A 26-year-old Filipino seminarian who died in 1996 protecting Cambodian students from a hand grenade is on the path to sainthood thanks to recent changes to the canonisation process, CNA reports.
A norm issued by Pope Francis last month allows canonisation for those who have “voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.”
Fr Antonio Moreno, head of the Jesuits in the Philippines, told Rappler on Sunday that the order had received permission to begin the initial work of opening Br Richard (Richie) Fernando SJ’s cause for canonisation.
Br Richie arrived in Cambodia in 1995 to serve at a Jesuit mission which supported people who had been disabled by polio, landmines, or other accidents.
According to the Jesuits of the Asia Pacific Conference, he quickly earned the trust of his young students as he learned their language and listened to their stories of suffering.
One of his students was an orphan named Sarom, who became a soldier at 16 and was maimed by a landmine. Even while some at the mission found Sarom’s attitude troublesome, Richie wrote in letters to friends that Sarom still had a place in his heart.
On October 17, 1996, Sarom came to the mission school for a meeting with the school director and staff. While he had finished classes, he had asked to continue at the school, though his request was denied because school officials found him disruptive.
Angered, Sarom suddenly reached into his bag and pulled out a grenade, and moved towards a classroom full of students. The windows of the classroom were barred, so the students were trapped.
Br Richie stepped behind Sarom and grabbed him to prevent him from throwing the grenade.
“Let me go, teacher; I do not want to kill you,” Sarom pleaded. But he dropped the grenade, and it fell behind him and Br Richie, exploding and killing the Jesuit, who fell over Sarom, protecting him and everyone else in the school from the blast.
In 1997, Richie’s parents wrote to King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, asking pardon for Sarom. Again, Sarom said he had never wanted to kill Richie, who he considered a friend.