Irish shocked by priest killing in Philippines

DUBLIN - Ireland was shocked by the killing of a popular missionary priest in the Philippines, but his religious order said on Wednesday it had no plans to withdraw other missionaries.

Irish media were filled with stories about Father Rufus Halley, a 57-year-old priest of the Columban Fathers who was shot dead on Monday by suspected members of a Muslim gang when he resisted attempts to kidnap him in the southern province of Lanao del Sur.

"Murdered Irish priest knew his life was in danger," The Irish Times said in a front-page headline, while the Irish Independent had the headline "Massive hunt for killers of heroic priest."

Halley was the eighth Columban priest to be murdered in the Philippines since the order began work on the islands in the 1920s, Father Alo Connaughton, editor of the Columbans' magazine, told Reuters.

The southern Philippines where Halley lived for 20 years, after 10 years in Manila, has seen a spate of attacks on foreign and Filipino missionaries by Muslim gunmen.

Connaughton said that with more than 140 religious and lay missionaries on the islands, the Columbans were probably the largest Irish order there, but said there were no plans to withdraw.

"I think we're shocked every time it happens but there is a danger being in certain areas and unless it is total madness to be there we continue to work on and trust the Lord," he said.

Longtime friends of Halley said he knew he was in danger and had talked to them about the troubles in the area where he worked during a visit to Ireland over the summer.

"He knew he was in trouble. He told me he was in serious difficulties," Billy Walsh, a friend, told the Irish Times.

"He explained to me about the different factions operating there and how he was living among them. But he was fearless. He was living among the people in his parish, and that's the way he wanted it to be. He put his trust in God."

Connaughton said Halley had seen himself as a peacemaker, trying to heal rifts between the Christian and Muslim communities, and even between rival Muslim groups.

"Rufus was a tremendously popular, well-known priest. He was a man with an outgoing disposition, he always had a positive response to life," Connaughton said.

"He was a mixer, an attractive human being in that sense, but also because people admired his courage."

Manila has been fighting separatist groups in Mindanao, where Halley lived, and other nearby islands, for nearly three decades.

06:49 08-29-01

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