How St. Benedict medallion saved priest from drowning

St. Benedict medallion saved priest from drowning in West Philippine Sea

/ 07:56 AM May 19, 2024

St. Benedict medallion saved priest from drowning in West Philippine Eric Mendoza

Fr. Robert Reyes leads the consecration of the West Philippine Sea. Eric Mendoza

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA, May 16 — “A little miracle has happened to me this morning,” said Fr. Robert Reyes,his face lighting up, to a small crowd aboard the mother boat of the civilian convoy supposed to be bound for Panatag Shoal.

The waves were gentle—or so I thought—and the sky almost cloudless blue, but our anchored boat, located about 50 nautical miles away from the atoll, was bustling.


Fisherfolk with somber faces pull back the trawling net they cast the night before; it was not a good catch. Murmurs and clanks of plates and utensils could also be heard as journalists, volunteers, and other crew were having their breakfast in the boat’s deck, while others, like Fr. Robert, and I—who was among the last people to wake up— heeded the call of nature and lined up for the boat’s lavatory near the cockpit.


Amidst all these are the watchful eyes of Chinese coast guard ships which shadowed our wooden boat and other participating pangulongs (a type of indigenous boat) since yesterday. All eyes were on these so-called “white ships” when they started to appear the day before—there were three of them at one point with one even approaching at a close distance of 100 meters—but it quickly started to get old, and their presence was eventually met with indifference.

After succumbing to boredom, Fr. Robert—better known as “the running priest” while also being an inveterate swimmer—jumped overboard in the West Philippine Sea just about half an hour ago before he told us fellow toilet queuers of his near death experience which, he said, was averted, thanks to the medallion of Saint Benedict.

I was still in a state of stupor, having slept on an empty stomach last night after puking my guts out in a bout of seasickness, but Fr. Robert’s story piqued my interest, and, a few minutes later, he had my undivided attention, my bladder be damned. I’ve heard all I needed to hear to decide that I would write about it, so I rummaged in my pocket for my phone. “Would you mind putting that on record, father?”

Fr. Robert nearly drowns

“People might not even agree that this was a miracle, but I knew what  was going on. I was struggling,” which, Fr. Robert said, was an unlikely occurrence for someone like him who learned to swim since he was five, and has never stopped since.

“My first passion is swimming, not running. My father, when I was a very small boy, brought me to the hot bath of Los Baños and threw me into the water without telling me what to do. And I just learned how to swim by myself.”


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He did a lap from our anchored wooden boat to the smaller banca moored about 50 meters away, but the priest said he only managed to cover about 20 meters before experiencing difficulty.

“I’m comfortable in deep water, but I underestimated the strength of the waves,” Fr. Robert said.

“Midway, I was panting. And then, this morbid thought of drowning in the sea came into me, which overwhelmed me,” he continued. “This was what I was going through while I was struggling to reach the other side, to the banca.”

It was not immediately obvious to me, who was also one of the onlookers, but one of my colleagues later told me he noticed that Fr. Robert was struggling for breath. Why no one came to his assistance, I do not know, in what could be another case of bystander effect or unwitting deference to the machinations of the Divine Hand to give way for the demonstration of a miracle.

Mustering all his strength, Father Robert managed to reach the banca.

Fr. Robert Reyes swims in the West Philippine Sea. Eric Mendoza

Fr. Robert Reyes swims in the West Philippine Sea. Eric Mendoza

St. Dominic’s intercession saves priest 

Fr. Robert attributed his survival to God’s providence through the intercession of Saint Benedict.

The medallion, which is a symbol of overcoming obstacles, among other difficulties, was given to him by a Benedictine nun. While changing clothes for swimming, Fr. Robert said he just put the medallion on the pocket of his shorts absentmindedly. “I just put it in my pocket, not really thinking that I might need it in case of danger.”

The danger to Fr. Robert’s life was overcome and the smaller banca where he was aboard were pulled back towards the mother boat.

Exhausted, Fr. Robert then crawled his way back to the boat’s stern, then he lay down as he grasped for breath.

“I was also feeling nauseated and really very tired and also overwhelmed by what could have happened to me,” Fr. Robert said.

“And then, seconds after I laid down, I heard a clink, and then the sailors told me, Father, something fell into the sea, and I realized it’s the Saint Benedict medallion,” he said, believing that the medallion left him after serving its purpose.

“It blessed me, then it blessed the sea.”

Our Lady, Star of the (West Philippine) Sea 

The medallion’s descent to the sea foreshadowed the ritual of casting the Miraculous Medals in the West Philippine Sea, which occurred later in the afternoon.

The ceremony was held on the boat’s bow, where a makeshift altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s statue—made of two stacked fish crates with the second one sealed with a plywood and a rope holding all of it together—was placed.

Fr. Robert, clad with white alb and a stole embroidered with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, led this consecration, in which 17 fishermen, volunteers, and members of the media casted out Miraculous Medal into the sea one by one. Two other boats, each with a priest and 17 participants, also joined the ceremony conducted synchronously.

“May your pitiful grace befall us, your servants, who are afflicted by numerous dangers of this life, particularly the constant bullying and aggression of the People’s Republic of China,” Fr. Robert, who led the prayer, said with staccato as participants repeat after him.

“We also beg the Immaculate Virgin Mary, your mother, her mantle of protection from all harm and never to abandon us during this critical moment of our national crisis.”

This ceremony officially marked the end of our mother boat’s attempt to reach Panatag Shoal, where the Chinese coast guard deployed several ships in what the Philippine Coast Guard described as an “overkill” response to the convoy only “armed” with protest flags and cameras.

“We still have much work to do, to work for peace, and to fight for our sovereign rights—alive,” Fr. Robert said.

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“I was warned by some of my parishioners: heroes are dead.”

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