+ Emmanuel T. Cabajar, C.Ss.R. D.D.
Fr. Rudy Romano was abducted by the military in the outskirts of Cebu City. He became a ‘desaparecido’ victim among so many in the country during the Martial Law regime. After fruitless years of struggle to find him, it was felt that, for the sake of his agonizing relatives and friends, a closure had to be made. Without proof of his death the Redemptorists decided to celebrate a funeral Mass for him.
Thirty-six years have gone by since his disappearance. But many still remember him as a missionary priest who felt for the poor, especially the most abandoned and marginalized. To be poor is to be voiceless and Rudy offered himself to be their voice and courageously advanced their valid cause and noble aspirations. That is why many regarded him as a martyr for the cause of the poor and oppressed. He was willing to pay the price in taking sides with them.
I have fond memories of Fr. Rudy. He was two years ahead of me at St. Alphonsus Theologate in Cebu City but we were classmates in some subjects. Common interests often brought us together. Instead of taking a midday siesta we would often do carpentry work or develop photographs in the dark room or give some haircut to a confrere. We used to call him affectionately ‘the scientist before his time’ due to his inventiveness and creativity. The many gadgets he invented attested to that. Out of copra sacks he made backpacks for us and assembled portable cooking tripods for our excursions and long treks in the hills of Busay, Mt. Manungal, Balamban and Toledo.
However, more than anything else, I personally remember Fr. Rudy as a preacher of the Word of God. He dedicated a large part of his pastoral work to the ministry of the Word. He was engaged in the rural missions. He tried to develop Fr. Fil Suico’s visionary intuition into some concrete missionary method. I saw some of his missionary footprints in Northern Mindanao, from Iligan to Gingoog. One early morning, as I was jogging in Mambajao, Camiguin Island, I saw a stone marker at a junction. Engraved on it was an expression of local people’s sentiments, ‘Handumanan sa Misyon” with Fr. Rudy’s name on it.
The preaching of the Word of God has the capacity to act as a light of truth that illumines the concrete situation that the people live at the moment. Being rooted in the Redemptorist tradition of prophetic announcement of the Good News, Fr. Rudy preached like an artist, knowing how to make simple and ordinary words come to life in the people’s here and now. That is why the Word of God springing from his inner conviction touched the wounds, the injustices, the victims, the exploited while causing the ire of powerful arrogant perpetrators. If we must keep the memory of Fr. Rudy alive, the reason must be that the prophetic preaching he tried to practice is still very relevant today.
Our mission is never simply to preach on majestic pulpits billowing with incense as if the Good News were floating on the clouds. We have to proclaim the Word in a way that enlightens, awakens, challenges even if it annoys and opens up wounds and surface conflicts so long as it brings healing to people who hunger and long for the experience of God’s saving power. This kind of preaching pierces real human life but cannot get along with the powers of darkness and evil. This is the kind of preaching we must do and this has to be rooted in prayer and trust in a compassionate God.
This commemoration of Fr. Rudy Romano offers the Redemptorists a timely and relevant challenge. Are we prepared to shake ourselves up and force us to look honestly at our own preaching in parishes, shrine churches, and retreat houses today? Are we willing to wrestle with the Word of God and be fully engaged with the world’s complexities and be open to the ongoing revelation of God in the signs of the times? Are we willing to ensure that the Word takes on flesh as Good News for the poor and the needy? Are we prepared to always speak and stand for the truth even if it would mean losing our privileges and financial stability and security?
Undoubtedly, this stance would find echo in those who love the truth and who truly love the poor. Blessed are we if we are true to the Gospel!