Updated: June 15, 2018 10:35 AM GMT
Members of a religious group light candles in Manila on June 14 to dramatize their call for justice for the killing of Father Richmond Villaflor Nilo. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
Philippine authorities announced on June 15 they have arrested their "prime suspect" in the killing of Father Richmond Villaflor Nilo, the same day his body was laid to rest.
The suspect, identified as Adell Roll Milan, was arrested in San Isidro in Nueva Ecija province a day earlier on June 14.
A witness reportedly identified Milan, an alleged former drug user and hitman, as having shot the priest on June 10.
Authorities said police have also identified the vehicles used by the gunman and his accomplices.
Father Nilo was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen at a village chapel in the nearby town of Zaragosa while he was about to celebrate Sunday Mass.
He was the third priest and the second in Nueva Ecija province killed in the past six months.
Father Mark Ventura was gunned down after celebrating Mass in Gattaran town, Cagayan province, in April.
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.
Slain priest laid to rest
The arrest announcement came at almost the same time the priest was laid to rest at San Nicolas de Tolentino Cathedral in the city of Cabanatuan.
Bishop Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan celebrated the funeral Mass with Archbishop Gabriel Giordanno Caccia, papal nuncio to the Philippines, and several priests and bishops.
In his homily, Bishop Bancud reminded Catholics to follow the example of the slain priest and help those in need.
"It is saddening to see how others choose not to help those who are in need simply because they do not feel they are part of it," said the prelate.
He urged members of the clergy to "draw strength from Jesus Christ" especially "if we are being targeted."
Bishop Bancud said the funeral was "a moment for all our Catholic faithful to storm the heavens with prayers for his soul, for the swift and just resolution of the case."
"We grieve because we lost a brother, shepherd, father, and friend to a murderer's bullet," he added.
'Priesthood is not for cowards'
In a message to seminarians, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said those wanting to be priests should not to lose heart despite the recent attacks.
"The priesthood is not for cowards, it is not for the fainthearted," he said, adding that Jesus "never promised you a rose garden."
He said that if the priest killings cause discouragement instead of inspiration, "then I advise you to forget about the priesthood and just leave the seminary as soon as you can."
"They [the slain priests] opted to be 'martyrs,' meaning witnesses, from the start. They chose this path, the road less traveled by," said the prelate.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said Father Nilo's death was a "great challenge" to Filipinos "to persist in following the steps of Jesus Christ."
"We must forge on with courage in the battle against evil forces in our midst," he said.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said he wished to meet the killers of Father Nilo.
"I won't hurt them. I just want to ask them: Why? I'm looking for an explanation," said the former head of the Philippine bishops' conference.
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