Can you be a martyr at 26?

What do you remember doing when you were 26? Or, if you’re not yet 26, what do you imagine yourself doing when you get to that age?

When I was 26, I was transitioning from being a postgraduate student into a full-time worker for a development project funded by the Government of Canada. I had just gone home to the Philippines from Australia and was having a tough time settling back. Most of my days were spent in the office, writing and researching on tourism development and local governance. On most nights, I would pray asking God for guidance as I was quite confused with what to do next in my life.

When he was 26, Richie Fernando, SJ was in Cambodia as a Jesuit missionary. He had been teaching in a technical school for people with disabilities, most of whom were landmine victims. He helped them learn skills that they could use to earn a living.

One of Richie’s students was Sarom, 16 years old and a landmine victim. Due to Sarom’s disruptive attitude, he was asked to leave the school even if he had wanted to finish his studies. On October 17, 1996, an angered Sarom pulled out a grenade from his bag and started to approach the classroom where the students had been and couldn’t get out due to the barred windows. Richie grabbed Sarom, who tried to get away from Richie. As they were struggling, Sarom accidentally dropped the grenade, which fell behind the both of them. The missionary Richie Fernando, SJ died then, falling over with Sarom still grasped in his arms.

The story of Richie Fernando, SJ is close to my heart since my fourth year high school class section was in his honor. Four days before his death, Richie wrote to his friend:

“I know where my heart is. It is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor, the sick, the orphan …I am confident that God never forgets his people: our disabled brothers and sisters. And I am glad that God has been using me to make sure that our brothers and sisters know this fact. I am convinced that this is my vocation.”

A death of someone with a heart like Richie’s makes me reflect on my own life, heart, and courage. Am I brave enough to die for others’ sake? Is my heart as magnanimous as Richie’s so as to give it up for others? When I am reminded of the finite nature of life, I hope that I am able to use well the years that have been given to me.

Indeed, to be able to give one’s life and even die for others is a blessing and a gift from the Lord. It is an honorable act and thing. It is making use of our life, to offer our life and make sure our life is also able to give life to others. A life multiplied. A life, though ends in death, does not really “die” on its own but lasts in the memory of people…

That it may inspire the life of others

That it may further give lives

That it may change lives for the better

That it may make this world a better place for others, for a future unknown.

Most especially, that it may give glory to the one who gave us this life, and gave up his life, who died himself, so that others may live.

At 26, I am not sure I was in a position where I could give and offer my life for others’ sake. But each day is an opportunity to still ask this question and to make sure that we are able to maximize the life we have been given for the good, especially the good of others.