A book was launched last week at Dubray’s, Grafton Street. It was about two men I knew well and titled, Murder in the Missions.
Des Harford from Lusk, Co Dublin, reluctantly volunteered to work in the Muslim area of the southern Philippines. He was only too well aware of the danger but was convinced a missionary should be in conflict areas, helping to bring people together and encouraging mutual respect. In 1997 he was kidnapped by extremists and held for 12 days.
Rufus Halley from Waterford, also recognised those dangers but took them less seriously. During his 20 years in the Muslim area he once took a job with a Muslim stall holder in the market so he could interact with ordinary people.
When I saw him in the summer of 2000 he was on his way back to the Philippines. I told him, ‘Take care, Rufus. It’s still dangerous there’. He laughed in reply, ‘Who would be bothered with me? I’m not an important person.’ Almost exactly a year later he was shot by gunmen while visiting villagers.
Both were members of the Columban Missionary Society which was originally founded for another country caught up in upheaval, China. When there no longer were openings for Columbans there some were sent to the Philippines and took up the challenge of working with the economically and social deprived, including the Muslims.
Today Columbans are again involved with China, promoting social and educational links and supporting the local Church which is still recovering from years of persecution. Life is not as physically dangerous there as in the southern Philippines but it still calls for a dedication to be where one is most needed, challenges and all.