about his memories of the disappeared priest, Bishop Cabajar said: “I have fond memories of Father Rudy. He was two years ahead of me at St. Alphonsus Theologate in Cebu City, but we were classmates in some subjects. Common interests often brought us together. Instead of taking a midday siesta, we would often do carpentry work or develop photographs in the dark room or give a haircut to a confrere. We used to affectionately call him “the scientist before his time” due to his inventiveness and creativity.”
Almost four decades since his disappearance, the Philippines is far from the “New Heaven and the New Earth” that Father Rudy dreamed for — a dream that, if fulfilled, he will never have the possibility to cherish.
Father Rudy would have been 81 years old this coming Sept. 26. If he were with us today, he would surely have the same or even stronger commitment to help the hungry farmers, poor workers, homeless urban poor and street children, who bear the brunt of the violent “war on drugs” that is causing innumerable deaths of God’s little ones. His heart would have bled to see our present situation, which is worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Certainly, he would have courageously pursued the same advocacy for the downtrodden.
Father Rudy was allegedly disappeared by elements of the Military Intelligence Group, who were supposed to be protectors of the law
“I remember Father Rudy as a preacher of the word of God. He dedicated a large part of his pastoral work to the ministry of the Word. He was engaged in the rural missions … I saw some of his missionary footprints in northern Mindanao, from Iligan to Gingoog,” Bishop Cabajar recalled.
“One early morning, as I was jogging in Mambajao, Camiguin island, I saw a stone marker at a junction. Engraved on it was an expression of local people’s sentiments: “Handumanan sa Misyon” (Memory of the Mission) with Father Rudy’s name on it.”
During and beyond the darkest years of the Marcos dictatorship, persecution of the progressive segment of the Catholic Church came and continues to come in many horrible forms: incarceration, extrajudicial execution, torture.
Father Rudy was allegedly disappeared by elements of the Military Intelligence Group, who were supposed to be protectors of the law. There is no trace of his whereabouts.
“After fruitless years of struggle to find him, it was felt that for the sake of his agonizing relatives and friends, a closure had to be made. Without proof of his death, the Redemptorists decided to celebrate a funeral Mass for him,” Bishop Cabajar said.
Remembering Father Rudy, whom I was very blessed to have known during my high school, college and first working years, I likewise remember another Filipino priest who was forcibly disappeared.
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED). (ucanews.com)