Standing in the intensive care unit this evening, I chatted with one of the Filipino nurses, he was from Manila and expressed surprise when I said I had visited not only Manila, but also the largest southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
“Mindanao is very dangerous, Father”, he said.
“Indeed it is”, I agreed.
There was a Columban priest from Waterford, Fr Rufus Halley, working in Mindanao six years ago. He was working in an area on the island of where there were community tensions with the Muslim community. Fr Rufus worked without regard for tensions and without thought about people’s background. He saw human beings and he saw needs and he just got on with the job. The last thought Fr Rufus had was for his own safety and at the end of August 2001 he was shot dead.
Visiting Mindanao a month later I asked about Fr Rufus and the people were very prosaic, ‘he was warned’, ‘he was told not to go to that area’. I remember feeling sad that they seemed to have no sense of Rufus Halley’s vision of a reconciliation between people.
Fr Niall O’Brien, another Columban, wrote a very moving tribute to Fr Rufus. It concluded with a quote from Rufus, “’in the end we are saved by beauty”. I have thought about those words many times since then, “’in the end we are saved by beauty”. Beauty is about those things we can’t express, those things for which we cannot find words. Beauty is about those experiences that just cannot be explained. I think what Rufus Halley was saying was that the things that draw us to Jesus are not the things we can express in words, but the thoughts, the emotions, the feelings for which no words are ever adequate. The things about Jesus that attract people are things that we can only grasp at, moments we can only glimpse. Rufus Halley gave his life in the belief that it was beauty that changed people’s lives.
Even amongst the poverty of the southern Philippines, Rufus found beauty, beauty in the countryside, beauty in the love and friendship of the people, beauty in the courage and the faith of those who carried on despite their hardships and sufferings.
In the end we are saved by Jesus the one who was himself beauty personified. Being followers of Jesus, perhaps we must accept that beauty and danger go together.