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Murder in the Missions: The story of one Irish priest's kidnapping and another's murder in Philippines

A new book tells the stories of these two men who went to the Philippines to work in conflict resolution at a time when the country was descending into civil war.

IN 2001, a 57-year-old Irish priest called Rufus Halley was murdered in the Philippines by a gang of men who were attempting to abduct him. 

He had left Ireland in the 1960s to work in dialogue and conflict resolution between Muslim and Christian communities in the country, which was rapidly descending into civil war. 

On that day 18 years ago Fr Hally was on his way home from a visit to a local parish when he was stopped by four men who tried to kidnap him. When he resisted, he was shot in the head and killed. 

Author Jean Harrington read a news article about Fr Halley’s murder at the time and said the warmth of the priest was “palpable” from the way his friends and family members spoke about him.

“He knew he was living in a dangerous situation and yet he remained there because he believed it was the right thing to do – that his actions of living peacefully would somehow influence his neighbours to live a more peaceful life.”

The news article also mentioned a Fr Des Hartford, who had been kidnapped in 1997 by the Moro National Liberation Front. 

des Fr Des Hartford addresses the media after being released from his captivity.

The Irish priest was held hostage, used as a bargaining tool in the insurgents’ negotiations with the Philippine government. He was released unharmed after 12 days. 

In her new book, Murder in the Missions, Harrington writes that she was captivated by the stories of these two men. She contacted Fr Hartford in 2003 to to talk to him about her idea of writing a book about his life and that of Fr Rufus Halley.

At this time he had advanced cancer and Harrington said “he knew he would not live to see the book completed”.

He said he was happy for her to go ahead with the book and introduced her to friends and colleague who could help with her research after he had passed away.

As well as interviews with people who know the two men, Harrington pulled information for the book from diaries and letters to paint a complete picture. 

rufus and des Rufus Halley and Des Hartford’s last meeting, in Carlow in June 2001, a few weeks before Rufus returned to the Philippines for the last time.

Harrington said she hopes the book will allow others to know the two men and “give an insight into the many people who are still working for peace in the Philippines”. 

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