Keeping Father Niall’s legacy alive: After 10 years, now and beyond

By Richelle Verdeprado

The author is Editorial Assistant of Misyon

We are not immortal beings. In as much as we would want to do amazing things unceasingly and never leave the people that we love, we cannot live forever. Perhaps this is how it really goes in our human lives. We will have years of celebrating our birthdays until one day others will be starting to commemorate our death anniversaries instead. While still breathing we can have moments of learning, enjoyment and discovering until one day we can no longer do them again.

Fr Niall O’Brien.

But I think too, it is that same mortality that can make our lives even more precious. It is that same mortality that will give us enough time to bring joy and hope, to make choices and changes that can go beyond our own lives and have an impact on one individual or even on the entire community and the world. Likewise, it is that same mortality that can cause some people meet each other while others never get that chance. There is a time element in life.

The Kibbutz on Tall Grass Mountain, which shows one of the major initiatives of Fr Niall O'Brien, was produced by the Columbans in the USA in the 1970s, during Martial Law in the Philippines.

Yet for people like the late Columban priest Fr Niall O’Brien, life is longer than the years spent on Earth. And though we commemorated his tenth death anniversary on 27 April this year his spirit is considered not only a part of history but also part of the present and the future. What he has left is not only memories, but inspiration, vision and legacies.

Procession to Catholic Cemetery, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental.

As we travelled from Bacolod City to Kabankalan City in the southern part of Negros Occidental, my thoughts travelled as well. I know Father Niall only in print, in pictures, in words and in stories. I know a few things about him -- of him being the former editor of Misyon where I am now working and as one of the Negros Nine who, despite being falsely accused, never lost hope in the goodness of people and in the prevalence of justice no matter what. I have come to know him by the way people who had been part of his life would say so many great things about him and how they express their sadness upon his passing away. I have seen how they have been missing him and I can only get more curious but at the same envious because I missed the opportunity to encounter him in person. I will never be able to write about how he spoke, or how he would smile, or give advice, or bring hope to others. I will never know how it felt to walk or work with him or to listen to his homilies.

At the grave of Father Niall.

Thus it was a blessing to be part of his Tenth Anniversary not just on the pilgrimage to his tomb in Kabankalan Catholic Cemetery and at the Mass at Espinos Chapel in Bacolod City but also in sharing and in informal conversations about him. I think that the essence of the pilgrimage wasn’t just for those who had met and known him, but also for people like me who wanted to know him and be touched by his life too. We were joined by the people of Kabankalan City, friends of Father Niall and Columban missionaries, priests and seminarians.

Praying at the grave of Father Niall.

I was also deeply moved when the teary-eyed Judith Alimpulos recalled in front of Father Niall’s tomb how he related to her family, especially to her late husband whom he would usually hire to fix his car. Father Niall treated his employees as friends and as family. He was always willing to extend a helping hand, to talk to them and to learn their dreams and passion and support them in any way he could.

In that same pilgrimage, Rosanna Aguilar of Kabankalan City, now 47 years old, recalled how Father Niall would joyfully lead the young people in community singing. She was only 12 years old that time, but she had experienced how he would treat equally people from all walks of life equally. She had seen how he would deal with farmers, fisher folk, community leaders and the youth with the same kind of respect and care.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos that includes part of Negros Occidental and part of Negros Oriental, spoke in his homily of how Father Niall had been promoting peace building based on justice in his own life. Bishop Alminaza said that as the celebration also coincided with Divine Mercy Sunday, it was good to see the works of Father Niall as expressions of Divine Mercy. The celebration which had the theme ‘Keeping Father Niall’s legacy alive: After 10 years, now and beyond’, was highlighted by a look back at Fr Niall’s contribution to liturgical renewal, lay formation and active participation through the Sa Maria Movement and the Kristianong Katilingban.

Friends of Fr Niall at his grave.

Death is a reality in life, even part of it. But it is this same temporary life that can reveal to us what really matters most--- those that will last and surpass death, like being at peace, promoting justice, and having a heart that will love people unconditionally and infinitely. The books he wrote, the testimonies of the people he met, the inspiration he is giving to people like me who have only heard things about him and the good works he started that continue to flourish have immortalized Father Niall. Because he has been immortalized, I have come to know him now and have been profoundly inspired by him.

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