In our theme of Jesuits, and also those being considered as saints in the Church is FATHER EUGENE JOHN HEBERT, an American born Jesuit missionary in Sri Lanka. He along with his Tamil driver Betram Francis disappeared on August 15, 1990 as the Sri Lankan civil war was raging. He went missing on his way to the eastern city of Batticaloa from a nearby town of Valaichchenai. He was known for his Human Rights activity on behalf of the local civilians. The Jesuits believe that he was killed along with his driver.
Father Hebert was born in Jennings, Louisiana,
United States, on October 9,
1923. He joined the Jesuits on August 14, 1941 at the age of 17. After
completion of Jesuit studies, he volunteered for the Ceylon
Mission. He was accepted and arrived in
September 1948. After serving a year in the eastern township
of Batticaloa and
another in Trincomalee at the Jesuit Colleges he went
India, for the study of Theology.
He was ordained a priest on 24 March 1954.
After returning to
Ceylon in April
1956, he was assigned to St Joseph’s
college in Trincomalee as a teacher and sports coach. He was
named principal there for a brief period. In the 1970s, Jesuit schools were
taken over by the State, and Father Hebert was sent to Batticaloa to work at
the Eastern Technical Institute, the joint Jesuit and Methodist technical
institute, as its director. He was also the basketball coach
at St Michael’s College in
Batticaloa, where he achieved national championship status over several years.
Father Hebert was a prominent member of the Batticaloa Peace Committee that has interceded on behalf of the many disappeared and missing people as part of the Sri Lankan civil war with both the Sri Lankan government officials and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group.
During the mid part of August in 1990, there were number of massacres and counter massacres of civilians targeting both the minority Muslim and Tamil communities. Perpetrators were alleged to be the rebel group as well as government soldiers belonging to various divisions. Following the massacre of a group of Muslims in the Kathankudy Mosque, the situation at the nearby ethnically mixed town of
became tense with unruly Muslim mobs roving around targeting Tamils. Most
Tamils from Valachchenai fled to refugee camps in the provincial capital of
Batticaloa leaving behind a group of Catholic sisters, some girls and helpers
trapped in a convent. Valachchenai
The Bishop of Batticaloa sent Father Eugene Hebert on August 13 to Valachchenai to assist the trapped sisters and others as well as a security guarantee against an attack. On August 15, the Bishop of Batticaloa organized a security convoy from the city to bring back the trapped sisters and others. He informed Father Hebert to accompany the convoy on its way back from Valachchenai to Batticaloa. Instead Father Hebert informed the Bishop that as the situation was getting better he would leave on his own via a circuitous route through an ethnically mixed town called Eravur to Batticaloa as he had urgent matters to take care at the institute where he was the director. Father Hebert along with a Tamil boy Betram Francis was last seen riding a red Vespa scooter towards Batticaloa via Eravur.
The Sri Lankan government believes that Father Hebert was killed by the rebel group who were active around the Eravur area at the time of his disappearances. Local Jesuits believe that a mob of civilians may have waylaid and killed Father Hebert and Betram Francis and destroyed any evidence of the crime.
He was a man who held no grudge or hatred against anyone. He has influenced and inspired many to stand for justice and peace.