FLASHBACK: One bullet, two priests killed...UNSOLVED MYSTERY by Claude Mills Featured
ONE BULLET. Two priests killed. At the end of the incident, two souls had departed this plane of existence, their spilled blood blooming like petals of red roses on the white habits that clothed their lifeless bodies.
The nation recoiled in horror at the killings, while others struggled to make sense of it. Why?
Brothers Suresh Barwa, 22, and Marco Candelario Laspura, 31, were among 15 other brothers washing dishes, and cleaning up the kitchen when a single bullet smashed into the left temple of Barwa, killing him almost instantly, and mortally wounding Laspura, who died four hours later at the Kingston Public Hospital.
On Friday night, a reporter went to the Missionaries of the Poor compound to pray and have supper with the grieving brothers, and hopefully make sense of a tragedy that stupefies the imagination.
When the reporter got there at 6:00 p.m., the Angelos bell struck a clear sound that quivered in the air. The priests stopped to pray, their lips mouthing the words of the Angelos prayer, 'The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary...".
Slow, measured, clear, the bell continues to sound. The wind blows dark and cool.
Somewhere, a dog barks, mellow, sad, faraway. Still, the brothers prayed.
BELL FALLS SILENT
Finally, when the bell falls silent, the reporter is ushered into the chapel. In the chapel, the brothers are deep in prayer, four to each pew, bowing so that their foreheads kiss the pages of their books. There is a shrine of sorts with the pictures of both priests killed. On the walls are dim oil religious paintings. Three beautiful chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling.
The reporter goes to the back of the room. To the far left, in the last pew, there are two priests, two spots are vacant. Presently, an elder brother in a white habit, with a blue sash, slides into the spot, and hands the reporter a Lithurgy of the Hours.
They read Psalm 126: "They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the growing..."
They then sing the Magnificat, and later, a lively guitar-strumming version of the hymn, Our Father a rich murmur of young men's voices praising God. Presently, the song ends, their voices quaver away with a rich and dying fall.
The reporter steps outside to speak to Brother Praful who had handed him the Lithurgy of the Hours.
"There were 66 of us, now minus two from that ... we weep at the loss of our fallen brothers. They were just helping out, washing dishes, seven to eight of them were washing dishes in a straight line at the sink. The two brothers killed were the ones closest to the window facing North Street ... it could have been anyone," Brother Praful said.
Brother Barwa had been in Jamaica only four months, and was at the beginning of his novitiate life, while Brother Marco, from the Philippines, had been in Jamaica for two years, and was about to take his temporary vows. The novitiate period spans two years. When brothers join the religious order, they go through the novitiate period, after which they take temporary vows for three years. After this period, they take their final, lifelong vows. There are about 140 brothers in all here.
ANGRY AT WHOM
After prayer, the reporter is ferried off to see Father Ambrose Kulandairaj, a short dark-skinned man of Indian descent.
"They did not hesitate to give their life to Christ, and died out of love for Jamaican people, especially the poor. In Christ, all things make sense; even this is a good thing because the way Jamaicans have rallied around us, coming here to mourn with us, even a man on the street stopped by the gate, weeping today," Father Ambrose said, his smile-creased face almost beaming. "It's a rallying point, even evil makes sense in God's plan."
Reporter: Yes, but aren't you angry?
"Angry at whom?" comes the gentle reply, a teasing twinkle in his eye. The reporter shrugs his shoulder.
"There is no point in being angry, the gunmen are just being used by evil forces, we need to remove evil from their hearts, not just guns. This comes from a deeper force," he said.
But not all prophets see things as clearly. One priest confided in this reporter, asking in an almost accusatory, angry copper tone to his voice, "How can we come all the way here to help the poor and this happens?"
This is the first time that the Missionaries of the Poor has experienced a death among members, accidental or otherwise, in their 24-year existence. But they are coping as well as they can.
In the kitchen, they bend under the yellow police crime scene tape to grab utensils and pots for supper.
"We will wash the dishes outside tonight, the memories are still too fresh," Fr. Ambrose said. "The shot came from the direction of Hanover Street. I had just left the kitchen when I heard utensils and pots falling, and rushed in to find the brothers had been shot."
The kitchen faces North Street. It is a large kitchen with the stainless steel row of sinks on the right. That is where the brothers were, 15 of them, chatting and laughing when fate struck. The reporter feels a feathery touch of unease, then it is gone. It is time for supper.
After prayer, It is a humble supper - two fish halves, a small bed of rice and a dozen festivals, and a cup of water to wash it down. The conversations are light and jovial, the spirit of camaraderie is almost palpable.
They speak about last night's events in hushed tones. Brother Noel, who is from the town of Sinabacan in the Philippines, spoke well of his countryman, Brother Marco, who hails from a town called Botolan, which is a few hundred miles from Sinabacan.
"He was a good man, he played the guitar, very musical. We will miss him," he said.
"I had bent over to wash a tray when it happened; it could have been anyone. Brother Surash died with a smile on his face; Brother Marco suffered a lot. Afterwards I could not pray for a while, and I asked why not me?"
Father Ambrose replied: "You were not worthy."
"You're right, I was not worthy," he agrees, shaking his head in the affirmative.
The reporter is puzzled by the remark, and looks at Father Ambrose. There is some ineffable quality about this man, irresistible and almost prophet-like.
>When he wants to make a point, the features of his face snap into brilliant focus, and he speaks in a voice.
"They were ready to die for Christ. Thank God for what happened last night; we will continue with more zeal to do God's mission," he said.
During the supper, the brothers burst into the Happy Birthday song for one of their own, Brother Johnson, who celebrated his 18th birthday. A lot of the brothers are in their late teens or early twenties.
After the song ends, cries of speech, speech, speech echo in the dining area. Brother Johnson gives a small speech around the theme of 'giving his life to Christ and doing God's will'. They applaud him.
After supper, they share treats, smile and laugh, just young men enjoying each other's company over a shared meal. It is indeed hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, two of their number had fallen to a quirk of fate.
It is clear that God's mandated mission of brotherhood for the destitute, homeless and poor. And the brothers still answer the call.
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