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Final farewell for campaigning Irish priest

May 6, 2004 · 

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Published in The Irish Catholic

Father Niall O’Brien’, whose funeral Mass was celebrated this week in Dalgan Park, Navan, said in a final interview his only crime was to help poor Filipinos get a decent wage to support their families.

Mr. Fergus O'Brien and Fr. Shay Cullen during the mass ceremony for Fr. Niall O'Brien on June 16, 2004.

Mr. Fergus O'Brien and Fr. Shay Cullen during the mass ceremony for Fr. Niall O'Brien on June 16, 2004.

Jailed in the Philippines by the Marcos Government in 1983 he recalled that the reason for his imprisonment was to support the plea of Pope John Paul when he visited the Philippines in 1981 that the Church must be the voice of those who had no voice.

His imprisonment and that of fellow Columban, Father Brian Gore and six lay workers and Filipino priest Father Vicente Dangan earned them the local and international fide of the Negros Nine.

Father O’Brien, who was a native of Blackrock, Co. Dublin, in an interview in a forthcoming Far East magazine said the policy of the Columban nussionanes was to give those who had a low self-image the power of saying “No” and confronting a landlord and even being able to say in a. gentle voice, “You are not paying me enough, I need -more, my children are hungry”

He added that their philosophy was to bring about change through active non-violence, but Marxist Guerrillas operating in the country had as their policy, change through the barrel of a gun.

Father O’Brien said the technical basis of their imprisonment was the fact at the Mayor of Kabankalan, Pablo Sola, who was a friend of his, had been shot dead with his four bodyguards in Mary, 1982.

The missionaries and their lay workers were accused of planning, engineering and carrying out the murders through there was clear evidence that they had been elsewhere on that day.

Moreover, he added, there was an attempt to associate his peaceful group with the Marxist Guerrillas though each organisation had little in common.

Father O’Brien and his companions refused a pardon because it would have meant they were guilty if the government agreed to drop all charges.

Nevertheless they were fearful that had the case gone to its conclusion the priests might have been found guilty and deported, but the lay workers might well have gone to the electric chair.

The Marcos government were under pressure internationally and it became obvious that because it was a blatant frame up the case was withdrawn for lack of sufficient evidence to convict the Nine.

Father O’Brien returned to the Philippines in 1986.when the Marcos era passed and ‘Father Gore returned in 1988.

The President, Mary McAleese and the, Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern were represented at the concelebrated funeral Mass which was celebrated in Dalgan Park on Thursday. A large number of representatives of. Third World agencies attended the ceremony.

The chief mourners were his brother-in-law, Frank; Janice and Joan O’Brien; nephews, Terence and Fergus O’Brien. Very Rev. Colm Keating, the Columban Superior in The Philippines also attended.

In his will, Father O’Brien requested cremation and that his ashes be returned and scattered in his beloved Philippines. END

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