Updated: June 12, 2018 10:46 AM GMT
Children pay homage to Father Richmond Villaflor Nilo on June 11, a day after assassins shot and killed the Catholic priest in the northern province of Nueva Ecija. (Photo by Basilio Sepe)
Catholic church leaders in the Philippines are standing up against the attacks and killings of members of the clergy in recent months.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said "freedom is fake" because people are "toying around with justice" amid the spate of killings in the country.
"We repeat: It is against the will of God to destroy life. Killing is not a solution to personal and societal problems," said the prelate in his Independence Day message.
The Philippines marked its 120th Independence Day on June 12, two days after assassins shot and killed Catholic priest Richmond Villaflor Nilo.
Cardinal Tagle appealed to Filipino Catholics in the Archdiocese of Manila to "seek God's forgiveness for our sins against life."
To honor the memory and pray for those who died, the Manila prelate ordered the ringing of church bells every eight o'clock in the evening.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan condemned the killing of Father Nilo, which the bishops' conference earlier denounced as "outrageously evil."
"They are killing our flock. They are killing us shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God again as they did in Calvary," read Archbishop Villegas' statement.
He called on President Rodrigo Duterte "to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can wittingly embolden more crimes against priests."
Show of protest
Church leaders declared June 18, the ninth day of the death of Father Nilo, as a "Day of Reparation" with Masses offered "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."
Church bells in Lingayen-Dagupan will ring for 15 minutes at 6 o'clock in the evening of June 18 to mark the time Father Nilo was killed. The image of the dead Christ or the Black Nazarene will also be brought out in procession in parishes.
"We are not afraid. We trust in the Lord. We are ready to battle for God's honor," read the statement of the clergy of Lingayen-Dagupan.
"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," they added.
"The bloodied soil is crying to heaven for justice. 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," read the statement.
Probe into priest's killing a priority
The presidential palace has ordered the Philippine National Police to prioritize the investigation into the killing of Father Nilo.
The priest was about to celebrate Mass inside the Nuestra Senora dela Nieve chapel in Zaragoza town when the assailants shot him through the chapel’s window.
He was the third priest and the second in Nueva Ecija province to be killed in the past three months.
Father Mark Ventura was gunned down after celebrating Mass in Gattaran, Cagayan province, last April while Father Marcelito Paez, was killed a few hours after assisting the release of a political prisoner in Jaen town, also in Nueva Ecija, last December.
The killings of the priests came amid the spate of executions of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users in the country since 2016.
Catholic priests and bishops were among vocal critics of the killings that has already claimed up to 23,000 lives in the past two years.
The killings are expected to further worsen the Philippines’ ranking on the Global Peace Index, which in its latest report already ranked the country as the second "least peaceful" in the Asia Pacific, next only to North Korea.
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