Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, leads the religious procession in Manila on Nov. 5 to dramatize calls for an end to drug-related killings in the country. (Photo by Joe Torres)
Hundreds of Filipino Catholics dramatized their call for an end to the spate of drug-related killings in the country by holding a candle-lit religious procession on a historic highway in Manila on Nov. 5.
Priests and nuns led the march from a Catholic shrine to a monument on a highway where the peaceful uprising dubbed "people power" ousted former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
At the Mass before the procession, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the bishops' conference, called on the Philippine military and the police to stop the killings and follow the rule of law.
"If you have stumbled and waltzed with graft, rise up men and women in uniform. Demand ethical leadership from your officers. Choose integrity not the quick fix," said the prelate.
"Return to the Lord and obey God rather than evil men," said Archbishop Villegas as he launched the bishops' campaign to "heal the nation" through prayers for peace.
The "Lord, Heal Our Land Sunday" marked the start of another month of praying for victims of so-called extrajudicial killings that have been linked to the government's war against illegal drugs.
Catholic nuns carry lighted candles during the religious procession. Philippine bishops declared Nov. 5 as a "Lord, Heal Our Land Sunday" in the wake of drug-related killings in the country. (Photo by Joe Torres/ucanews.com)
Archbishop Villegas, an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, warned that "a curse awaits the nation that kills its own people."
The outgoing president of the bishops' conference lamented that a lot of Filipinos "applaud the killings" and "chose violence instead of peace."
"We chose to be silent than to be involved. In the wrong believe that this is already the last card, we have chosen all kinds of leadership ... we became desperate," he said.
Priests and bishops to blame too
Archbishop Villegas also criticized fellow bishops and priests for "falling for the lure of comfort and the attraction of convenience, for giving in to the temptation to be powerful and popular rather than be humble and faithful."
He noted that Catholic church leaders have the "tendency to judge rather than seek unity" and keep quiet "when we should speak."
"God forgive us, leaders of your church. Have mercy on us," said the prelate, as he called on "brother bishops and priests" to "be the first to repent and turn away from sin."
A seminarian holds a candle during the religious procession to call for an end to drug-related killings in Manila on Nov. 5. (Photo by Joe Torres/ucanews.com)
He also lambasted the country's politicians by asking "what will it profit you to gain the world, ensure that your wife or husband or daughter or son will win in the next elections ... but lose your soul?"
"No government is forever. No politician is forever. Only God is forever," said Archbishop Villegas in what could be his last major statement as head of the bishops' conference.
The prelate will finish his term as president on the conference on Nov. 30 and will be succeeded by Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, a friend of Duterte.
To drug users and their families, the archbishop told them to "stop it, and change your lives."
"There is hope. If you lost your family member because of mistaken identity, because he or she allegedly fought back, because a drug user is supposedly a worthless person, do not fall for revenge," said the prelate.
He said that to start the healing process, everybody needs to repent.
"We cannot heal as a nation by blaming others. We have only ourselves to blame first. Let the healing begin here," said the prelate.
Watch this ucanews.com video for more on the procession:
End murder of the innocent
In the Archdiocese of Cebu, Archbishop Jose Palma also led the celebration of Mass and a procession as he appealed for "healing that would put an end to the murder of the innocent."
He noted that that "our consciences have been blurred by selfishness and despair, had been dulled and deadened by indifference."
"May healing happen because we condemn what is immoral and we get involved especially in the rehabilitation of drug surrenderers," said the Cebu prelate.
He said urged the faithful to have "a desire for healing" and "be wounded healers to one another despite the difficulties that we experience in life."
The Manila Mass and religious procession attracted some 3,000 faithful, most of them young people, but also some politicians who were seen mingling with the crowd.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told ucanews.com that the bishops' call for prayer was a "success" because of the attendance of a cross-section of society.
"There are priests, nuns, young and old, the poor and the rich, who are here, who came together to express what they feel," he said, adding that there is an urgent need for unity among Filipinos.