Fr Rufus Halley with friends
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Second Reading: Philippians 4:12-14. 19-20 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships. In return my God will fulfil all your needs, in Christ Jesus, as lavishly as only God can. Glory to God, our Father, for ever and ever. Amen.My Columban confrere and friend since 1962, Fr Rufus Halley, murdered in an ambush in Lanao del Sur, Philippines, on 28 August 2001, came to mind as I read St Paul’s words for today. He came from a well-to-do family in county Waterford, in the south-east of Ireland, did his secondary studies at Glenstal Abbey School in County Limerick, not a place most parents could afford to send their sons to.An Dara Léacht: Filipigh 4:12-14. 19-20 (Gaeilge, Irish)
A bhráithre, tá eolas agam ar an gcaolchuid agus ar an bhflúirse. Tá seantaithí agam ar gach sórt: ar an mórdhóthain agus ar an ocras, ar an bhflúirse agus ar an ngannchuid. Táim in ann gach ní a dhéanamh le cabhair an té úd a thugann neart dom. Mar sin féin ba mhaith an mhaise daoibhse teacht i gcabhair orm i mo chruachás. Agus déanfaidh mo Dhia riar go fial ar gach riachtanas daoibhse as a fhlúirse féin i nglóir in Íosa Críost. Moladh le Dia, ár nAthair, le saol na saol. Amen.
The 18-year-old Rufus, whose baptismal name was Michael but known by the Latin nickname for ‘red-haired’, could have chosen any university course. He was a bright student and an outstanding athlete, particularly good at rugby. His sunny disposition drew people to him like a magnet. But he opted for the Columbans and entered Dalgan Park, the Columban seminary about 40 kms north-west of Dublin in September 1962, a year after your scribe.
Ordained at Easter 1969 he came to the Philippines later that year and worked in Tagalog-speaking parishes. His good friend, now Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, has written that Father Rufus spoke Tagalog perfectly. Cardinal Rosales should know, since that is his mother-tongue.
But after about ten years in parishes where almost all were Catholics Father Rufus felt a call from God to move to the Prelature of Marawi in Mindanao where Columbans had worked for many years. Around 20 percent of the population of Mindanao as a whole is Muslim, but there are only four areas or so where they form a majority. The Prelature of Marawi, created in 1976 by Pope Paul VI, covers the province of Lanao del Sur and part of rgw province of Lanao del Norte and is 95 percent. Furthermore, the vast majority of the Muslims speak Maranao while the Christians speak Cebuano. Father Rufus became fluent in both languages.
He had chosen to give up the security of living in a totally Christian community in order to live in a community divided by suspicion and hostility for centuries, a place where he would always feel tension and sometimes be in danger. To quote St Paul today, he was 'ready for anything anywhere'.
Cardinal Rosales with his late friend Balodoy and Mrs Bella Feliciano, one of those who introduced Faith and Light to the Philippines.
Here is how Cardinal Rosales wrote about the commitment and death of his friend Pareng Rufus (‘Pareng’ is a Tagalog term used by men who are close friends with one another, ‘Mareng’ being the female equivalent):
I knew of the intensity with which Father Rufus lived his own Christian faith, how he began each day with an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, the centrality of the Mass in his life. A big influence on him was the life of Charles de Foucauld, 1858-1916, beatified last November (2005). This Frenchman was also from a privileged background. Unlike Pareng Rufus, he lost his Catholic faith and became a notorious playboy before re-discovering it, partly through the example of Muslims living in North Africa. He spent many years as a priest living among the poorest Muslims in a remote corner of the Sahara, pioneering Christian-Muslim dialogue by discovering himself as the Little Brother of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and as the Little Brother of the Muslims who came knocking at his hermitage door.
Death of a peacemaker
On 1 December 1916 Charles de Foucauld died at the hands of a young gunman outside his hermitage and on 28 September 2001 Pareng Rufus died at the hands of gunmen who ambushed him as he was riding on his motorcycle from a meeting of Muslim and Christian leaders in Balabagan to his parish in Malabang. The local people, both Christian and Muslim, mourned for him deeply. The grief of the Muslims was all the greater because the men who murdered my Pareng Rufus happened to be Muslims. This great missionary priest brought both communities together in their shared grief for a man of God, a true follower of Jesus Christ.