There was a sense of delight in going from door to door in support of the local Labour Party senator. Departing from the church brought a freedom to be myself, freedom not to worry what people might say or to be beholden to any purple-clad bishop,
The greater delight was in the conversation with my companion who works with the Columban Fathers, a group who are some of the bravest priests I have met.
I was annoyed at not being able to recall the name of one of the Columban priests who had been shot dead in the Philippines in 2001.
‘Rufus Halley,’ said my companion
Fr Rufus was from Waterford, and was working in Mindanao in 2001. 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, just after the events of 11th September, 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 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 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.