MANILA - The priests of the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan, headed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, slammed the killing of a priest from Nueva Ecija, asking their flock if this is the change they want.
In a message released Monday, Villegas, together with the clergy of the archdiocese, expressed their outrage over the killing of Rev. Fr. Richmond Nilo, parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in the Diocese of Cabanatuan.
"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," the priests said.
"Killing is the solution. Killing is the language. Killing is the way. Killing is the answer. Killing is encouraged. Killing is their job. Killers are rewarded. Killers boast of their murders. They kill in the streets. They kill inside homes. They kill in tricycles and jeeps. They kill in plazas. They kill in the malls. They kill in the chapels. The nation is a killing field. They kill everywhere. They are happy to kill. But we are not a nation of killers," they added.
The priests also said they will not be surprised "if they curse us again for speaking up."
"Are you still clapping? Are you still laughing? You still find it funny? You still think 'Dapat lang'? Are you still saying 'Pagbigyan natin'? Are you still saying our people feel safer now? Are you still saying this is the best government we ever had? Is this the change you want? Are these the changes you dream of? Are you still saying 'There are some good things happening! Focus on the good'? If they curse us again for speaking up, we will not be surprised."
They added the incident will not stop them from telling the truth.
"We are not afraid. We trust in the Lord. We are ready to battle for God’s honor. They want to bury us priests. But they forget that we priests are seeds. When you bury us, we will grow more and flourish. You cannot stop the Gospel from growing. You cannot stop God from being God. You cannot muzzle the voice of Truth," the priests said.
"Killing is a sin. It is all wrong. This is not Filipino. This is not Christian. This is not how our parents taught us. The earth, soiled by the blood of Father Mark Ventura, Father Tito Paez and Father Richmond Nilo, is crying," they added.
The archdiocese declared June 18, the ninth day of Nilo's death, as a "Day of Reparation" in the archdiocese.
On this day, the archdiocese will do the following:
"1. All the Masses in the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan will be offered as reparation for the sins of blasphemy against God, the sins of sacrilege and calumny hurled against our priests and bishops; the murders that continue without relent. The Mass presiders are to wear the penitential color of violet. It will be a day of fasting and abstinence for the priests, religious and lay faithful of our Church.
"2. The parish priests should expose the Blessed Sacrament for one hour at a time most convenient for the parishioners to adore and make reparation. The priests must go to confession and in turn, hear the confessions of the faithful on this day too.
"3. All the parish church bells should ring for fifteen minutes at six o’ clock in the evening on June 18th to commemorate the time when Father Richmond Nilo was killed.
"4. The image of the Santo Entierro or the Black Nazarene should be brought out in procession in the evening of June 18th to close the Day of Reparation.
"5. The seminarians of Mary Help Christians Seminaries will lead a dawn penitential pilgrimage on foot from San Jacinto Parish Church at 4:30am to the Basilica of Manaoag. We encourage the youth to join.
They also called on their brothers from other dioceses and religious congregations to join them, if their respective bishops and religious superiors agree.
"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," the priests said.
"By the rosaries at EDSA 1986, we cast the dictator from his throne. Courage is contagious. Cowardice stinks. Prayer heals. Penance revives the dead," they added.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has also condemned the crime, calling it an "outrageously evil act."
Fr. Nilo was about to begin Mass in a church in Zaragoza on Sunday night when unidentified gunmen shot him dead.
He was the third Catholic priest to be killed in a span of six months.
In December 2017, Rev. Fr. Marcelito Paez was also gunned down by unidentified assailants after assisting the release of a political prisoner in the town of Jaen, Nueva Ecija.
In April 2018, Rev. Fr. Mark Anthony Ventura was also shot dead by an unidentified gunman after celebrating Mass in Gattaran, Cagayan.
Meanwhile, Fr. Rey Urmenta, a former PNP chaplain, survived an ambush in Calamba, Laguna last week.