Pope Francis to bishop critical of Duterte: I am with you

Erik Tenedero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 24 2019 05:15 PM | Updated as of May 24 2019 05:24 PM


MANILA - Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David has been on the receiving end of President Rodrigo Duterte's attacks -- from accusations of stealing and drug use, even to the point of calling the prelate's mother a "whore."

But the bishop seemed to have earned a respite, receiving encouragement from no less than Pope Francis.

In an impassioned Facebook post on Friday, David shared how his "eyes blurred with tears" when the pontiff told him that he knew his situation.

"I want you to know that I know your situation. I know what you are going through. I am praying for you. Please continue," the pope said.

David along with other Filipino bishops are in Rome for their "ad limina" visit. Bishops all over the world are required to make a visit to the pope and pay homage to the tombs of the apostles in the Eternal City every five years.

The bishop said he was surprised because unlike his fellow bishops, he did not seek to ask questions to the pope and instead was hoping he could ask for some prayers.

But the pope had a surprise for David.

After receiving the usual gifts given to those who are visiting the pontiff, David said Francis stopped him and gave him a special blessing.

"I was ready to step out already when he held my arm and said, 'Wait. Please let me give you a special blessing. I want you to know I am with you as you face trials in your ministry in your diocese,'" the prelate recounted.

"Then he pulled me to himself to give me a warm paternal embrace, pressing his head against mine, and brushing his hand gently on my back as he whispered into my ears, 'Courage.'"

To this, David said all he was able to say was "thank you, Holy Father."

"I felt like I had been embraced by Peter himself in his successor, Francis, whose ministry is to confirm his fellow apostles in faith, all over again," the bishop added.

David, who aside from serving as the bishop of Caloocan also sits as the vice president of the powerful Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is one of the most vocal critics of the Duterte administration.

He was one of the first members of the Church hierarchy to criticize Duterte's bloody war on drugs, which saw thousands of suspected drug users and sellers killed, including in the bishop's home diocese Caloocan.

The president responded by making David and several other bishops the subject of some of his profanity-laden speeches. In one instance, he even urged drug addicts and criminals to maul, kill, and steal from moneyed prelates.

Just recently, David revealed that he has been receiving death threats from unknown people.

But the Palace explained that the president was merely using hyperbole, and that the president makes certain statements for dramatic effect.

Duterte also seemed to have backtracked, appealing to the public not to harm leaders of the Catholic Church.