An opposition Filipino senator has asked Pope Francis to pray for the Philippines, especially for poor Filipinos who suffer the brunt of drug-related killings. Senator Bam Aquino presented the pontiff with letters from members of the Philippine clergy, laypeople and church organizations who are asking for prayers. "Holy Father, I have some letters from our religious leaders in the Philippines. Our country needs your prayers," Aquino told Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican. The legislator met with the pope on the sidelines of the 9th annual meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network in Rome. A statement released by Aquino's office on Aug. 23 noted that Pope Francis "smiled back" at the senator, took the letters and blessed Aquino and the rosary that he was holding. Aquino said one of the letters asked the pope to pray that the violence in the Philippines comes to an end. The senator also asked the pontiff to pray for the welfare of widows and orphans of those killed in the government's drug war
that has reportedly claimed about 23,000 lives. Authorities claim that nearly 1.3 million drug users and street peddlers have surrendered in the two-year campaign, including 215,000 who have undergone rehabilitation. Philippine police have several times promised to overhaul the anti-drugs campaign, although human rights groups say there has been little noticeable change. Early in August, authorities vowed to revamp and intensify their fight against crime and drugs after President Rodrigo Duterte
promised no letup in a bloody crackdown. National police chief Oscar Albayalde
said the "reinvigorated anti-illegal drugs and anti-criminality campaign [will be] surgical and chilling." Police have rejected accusations by rights groups that suspected drug users and dealers were being systematically executed. Prosecutors of the International Criminal Court have launched an assessment of whether "crimes against humanity" might have been committed by the Duterte administration. In his message to Catholic and Christian legislators, Pope Francis said Christian politicians should use humility and courage to bear witness to their faith. Aquino said the pope's message encourages Catholics "to stand up for God and for fellow Filipinos against all odds and with all humility and courage."
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"If you really have faith, then you should not be afraid to stand for God and for our countrymen," said the senator, a known critic of Duterte's drug war.