By Bro. Condrado Lagaya, SDB
It has been two years since that tragic death of the Jesuits Missionary, Bro Richie Fernando, SJ, here in Cambodia. His memory is still alive among the Catholic communities, especially with the students and staff of the rehabilitation school. Though his mortal remains rest in the Philippines, some of his blood is now enshrined in a tomb placed on top of small mound. And on January 25, 1997, this mound was visited by two Bro. Richie’s loved ones, his mother and his brother.
Mrs. Visitacion Fernando and her son Raymondo came to Cambodia to visit the place where Bro. Richie lived worked and died. The Jesuits Community organized religious service. After the Holy Mass, there was a procession through the school compound which ended on that small hill. The Jesuit superior gave the first talk, followed by a student representative. Then Mrs. Fernando gave a very touching response. Everyone present given incense sticks and flowers. In single line, they filed towards the tomb. Bowing towards the tomb in their traditional Cambodian style. One by one they placed their incense stick while the flowers were handed to Mrs. Fernando. The language was no barrier. These simple Cambodians expressed their condolences and their gratitude to the mother who gave them, though for such a short period, a friend and brother, “their” “Bong-proh Richie.”
It was in the response talk on Mrs. Fernando that was revealed a very important secret that all missionaries must possess. As Mrs. Fernando was trying to hold back her tears, she told the community present that Richie was the youngest of the family. He is no “Kuya” to anyone. But it was here in Cambodia that he became a real elder brother to the handicapped Cambodian youth. Mrs. Fernando even added that Richie repeatedly expressed through his letters his love for the people of Cambodia. In fact, they even received pictures without Richie in them, just the young people, his student and friends. Finally, Mrs. Fernando expressed her family’s gratitude for all the care they had shown to Richie. She ended by saying: “Anyone whom Richie loved and cared for will be part of our family.”
No wonder Bro. Richie had a great heart for the mission of Cambodia. He learned from his mother. After undergoing the pain of separation, she still had the courage to visit the Golgotha of her son. And perhaps, knowing the deepest desire of her son, accepted the invitations: Woman, behold your son.”
To Mrs. Visitacion and to her family, thank you for giving us Richie, a true example of a missionary.