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The 'Running Priest'

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Download Father Robert Reyes, popularly known as ‘the running priest’, has been jogging around the country for the last 16 years to raise awareness for human rights and environmental protection.   

The Catholic Church does not support him so he has not been given a parish to work in.

Instead he lives off donations and has made the road his pulpit and the trees his altar.

Madonna Virola spoke with him under some trees at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.


“It was here on this campus in 1995, when I was jogging one day asking myself what can I do in order to contribute to the meaningful celebration of the centennial of the Philippine Revolution against Spain from 1896 to 1898. Some voice whispered to my ears, why don’t you just run around across the Philippines and talk about love of country, Philippine history, the issues that matter most to our people like the environment, human rights, justice, clean elections, freedom.”

He was already 40 years old at the time. But he was fit and he trained under renowned long distance runner Cesar Guarin.

Together they started running across the country, up to 60 kilometres a day.

They cross Mindanao in the south and then up to Visayas in the north and further north to Luzon.

After three years, they end their marathon on the 100th anniversary of the revolution against Spainish colonial rule.

“Then I said enough running. But it was not quite so because the problems with President Erap started to come, so I found myself in a few weeks running against corruption, until the present, I’ve not stopped running. Philippine media gave me this moniker of ‘the running priest’.”

Father Robert Reyes says he has made the roads his pulpit, the trees his altar, and the universe his Church.   

But the powerful Catholic Church in the Philippines is not happy with what he is doing.

“My own bishop requested me to stop running in 2006. I’m able to reach so many people than if  I were in a small parish. I’m just disappointed that the Church has a hard time recognizing this is a valid form of ministry. I continue helping the fisherfolk, workers, students, women, environmentalists, animal lovers, lesbians, gays transvestites, the marginalized sectors of society whose voices are not heard by the big institutions like the church.”

Father Robert Reyes says his running raised the public awareness about human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

On a local radio station he talks about animal rights and why he is a vegetarian.

Malotz Quodala the co-host of the program says they have been wanting to have him as guest on their show for a long time.

“Here is a Catholic priest who speaks out. Not many are able to do that.  You need people in authority who can tell people what’s wrong, where. Everything is not fine. Like we had a typhoon just recently. If you look at television footage you’ll see and listen to the radio you’ll know what’s wrong with the way environment is being managed in the country. You’re supposed to have a government that should look at what the citizens’ need, not what the multinationals need.”

But speaking out has not made life easy for Father Robert.

“I’m branded as an activist, a militant, a radical, which all imply that I am communist. I don’t subscribe to the views of the communist. But I would respect more a communist who has died for his cause than a comfortable Monsignor who eats stakes and who sleeps in an air conditioned room. Why Jesus called us to follow him? He said leave everything behind, and proclaim the good news to the prisoners, slaves, captives, oppressed. He didn’t compromise. He didn’t play games with the powers that be. I’ve been imprisoned several times. I’ve had all kinds of cases filed against me- libel, rebellion, sedition, I always joke but not yet seduction.”

Father Robert Reyes argues that the Church must be relevant to the poor.

“In 1991, when the Church convened the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, she spoke about being the Church of the Poor. What have we done? We spend much of our time being with the rich, raising funds to beautify this and that when people are hungry, suffering, in prison, oppressed, being disposed of their homes and their land. People are tired of homilies, the people would like to see solidarity.”

Without support from the Church, Father Robert Reyes survives off donations from his supporters. 

So for how long will he keep running?

“The running is just a metaphor of something that is deep in me, my determination to work for the kingdom of God. You see the Churches now are very comfortable. They live in very posh and luxurious convents. They now try to build air conditioned cathedrals and basilicas. But the majority of our people are hungry, they won’t step into these because they will feel alienated. I’m afraid the Church is losing touch, its connect with the very people for whom Christ died- the poor and ordinary.”

“I have somehow given them a spark of hope, and assure them that I’ll be with you no matter what. I will not promise to solve your problems. But I will just be with you. I will run with you and I will run for you.”

“I much prefer to be quiet. I want to be a contemplative. After all the years of struggle and protest, I recognize the source of it all- the passion for justice- is God, and unless I’m in intimate union with God, all of these does not make sense.”

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 October 2011 11:44 )  

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