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Filipino Jesuit scholastic Richard “Richie” Fernando, S.J. worked as a regent in Cambodia in Banteay Prieb, the Jesuit vocational training center for survivors of landmines and polio and people with learning disabilities. In October 1996, an emotionally distraught student brought a grenade to school. When he approached a classroom full of students, grenade in hand, Richie grabbed him from behind. The student dropped the grenade, and the explosion killed the young Jesuit. His body had shielded the student and the other students from the blast.
Four days before his death, Richie wrote a letter to Fr. Totet Banaynal, S.J., who was Richie’s best friend and later became a missionary in Cambodia. In the letter that Fr. Banaynal received a week after Richie’s funeral, he shared about his struggles with and hopes for the students:
You know, Tet, to be honest, I don’t feel like stopping. I honestly feel inspired to face the problems, the people, the truth though difficult and painful…In other words, Tet…I know where my heart is…. It is with Jesus Christ…Jesus who gave his all for the poor, the sick, the orphan, etc…. 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 honestly believe that to die for our poor friends here will be the greatest gift that God can give us. And I continually pray for this grace every day.
In August 2017, in a letter to the Province on July 31, the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, Philippine Provincial Fr. Antonio Moreno, S.J. announced that Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, had endorsed his proposal to formally initiate the cause of Richie Fernando.
In the memory of Richie Fernando, the newsletter of Jesuit Mission in Cambodia is named after him.