Ma Ceres P.Doyo, Inquirer

I gazed at the colored photo of the smiling Italian men—16 in all—in rugged clothes, and then I searched for the faces that became familiar because they landed on the front pages of newspapers and on TV screens after cruel men made victims of them.

The photo’s caption says: “PIME Fathers in 1984: 3 future martyrs and 2 kidnap victims.” The photo is among the many included in a book that should be a must-read for missionaries.

Photos on the back cover are of: Fr. Tullio Favali, killed on April 11, 1985; Fr. Salvatore Carzedda, killed on May 20, 1992; Fr. Luciano Benedetti, kidnapped in 1998; Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, kidnapped in 2007; Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, killed on Oct. 17, 2011.

Fr. Peter Geremia just sent me his book “Seeking God’s Kingdom of Justice and Peace,” an updated version, he said, of his diary-type “Dreams of Bloodstains” (which I wrote about years ago). At the end of the book are colored photos of the priests of PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) in mission areas.

Geremia, the book’s author, has been a missionary in the Philippines since the 1970s. He once worked in the Tondo slums but most of his priestly life has been spent in Mindanao. He speaks the local language.

He wrote me a note on the Tentorio case (also included in his book) which has been languishing in the dark. Could the case merit some newspaper space? he asked. He also sent me a copy of “Il vaggio continua,” the newsletter of the Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio Foundation Inc. which was set up after the murder of the Italian priest. Looking out from the corner of the cover page is a cartoon Father Pops wearing a red tubao (ethnic head scarf), which he often used when he was alive.

Two weeks ago, Inquirer Mindanao reporter Germelina Lacorte wrote a story titled “3 years after Italian priest’s murder, still no case in court, say friends.”

“Three years after the killing of Italian priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio, people demanding for justice … are still waiting for the determination of probable cause that would lead to the filing of charges in court.”

Father Pops, as Tentorio was fondly called, was killed in the Arakan Parish in the Diocese of Kidapawan in North Cotabato. He was 59. He was not the first foreign missionary to be killed, and not the first Italian.

But the journey continues. Il viaggio continua. The foundation set up in Father Pops’ name is focused on education, health, sustainable agriculture, environmental protection and peace advocacy. Its continuing quest: “Justice for Fr. Pops and all victims of extra-judicial killings.”

As if he had a foreboding of what would happen to him, Father Pops wrote in his will: “If I die, remember what God expects of us: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” In the local language he added: “Ang imong pangandoy akong pangandoy, ang imong pakigbisog akong pakigbisog. Ikaw ug ako usa ra kauban sa pagpanday sa ginharian sa Dios (Your dreams are my dreams, your struggles are my struggles. You and I are one in building the Kingdom of God).”

“Il viaggio continua” the newsletter also chronicles the developments in Tentorio’s case that seems to go nowhere despite the so-called SITU (special investigating team for unsolved cases) that President Aquino formed to handle extrajudicial killings. Who, what, is standing in the way?

The Justice for Fr. Pops Movement has offered leads, even a list of people who could be investigated, paramilitary groups and even police and military officials who might know something.

It’s been three years since the priest’s death but the Inquirer’s 2011 editorial (“Impunity in Arakan”) could well be used again, with punctuation marks remaining in the same places:

“The murder of Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio is yet another terrible blot on the reputation of the Philippines in the global community, and yet another indication (as though more were needed) that in these parts, the culture of impunity long noted by Amnesty International and even the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings is ever robust.”

On the first anniversary of Tentorio’s death in 2012, an Inquirer editorial (“Runaway justice”) stressed that “the ability of Fr. Pops’ killers to evade the law with impunity is not an aberration. It is a continuing, and most damning affirmation of the government’s impotence to throw the book at powerful criminals who are able to count on the protection of shadowy forces in society, not to mention the glacial pace of the justice system, to shun accountability for their crimes…”

It is men like Father Pops and his fellow missionaries—men and women—in far-flung places of this benighted country, it is their selfless pouring out of the substance of their lives that make me see beyond the scandalous behavior and failures of some so-called called and chosen who remain in their comfort zones in the institutional Church.

I have lost count of the articles I have written on these heroic lives, some 50 of which I compiled into a book, “You Can’t Interview God: Church Women and Men in the News” (Anvil, 2013). I intend to send Pope Francis a copy.

May the spirit of those who offered their lives for peace and justice descend upon us and remain with us in these discombobulating times. Il viaggio continua from here to eternity.

Have a mysteriously peaceful All Saints and All Souls weekend.

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