A RADIO documentary due to air this weekend will reflect upon the life of a much loved Waterford missionary who was murdered in the Philippines in 2001.
The work of Columban missionary Fr Rufus Halley in uniting Muslims and Christians is the subject of ‘Remembering Rufus’ which will be broadcast on Newstalk on Saturday and Sunday.
Fr Rufus from Killotteran, Butlerstown, worked to build peace between the divided Muslim and Christian communities in the Philippines by engaging them in a revolutionary interfaith dialogue effort.
He was shot and killed during an attempted kidnapping on the island of Mindanao in August 2001 aged 57.
Earlier this year, documentary maker Brian Kenny travelled to the Philippines to tell the story of Fr Rufus.
Brian started his journey at the Columban house in the capital Manila and travelled deep into Mindanao meeting with Fr Paul Glynn who currently carries on the Columban work of interfaith dialogue.
On his journey he met old friends of Fr Rufus from both Muslim and Christian communities.
The story ends with Brian visiting the area where Fr Rufus was killed.
Ahead of the documentary’s broadcast this weekend, I spoke with Emmet and Gerry Halley (of MM Halley & Sons Solicitors, Slievekeale Road) to discuss the legacy of their late brother.
“Rufus always knew he was in a high risk area but it never bothered him. He had huge faith,” said Emmet.
“Rufus would never shy away from a challenge. He was hugely courageous. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for the principles which he believed needed to be asserted,” said Gerry.
And while he was extremely popular in the Philippines, Fr Rufus was equally as popular at home in his native Butlerstown.
Despite having lived away for so long, Butlerstown always remained a special place for Fr Rufus.
“Butlerstown was always very important for him,” said Emmet.
“He loved saying Mass there and loved visiting the people. Every time he came home he visited the people who were close to him.”
Both Gerry and Emmet praised the “vibrant community” in Butlerstown and the contributions of locals through auctions, cake sales, sponsored runs etc. to ensuring the work of Fr Rufus continues in the Philippines.
They especially praised the work of local man Billy Walsh.
As a tribute to their local hero, the Butlerstown Community Centre was named in honour of Fr Rufus in September 2007.
Gerry mentioned the importance which Fr Rufus placed on social responsibility.
“He had a great ability to remind people from privileged backgrounds of what they can give back to others,” he said.
But it wasn’t solely the work of Fr Rufus in the Philippines which made an impact, as the Halley brothers explained: “One day, a couple arrived at our office and said they had looked us up as they wanted to meet with the family of Rufus to thank them for what he had done. They came from North London where Rufus had spent some time. One day after Mass, Rufus was asked to pray for the couple’s terminally ill child who was in hospital. A few days later, Rufus turned up at the hospital which was a two hour train journey from where he was based. He kept on visiting the child until he died.”
Documentary maker Brian Kenny shared some of his experiences with me of working on the documentary ‘Remembering Rufus’.
He explained what first interested him in the remarkable story of Fr Rufus.
“Hearing how an Irish priest moved into a Muslim community and took a job working in a local shop in order to immerse himself in their culture and learn their language really struck me as unique and I wanted to explore his story further,” he said.
Brian said Fr Rufus is still remembered in the Philippines.
“Fr Rufus is well remembered to this day and the Columbans continue to work in the area of Muslim Christian dialogue,” he said.
“Unfortunately after Rufus was killed the Columbans withdrew from the immediate area where he was working due to safety concerns. Malabang has become very unsafe to visit and we were advised not to go there. With Fr Paul Glynn and some local guides, we travelled very close to where he lived. We stopped on a road as Fr Paul spoke to me about Rufus and there was an air of tension as cars passed us. The guides were nervous as was Fr Paul and he explained that we couldn’t be sure who was passing on the road and that kidnappings of westerners were common.”
Brian believes the work of Columban missionaries and people like Fr Rufus should continue to be celebrated.
“Fr Rufus is like many of the Columban missionaries and indeed many Irish missionaries who leave their home to work in the remotest and often very dangerous places in the world. He dedicated his life to peace and touched many people’s lives. His work and the work of the Columbans has been very effective overall. The region has moved rapidly towards peace in recent years and although there are still problems, the situation is far better than it was in the recent past,” said Brian.
He added: “Unfortunately in modern Ireland we tend to forget our unsung heroes the Irish Missionaries and with so much negativity surrounding the Catholic Church here we often are ignorant of those who truly practice what they preach and dedicate themselves to working with the marginalised and the poor. Fr Rufus Halley was one of these people.”
‘Remembering Rufus’ will be broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm as part of the Different Voices Series on Saturday 16th November at 7am and Sunday 17th November at 6pm.