A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Pinoy [Filipino] Jesuit’s death in Cambodia: Friendship beyond Facebook


GMA News
17th October, 2011

For Filipino Jesuit missionary Richie Fernando, who died saving lives in Cambodia exactly 15 years ago, the meaning of friendship went beyond Facebook definitions.

In a tragedy that hogged headlines a decade and a half ago, Fernando died on Oct. 17, 1996 when he restrained a student who held a grenade in Banteay Preab, a school for the handicapped in Cambodia. Had Fernando not done this, an entire class of handicapped students whom he considered friends would have perished. He was only 26.

His family and friends on Monday marked his 15th death anniversary.

Jesuit priest Johnny Go, who wrote a documentary on Fernando (watch the first part below), said Fernando’s life and death taught the world about “depth of commitment and depth of relationships."

“It was, after all, his deep commitment to serve others and his deep love for his disabled students that made it possible and that drove him to sacrifice his life to save those of so many," Go said in an e-mail to GMA News Online.

The priest, who also serves as president of the Jesuit-run Xavier School in Greenhills, San Juan, said this is an important lesson “because today’s technology tends to promote a culture of superficiality: shallow commitments and superficial relationships."

“I think Richie reminds us that a true friend is not just someone whose photos you can access on Facebook, but one who is deeply committed to loving you, even to the point of being willing to literally ‘lay down his life’ for you," Go explained.

Love for handicapped students

Fernando’s writings show his love for the Banteay Preab students.

“I never saw myself so affected. I don’t know how but in whatever way I can, I help them. And I suddenly find myself feeling great love for them," Fernando wrote in a letter to his friend and fellow Jesuit Totet Banaynal in February 1996.

“I thank God for these students, how they have been bringing out the best in me," he added. “I hope I can offer my life to them – to the fullest."

In an excerpt from his retreat diary that is now posted on the Philippine Jesuits’ Facebook page, Fernando expressed what he wanted his life and death to mean.

“I wish, when I die, people remember not how great, powerful, or talented I was, but that I served and spoke for the truth, I gave witness to what is right, I was sincere in all my works and actions, in other words, I loved and followed Christ." — VS, GMA News

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