CATHOLIC Church leaders are preparing to mobilize members to condemn the killing of another priest and observe a "day of reparation" on June 18, with a bishop praying for the people to "wake up."
As this developed, Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte is not to blame for the killings, but the lawless elements who are targeting Church leaders to divide the nation and spread hostility.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the killings of priests should not be attributed to Duterte's verbal tirades against the Church.
“In this nationwide drive, lawless elements will seek to block our efforts by sowing division and creating animosity, even exploiting crimes like the killings of priests,” the Palace official said.
He was reacting to the call of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan for the President to stop the “verbal persecution of the Catholic Church,” which have inadvertently encouraged attacks against priests.
On Monday night, June 11, a day after Nueva Ecija priest Fr. Richmond Nilo was gunned down, Villegas lamented that murderers are trying to silence the Catholic Church by killing the priests.
“They are killing our flock. They are killing us, the shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God again as they did in Calvary,” he said.
“Let us implore the grace of God to touch the heart of the President of the Philippines to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can unwittingly embolden more crimes against priests,” Villegas added.
In the last six months, three priests have been killed by armed men.
Father Marcelito Paez was gunned down on December 4, 2017 in Jaen, Nueva Ecija while Father Mark Ventura was killed in Gattaran, Cagayan on April 29, 2018.
Nilo was shot dead Sunday, June 10, as he was preparing to say Mass in a chapel of Mayamot village in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija.
On June 18, the ninth day after Nilo was killed, Villegas said the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan will observe a "day of reparation." All parishes will ring their bells for 15 minutes at 6 p.m. to commemorate Nilo's killing.
“Today, the murderers are commended and the king is undisturbed,” Villegas was quoted on cbcpnews.net.
“God’s justice be upon those who kill the Lord’s anointed ones. There is a special place in hell for killers. There is a worse place for those who kill priests,” he added.
Villegas, former head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), invited priests from other dioceses and religious congregations to join the initiative with the consent of their bishops and superiors.
“We beg the Lord to wake up our people, now walking in darkness and numbed by fear, to stand up for the Lord and courageously correct error and sin,” said Villegas.
“May we find among our lay people the readiness to work actively for social and political changes grounded in Catholic moral teachings and Christian social ethics,” he added.
Roque said the Palace joined the Catholic bishops and faithful in condemning the murder of the three priests.
He also assured that the Philippine National Police (PNP) would work closely with the Church to protect the priests.
“The government and the Philippine National Police have mounted investigations into these crimes and have vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. The PNP shall also be working closely with the Church, especially the hierarchy and the clergy, on measures to protect our priests,” Roque said.
“We must stand united against these purveyors of crime and together advance the peace and security of the nation and the Church,” he added.
Duterte has persistently lashed out at the Catholic Church for condemning his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.
In his impromptu speeches, the President has branded priests as “hypocrites” for criticizing his anti-drug war while also allegedly committing abuses. (SunStar Philippines)