The Prelature of Isabela in the southern Philippines launched the cause for sainthood of a young missionary priest who was killed on the island of Basilan 21 years ago.
Filipino Claretian missionary priest Rhoel Gallardo died on May 3, 2000, in an encounter between government forces and Abu Sayyaf Group fighters who took the priest and several others hostage.
The formal opening of the inquiry into the life of Father Gallardo was held during Mass officiated by Bishop Leo Dalmao of Isabela de Basilan at San Vicente Ferrer church in the village of Tumahubong where the priest served at the time of his death.
The “inquiry” will be the first step toward the beatification, “per viam Martyrii” (by way of martyrdom), and possible sainthood of the missionary priest.
The bandits attacked Claret School of Tumahubong on March 20, 2000, and took hostage the priest, four teachers, and 22 students.
In his message, Father Elias Ayuban, CMF, provincial superior of the Claretians in the Philippines, said the bandits repeatedly asked Father Gallardo to renounce his faith but he refused.
“Instead, he stood up for God who was faithful to him until the last drop of his blood,” said Father Ayuban.
After the “inquiry” into the priest’s life, the Vatican is expected to issue a declaration if the “Servant of God” was a true martyr before he is granted the title “Venerable.”
The next two steps will be the beatification and later the canonization.
The process is expected to take several years although the beatification of a martyr is a simpler process because there is no need to prove a miracle.
Father Ayuban said that martyrdom is a gift given only to those “who are worthy in the eyes of God.”
“It could have occurred to any of us who were the young missionaries then, but it was given to Father Rhoel because, in hindsight, he was the most prepared to receive the crown,” said the priest.
“We join in fervent prayer that our brother and friend Servant of God Father Rhoel Gallardo will, one day, be counted among the Martyrs and Saints of our Mother Church,” said Father Ayuban.
Father Gallardo was killed a few days before his 34th birthday. He was found with several bullet wounds on his body and signs of torture.
The 43 days that Father Gallardo and the other captives spent in captivity were also days of heroism for the priest.
Witnesses said he looked for the female teachers when they were separated from the other captives.
The missionary priest made his first religious profession in the Claretian congregation on May 1, 1989, in Basilan.
He was ordained to the priesthood at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Quezon City on Dec. 6, 1994.