‘Pray for when Elbert no longer has to light candles’


Msgr. James Benavente, extreme right, and Deacon Estanislao Benavente join Elbert Quitugua and his family in a group photo after the Mass of Remembrance for the missing sisters Faloma and Maleina Luhk at the St. Jude Church in Koblerville last Saturday before noon. The Luhk sisters mysteriously disappeared near their home in As Teo on May 25, 2011. (Ferdie De La Torre)

Monsignor James L.G. Benavente visited last Friday the public school bus pavilion in As Teo where sisters Faloma and Maleina Luhk were last seen in the morning of May 25, 2011. A tiny shrine has been erected at the pavilion, visible as one drives up from the street. Benavente, who went there to pray for the missing sisters, saw candles at the little shrine. Elbert Quitugua told him that he’s been lighting candles there since his two granddaughters went missing seven years ago.

During a Mass of Remembrance for the Luhk sisters last Saturday at the St. Jude Church in Koblerville at 11am, Benavente urged everyone to “pray for the day when Elbert [Quitugua] will no longer have to light any more candles for his granddaughters.”

Benavente, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s chaplain for Guam and Saipan, was joined at the Mass by Quitugua and his family, some relatives and friends, and FBI special agent Haejun Park.

“St. Jude isn’t the church of the lights, but if it were already dark, this church would have brightened up, not because we brought our individual lanterns or candles with us, but because we have come from every corner of this island, with the light of Christ shining deep within us, desiring to shed light in the midst of darkness,” Benavente, who was the Mass’ guest homilist, said.

He believes that God’s justice will prevail in due time.

“We know that….but, we also seek justice that will bring peace and comfort to Faloma and Maleina’s family, sooner, instead of later,” he said.

Benavente said when people do something wrong or do something bad, they try to hide it, yet it bothers them, even though they believe they’re doing a good job in hiding it.

“It’s not until we get if off our chest that we feel better. We feel better because what we kept in darkness has finally been brought to light, and this, we feel relieved, and that’s because the burden that held us down, the burden that once imprisoned us, no longer has power over us,” he said.

Benavente said they want the Luhk sisters and their family to know that they are not and have not been forgotten.

He prayed for someone to shed light on the sisters’ disappearance, that they come forward.

“Equally important, we’re also here to pray that God continue to strengthen Faloma and Maleina’s family whose hearts have carried such a heavy burden in the midst of their silent suffering,” Benavente said.

In an interview after the Mass, Quitugua it was very touching and that Benavente came over from Guam just for the Mass.

Deacon Estanislao Benavente substituted for Fr. James Balajadia, who was not feeling well, for the Mass.

Quitugua said the Mass was done in collaboration with the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Benavente, and the FBI.

There will be another Mass this Friday in Kagman.

Quitugua said searching for his granddaughters for seven years now has been stressful. “This is a neverending search for my granddaughters,” he said.

Quitugua said the FBI and the local police, however, have assured the family that, although this is a cold case, the investigation is continuing.

“They are still doing it constantly. They’re not going to stop,” he said.

FBI spokesperson Michele M. Ernst told Saipan Tribune last Wednesday that the FBI remains committed to working with the CNMI Department of Public Safety to search for the missing sisters.

The sisters’ disappearance enters its seventh year this Friday.

Faloma and Maleina, if they are still alive, will be 16 and 17 years old now.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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