Bless you, Father Bossi
Giancarlo Bossi, the Italian Catholic missionary priest who was abducted in 2007 by a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, died on Sept. 23 in his order’s infirmary in Milan. He worked for 32 of his 61 years in the mission fields of Mindanao and had wanted to come back and be with “my people.” But his superiors would not allow it. He died without a homecoming.
A member of the papal missionary order Pontificio Istituto Missioni Estere (Pime), Bossi was abducted in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, in June 2007, and released a month later. He returned to Italy the following month on his superiors’ orders and had the opportunity to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, who had appealed to his captors to release him.
Other Pime missionaries serving in the Philippines suffered worse ordeals. In October, it will be a year since Fr. Fausto Tentorio, who served indigenous peoples and headed the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate of the Diocese of Kidapawan, was gunned down at the Mother of Perpetual Help church compound in Arakan, North Cotabato. On April 11, 1985, Fr. Tulio Favali, was killed by paramilitary cultists led by Norberto Manero in Tulunan, North Cotabato. Manero, two of his brothers and four other accomplices barged into the San Isidro Labrador Parish, shot Favali 22 times, and stomped on his fallen body. Witnesses said the killers also ate bits of the priest’s brain (an incident fictionalized in the celebrated 1989 movie of Lino Brocka, “Orapronobis,” which was shown in Cannes). Perhaps because the crime was seared into the public consciousness, there arose a momentum for the killers to be brought to justice. Manero was convicted and spent almost 23 years in prison until his release in 2008.
But other than the Favali case, nothing has emerged from the other cases of abductions and murders. Seven years after Favali’s death, another Italian Pime priest, Salvatore Carzedda, was killed in an ambush by an unknown assailant in Zamboanga City.
Because no one was being brought to justice, a culture of impunity soon flourished and resulted in more kidnappings, perhaps with ransom economics impelling their commission. Yet another Italian Pime missionary, Luciano Benedetti, was kidnapped from a farm near his parish in Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte, in 1998. He was freed two months later, reportedly after a P7-million ransom was paid.
Another Italian priest, Guiseppe Pierantoni of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, was kidnapped in Dimataling, Zamboanga del Sur, in 2001. At least six other foreign priests from different countries, especially Columban missionaries from Ireland and Claretian priests from Spain, have fallen victim to armed groups in Mindanao since 1993.
It is easy, especially for Catholics, to romanticize Fathers Bossi, Tentorio, Favali and other beloved victims of the violence in the South as martyrs who tilled the mission fields with their blood and suffering. But even lay people and evangelical Protestant missionaries, like Martin and Gracia Burnham, have been kidnapped and, in the case of Martin, killed. All of this must end. National and local leaders, the police and the military must do their job.
The government must remember that the missionaries bring with them the glad tidings not only of the Gospel but also of development. The missionary orders—Pime, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Columbans and Claretians—bring to the South their congregations’ resources to build churches and mission houses (a boost to infrastructure and job-generation), as well as set up schools, cooperatives, livelihood programs, and medical missions. Bossi himself set up schools where Christians and Muslims are enrolled. He also established cooperatives to provide microfinance to and generate livelihood among the poor.
In nearly all of the Catholic mission churches in Mindanao, there’s a parish or a mission school, a cooperative, and a medical clinic. In addition, the local bishop is a member of the regional disaster council and/or the regional development council. Most of the time, the bishop relies on foreign missionary orders to extend his pastoral solicitude to the remote hinterlands. In short, the Church and her missionaries are agents of peace and development.
It is quite sad that Father Bossi was unable to make it back “home” before he died. His passing leaves in its wake the shining example of a Christian who sought to build bridges of dialogue and development in a territory riven by conflict. The government does injustice to his memory by being blasé about crime and violence in the South.
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