Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Human Rights Activists - Fr. Roberto Reyes - The Running Priest

Whether you address him as ‘Robert’, ‘Roberto’ or ‘Father Roberto’, Fr. Roberto (as I call him) is all things to all men. I might be getting myself into trouble with the Catholic Church if I said that Fr. Roberto was a humanitarian first and a priest second, but the fact remains that Fr. Roberto is there for the people, catholic or otherwise; a priest, a confessor, but first and foremost, a friend.

Fr. Roberto was born in Tondo, Manila, the eldest of four children. His parents, now retired, were an accountant and a school teacher. In 1970, Fr. Roberto entered the San Jose Seminary School in Novaliches, Quezon City and eventually became a priest. After serving in numerous parishes, he became head of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines.

It was in the year 2000 that Fr. Roberto was to earn the nickname, the Running Priest when he did solo marathons to drum up support for a campaign to force the then President Joseph Estrada to step down. During that period he spoke at Catholic schools and universities, on issues of political reform and good governance and it was not long before his personal convictions got him into trouble.

In 2002, Fr. Roberto surrendered to the police to face libel charges filed by Cagayan Representative Jackie Ponce Enrile, whom he allegedly implicated in the murder of his nephew during Martial Law. He was immediately freed after two days of incarceration through the help of the members of Parish of the Holy Sacrifice.

More recently he has been involved in numerous protest activities supporting the call to remove President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from office. At the peak of his protest activities against Arroyo's government, he was advised by his superiors to take indefinite leave of absence. He went to southern China and spent a year teaching English. A year later, he moved to Hong Kong and taught anthropology of religion in a university before joining the Asian Human Rights Commission in 2007.

Throughout this period Fr. Roberto Reyes remained involved in missionary work, including administering to sick and dying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). His experience was chronicled in a book "Vincent, Dying and Living," which contains his personal reflections and recollections as he detailed the struggle of his brother who died of lung cancer, as well the struggles of many OFWs in Hong Kong whom he had met and ministered to in the last days of their lives. It was during this time that I personally came to know Fr. Roberto and realised the depth of his compassion and commitment when he ministered, and continues to minister, to my wife, Quirina, who is an end-stage renal patient.

On November 29, 2007, Reyes was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days at Camp Crame for his participation in an attempted coup d' etat known as the Manila Peninsula Rebellion. In 2008, a year after his incarceration, while associated with the Asian Human Rights Commission, he published his prison journal entitled, Prisons... Manila Pen and Beyond, in which he narrated his memories on the fifteen days he spent in prison.

In September 2008, Reyes launched his website, Parokya sa, the first virtual parish in the Philippines, where his reflections on daily Bible readings, his homilies during Sunday masses, and inspirational messages are posted and shared with everybody. It is Fr. Roberto's wish to reach out to the millions of Filipinos working overseas in various parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. The Philippine Online Chronicles, a weekly online publication managed by Vibal Foundation, hosts the website.

(Text by Stewart Sloan, additional information courtesy of http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Roberto_Reyes)