Sainthood cause opened for Filipino priest killed by Islamists in 2000

Fr. Rhoel Gallardo (1965-2000) Fr. Rhoel Gallardo (1965-2000)./ Courtesy of the Claretian Missionaries.

The sainthood cause opened this week of Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, who died on May 3, 2000, after being held for 43 days by Islamists.

The Claretian missionary was killed at the age of 34, just six years after his ordination as a priest and 11 years after making his first profession as a religious.

On March 20, 2000, Gallardo was kidnapped, together with a school administrator, five teachers, and 22 students from the Claret School of Tumahubong, a village located on the island province of Basilan, in the Philippines.

The majority of the population in Basilan is Muslim; the next largest religious group is Catholic. Gallardo, who was the school’s principal, and the teachers and students, were taken captive by the Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf, the East Asia branch of the Islamic State.

Gallardo died when he was shot in the head, shoulder, and back at close range, after repeatedly refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. Three teachers and five children also died when they were caught in a gunfight between the terrorists and the military.

When Gallardo’s body was recovered, it was discovered that the nails on his index fingers and toes had been pulled off before he was shot. There were also other signs of torture.

The Territorial Prelature of Isabela, led by Bishop Leo Dalmao, officially opened Gallardo’s cause for beatification on May 3, 2021, the 21st anniversary of his death.

The ceremony took place at St. Vincent Ferrer’s Church in Tumahubong, the town where Gallardo had volunteered to serve the year before his murder.

According to Claretian Fr. Angel Calvo, quoted in Asia News, “Fr. Gallardo was the first priest kidnapped in Basilan to be killed. Other priests and nuns had been seized, even beaten, but in the end everyone was freed.”

“People already think of him as a martyr, a hero. The other hostages said that he did not want to give up the cross and the rosary, as the Islamists wanted. That's why they tortured him by ripping off his nails,” Calvo said.

“He suffered a lot; yet, as school principal, even in captivity he cared first of all about the teachers and the children entrusted to him. He offered his life for the people around him.”

The priest said that even after Gallardo’s death, the Claretian missionaries stayed in Basilan. In the two decades since Gallardo’s death, Abu Sayyaf has moved its activities more to the island of Jolo.

“Fr. Gallardo’s testimony remains an example that no one has forgotten,” Calvo said.

CBCP News, the news agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, quoted Fr. Elias Ayubon, the provincial superior of the Claretian Missionaries in the Philippines, who said that Gallardo “stood up for God who was faithful to him until the last drop of his blood.”

Martyrdom “could have occurred to any of us who were the young missionaries then, but it was given to Fr. Rhoel because, in hindsight, he was the most prepared to receive the crown,” Ayubon said.

“We join in fervent prayer that our brother and friend Servant of God Fr. Rhoel Gallardo will, one day, be counted among the martyrs and saints of our Mother Church.”

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