VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI expressed his condolences on Wednesday for the killing of an Italian priest in the violence-plagued southern Philippines, saying he had been "courageous and indefatigable."
Father Fausto Tentorio was "a good priest, a fervent believer who for many years served the people of the Philippines in a courageous and indefatigable way," the pope said in a message to the Vatican's envoy to the country.
The message to the apostolic nuncio in Manila, Giuseppe Pinto, will be in Thursday's edition of the Vatican's official daily, Osservatore Romano.
Tentorio was shot inside his church compound on Monday on Mindanao, a vast island home to Muslim separatists, political warlords and other armed groups.
The 59-year-old had served for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) order on the island since 1978 and had received a death threat in 2009.
Police said an unknown gunman shot Tentorio eight times at his PIME parish in the remote farming town of Arakan on Monday as he got into his car.
The assailant escaped and police did not know why Tentorio was killed, but his colleagues told AFP they suspected his death was linked to his efforts to help local tribes and other disadvantaged people in the area.
Tentorio was particularly active helping the Manobo tribe, whose ancestors used to control vast tracts of land in Arakan but have have been pushed to the fringes by settlers from other parts of the country.
Tentorio was the third PIME missionary to have been killed since 1985 on Mindanao, while two other members of the order were also kidnapped there but were later freed unharmed, according to the order.
The Philippines is a mainly Catholic country but it has a Muslim minority population that regards Mindanao as its ancestral homeland, and a separatist insurgency there has claimed more than 150,000 lives since the 1970s.