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Life of Father Sylvain Rabiller remembered

 HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : Around 1,000 people gathered at St. Joseph’s Church in Central on January 15 for a Mass in memory of Father Sylvain Rabiller, who worked at the parish from 2001 until he returned to his native France on 15 August 2010.

He died on January 7, less than three weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer (Sunday Examiner, January 15).

A veteran of 24 years in Hong Kong, the 74-year-old member of the Paris Foreign Mission Society had spent over half of his missionary life in India, coming to Hong Kong in 1988 to set up an office for the congregation’s news service, Eglise d’Asie (The Church of Asia).

Father Rabiller was an editorial advisor to Mabuhay when it was first set up by the diocese as a part of the Chinese-language Kung Kao Po in early 2001. 

Bishop John Tong Hon said that he had known Father Rabiller for over 20 years and particularly remembered the time when, as the vicar general of the diocese of Hong Kong, he had a lot of contact with Father Rabiller, especially through their joint involvement with the Diocesan Commission for Pastoral Service for Filipino Migrants.

He described Father Rabiller as someone who always offered suggestions and had what he termed great ideas on how to offer better pastoral service to migrant people.

“Father Rabiller loved the Filipino Catholics very much,” the bishop of Hong Kong commented.

The current superior of the French missionary society, Father Bruno Lepeu, likened Father Rabiller to the apostle St. Andrew, who was attracted to Jesus and introduced him to other people.

He said that in the same way as St. Peter, Father Rabiller had a strong character and was ready to follow Jesus anywhere. Father Lepeu also described his compatriot as a faithful man, making particular mention of his fidelity to his bishops in his former country of mission assignment, India, as well as in Hong Kong.

Father Midas Tambot, who had worked with Father Rabiller as his parish priest at St. Joseph’s, said he was a supportive person to have on the staff. “He was always a comfort to me and a reassuring presence,” he said. “With his wisdom and experience, I always felt I had someone I could seek advice from when things got difficult and complicated.”

Father Tambot said the late priest was never neutral, as he both accepted and rejected ideas strongly and forcefully, and left no one in any doubt about what he thought.

“In him, there was no middle ground and I appreciated him for that,” he went on. “With him you were never left guessing.”

Father Midas recalled a conversation he had with Father Rabiller just hours before he left Hong Kong. He said that Father Rabiller thanked him for being his pastor and he always addressed him as Father, as it described their relationship.

He said that they then chatted about how they had always been a great support for each other.

Father Tambot told Mabuhay that he recalled sending Father Rabiller an email on December 27 last year for his ordination anniversary, but he had received no reply. Later, he heard from people in the parish and Father Lepeu that he was seriously ill.

Ironically, he explained that he had included Father Rabiller in the prayers of the faithful for the parish Masses on January 7, and he then reminisced about his feelings of sadness as he changed the prayer he had prepared for his recovery to one asking that he be welcomed into the kingdom of eternal life and the repose of his soul.

Father Rabiller is remembered in many groups in the city. The Bukas Loob sa Diyos community, to which he was spiritual director from mid-1990s until he left the territory, also held a memorial Mass for him at St. Joseph’s on January 18.

Tess Jaramillo said, “His love for the Lord always seemed to make him near. He would present the Lord as a loving and forgiving God. He sometimes acknowledged his (ill) temper and would apologise when he knew he was wrong.” She said she is grateful to him for directing them towards the Lord.

Anthony Ismael, who was involved in the Sunday school with the French priest, described Father Rabiller as meticulous, especially in the preparation of children for baptism and confirmation.

Rose Pineda, from the Filipino Catholic Group, recalled that when she asked Father Rabiller why he wanted to return to France, he had answered, “I don’t want you to have to ship my body back to France!”

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