Cebu activist remembers ‘disappeared’ priest

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CEBU City, July 11, 2014—“Father Rudy was a skilled martial artist,” said Yoyoy Cala, a cultural activist who had known pro-poor priest Rosaleo “Rudy” Romano of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (C.Ss.R.), before his sudden abduction on July 11, 1985 by suspected members of the military.

Remembering Romano: The Redemptorist community (C.Ss.R.), of which activist-priest Rosaleo "Rudy" Romano is a member, commemorates the 29th year of his "diasppearance" in a mini outdoor exhibit at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Baclaran Church) in Parañaque City. (Photo: Edwin Dio Despabiladeras)

“Father Rudy would give me tips on martial arts and carpentry. He was what you would call a Renaissance man,” he shared of the priest who was admired by the marginalized for his articulateness and by college girls for his dashing, good looks.

Cala shared that he had first heard of Romano in 1978 in a rally the priest had organized with seminarians to denounce the then prevailing Martial Law regime.

He noted that while Manila and the rest of the country were muted and “paralyzed”, Romano was the first one in Central Philippines to dispel the “culture of fear” bred by the dictatorship.

“At that time, Filipinos were reluctant to take part in anti-government protests, but they were emboldened knowing that a Catholic priest was there for them in the frontlines,” he said.

Cala was formally introduced to Romano after a brush with the military struck the activist unconscious.

“An agent arrested me after delivering on stage a poem by Amado V. Hernandez, when priests snatched me away just in time and brought me to Fr. Rudy, who hid me in the safety of his room,” he explained.

According to Cala, Romano, who was a Waray native of Santa Rita town in Samar, also bitterly opposed abusive capitalists in the Visayas, whose ire he incurred by celebrating mass for members of labor unions.
“With the priest’s inspiration, many labor unions won against these big businessmen because Fr. Rudy served as the animating spirit that guided the laborers, peasants, and the urban poor,” he said.

He noted that Romano also became spiritual adviser to known political opposition leaders in Cebu like the anti-Marcos “Inday” Nenita Cortes Daluz.

Another unconfirmed report, Cala shared, tells of an influential figure in the Visayas, who had an axe to grind with Romano, kidnapping the priest, putting him inside a vat, cemented over, and thrown into the sea.

“Wherever Fr. Rudy may be now, I am sure he will forever remain in the hearts of those who keep dreaming for a free, prosperous, and dignified society,” Cala declared.

“Were he still alive today, he would still be doing what he was doing, righting the wrongs of those in power,” he added.

In an official statement, Cebu Archbishop José S. Palma praised Romano for taking to heart the challenge posed by many of the Church’s social encyclicals and for taking the side of the poor while denouncing injustice and social inequality.

“Following in the footsteps of our Lord, Fr. Rudy also bore his own cross until the end when he offered his life to follow Jesus. His life witness, his living out his vocation as a pastor and his legacy of deep commitment to Gospel values are gifts he offers to us until today even if he is no longer with us,” the prelate noted,

The Redemptorist-run National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Baclaran Church) in Parañaque City pays tribute to Romano in a short video presentation to commemorate the 29th year of the priest’s disappearance. Watch the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pME_poJXPag&feature=share (Raymond A. Sebastián)

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