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Missionary’s work had ‘huge impact’

April 29, 2004 · 

Published in Irish Independent

THE Columban Fathers have praised their colleague Fr Niall O’Brien, who died in Italy on Tuesday night aged 64, for “the huge impact” his work in the Philippines made on his Order.

Fr O’Brien became famous in 1983 when he and eight others were imprisoned on the island of Negros in the Philippines on trumped-up charges of murdering a local politician, and accused of being in league with Marxist guerillas.

The group, who became known as ‘the Negros Nine’, quickly became the focus of world attention and an international campaign was fought for their release, which came a year later.

Fr. Thomas Murphy, the head of the Irish province of the Columban Fathers, said: “We’re very sad. He had a huge impact on most of our lives.

“He was hugely inspiring, always challenging us.”

Fr Murphy paid tribute to Fr O’Brien’s “deep interest in issues of peace, poverty and justice and devoted most of his life to fighting for the rights of sugar workers on the island of Negros”.

The Columban Superior in the Philippines, Fr Colm McKeating, said that the Order had lost “one of its most talented missionaries”.

It was his defence of the rights of sugar plantation workers on the impoverished island of Negros that led to the charge that Fr O’Brien and his eight colleagues had murdered the Mayor of the local town of Kabankalan, Pablo Sola. Fr O’Brien’s campaign had angered local plantation owners.

Fr O’Brien took inspiration from Gandhi and Martin Luther King and believed the best way to confront an unjust system was through non-violent resistance.

He died in Pisa, Italy, at a hospital specialising in the treatment of the blood disorder from which he suffered for the last four years of his life.

His funeral will take place in Ireland. Fr O’Brien’s body is to be cremated and his ashes scattered in his adopted home of Negros to which he dedicated almost 40 years of his life. end

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