Eamonn O’Brien SSC writes This book is about two of my Columban Colleagues:
Des Hartford was one year ahead of me in college and Rufus Halley was a classmate. I read this amazing book in three sessions, and I am in awe at the genius of the author, Jean Harrington. She has vividly captured so many dimensions of the life of Rufus which was so authentic to the Rufus I got to know since our ordination in 1969.
Jean presents the story of the two friends, and unequivocally describes it as a story of true love, not the romantic type but rather that which unites families and communities and in its highest form leads one to giving his life for another, which happened in the case of Rufus. Jean trained as a journalist and writer and lived in the world of stories. When she read about the death of Rufus in the Philippines she set out to write the story of his life and work there. She did not focus on the politics of the situation, rather the relationships and community that Rufus lived in and tried to create during his ministry with Muslims and Christians. The book focuses on two great men and the family they were trying to create between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. This is a story of “love and humanity”, she says, and it occurred in the midst of conflict within the Muslim community and between Muslims and Christians.
Jean presents in an extraordinary way the vulnerability and the willingness to be vulnerable of Rufus and Des. Rufus, she said, acknowledged that people admired him, but he admitted that he struggled in life and in faith. He once wrote to his sister, “I have good news: I am not afraid”. But in his struggles and joys his anchor was God, open to where God was leading him and willing to take that path despite the difficulties which are so well captured by the author in this book. His mission was to bring people together and he worked for that with great dedication. His murder brought Muslims into the Catholic Church to mourn him and the Muslims the took his body to the Catholic school so that Muslims who felt uncomfortable entering a Catholic Church could also mourn for him. The Catholic school served Catholics and Muslims. Rufus was the director and he had a great friend, a Muslim, as the headteacher.
This interfaith response to his death represented a moving tribute to Rufus’ life work. Both he and Des had pioneered a new route for missionaries, especially shown through actions and witness to the way of peace in a conflict-torn society As a fellow Columban I am indebted to them for their unique and compelling witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The London book launch was held at the London Irish Centre in Camden on 30 November, and was sponsored by The Council of Irish County Associations in London. Its chair, Larry O’Leary, welcomed the 50 or so people who attended. This was followed by 15 minute-short drama, “Murder in the Missions, Time to say Goodbye” written by John Dunne, Irish Theater, and presented by his colleagues. The Irish County Associations Honorary Life President Mrs Mary Allen thanked people for coming, and these included the book’s author, Jean Harrington; Emmet Halley and other relatives who represented the Halley family and travelled from Ireland to attend; the Deputy Mayor of Islington Cllr Troy Gallagher; the Deputy Mayor of Camden Cllr Sabrina Francis; the Philippine Minister & Consul, Ms Rhenita Rodriguez from the Philippine Embassy; and Fr Eamonn O’Brien SSC representing the Columban Missionaries.