Fr Bem laid to rest
Greetings from Manila! Yesterday was a long and emotional day in Himamaylan City on the island of Negros as we laid to rest our brother Fr Bembolio de los Santos SMA.
The large parish church was packed to capacity with the diocesan bishop, Patricio Buzon SDB, as principal celebrant of the Mass, together with about 40 priests. A poignant moment of the liturgy came with the singing of the responsorial psalm by his nephew – “do not be afraid … I will bring you home, you are mine”.
We were conscious of the fact that we had gathered in this same church a little over three years ago, same bishop, many of the same priests, family, relatives and parishioners for the joyfilled occasion of Bembolio’s ordination to the missionary priesthood.
The Irish Presentation Sisters run a large school in the church compound; it was these Sisters who first introduced Bembolio to the SMA more than 10 years ago.
The island of Negros of course was synonomous with the struggle against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 70’s and early 80’s; priests, sisters and lay leaders leading the peasant farmers and ordinary folk in the search for justice and truth. I was speaking with Fr. Brian Gore before and after the Mass; Brian was the companion of Niall O’Brien and the 7 lay leaders ( the “Negros Nine”) in that well documented imprisonment and fake trial all those years ago during the Marcos reign of terror. He told me that at one time there were more than 40 Columbans on the island of Negros; now they are only three! He also told me that some members of Bem’s extended family, leaders of Basic Christian Communities, were killed by the military during those martial law years.
As we, SMA priests, carried the coffin of Bem out of the church, we realized that we were carrying our youngest brother. We knew that he was very committed and dedicated to his mission apostolate among the people he served in Tanzania. We admired his courage in the manner in which he bore his illness. We have lost a brother, a priest, a missionary. But we believe that he will be interceeding for the Philippine DiF. We hope and pray that more young men will hear the call to priesthood in the SMA and carry on the work that Bem had begun, but had to leave behind all too quickly.
May he rest in peace at the right hand of our Father and Creator.
Fr Gus O’Driscoll SMA