August 30, 2001, Inquirer, Christians, Muslims cry for Fr. Popong, by Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer News Service,
Posted: 1:56 AM (Manila Time)
MALABANG, Lanao del Sur — To Christians and Muslims in this once sleepy town, they have lost a bridge in Father Popong and the pain has been ten times heavier.
"His demise is really painful for us Muslims and Maranaws," Bai Connie Balindong, a school principal, said.
It was "equivalent to the death of 10 Maranaws or 10 Christians. That's how important Father Halley was to us," according to her colleagues.
Thousands of Christians and Muslims mourned the death of Irish missionary Fr. Rufus Halley, or Father Popong to his parishioners, who was shot dead by one of six men believed to be kidnappers on Tuesday afternoon.
Residents of this sleepy coastal town lined up to view the remains of Halley, 57, at the Our Lady of Peace parish church. Malabang (population: 30,000) become a virtual ghost town as people from all walks of life trooped to the church despite the excruciating heat.
Police identified one of the suspects as Akto Sumagayan Daing, 35, a son of Moro Islamic Liberation Front Commander Sumagayan.
Halley was the 23rd member of the Columban Fathers to die violently abroad since the order was founded in 1918, according to the online edition of the Dublin-based Irish Independent.
He was the second eldest among seven children of the late Maxie Halley, a solicitor in Waterford City in Ireland, and Imelda, who is now in her 80s, it said.
Another Columban priest, Desmond Hartford, was kidnapped by former Moro rebels in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte on Oct. 27, 1997 but was released unharmed after 12 days.
"This is a terrific shock for all of us. It has come out of the blue," Hartford was quoted by the Irish Independent as saying.
"There has been a history of violence and conflict between the two (Christian and Muslim) communities in the region. Rufus was a bridge between them."
Fr. Bernard Maes, a Belgian missionary who is Halley’s "neighbor parish priest" in Balabagan town, wept as he saw thousands of Muslims and Christians line up to take a glimpse of the Columban priest's remains.
"The real victims are the people here who have been victims of kidnapping and injustices by lawless groups," said Maes, who himself was kidnapped in 1997 by Moro bandits in Balabagan.
"We seek justice for Father Rufus much as we ask for justice for ordinary people who were either kidnapped or killed," Maes told the Church-run radio dxMS.
"I never thought that when we parted ways, that was the last," he said in Cebuano, adding that Halley's vision for the people of Malabang "will continue despite the risks we face."
Halley’s superior in Manila, Fr. Colin McKetting, and his colleagues in the Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur came to view the remains of the slain peace advocate and inter-religious dialogue expert.
"If not because of him, there's understanding between the two different faiths in Malabang," Balindong said in between sobs.