Priests lead the funeral procession of slain Father Mark Anthony Ventura in Tuguegarao Archdiocese on May 7. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
A Catholic priest shot and killed in the northern Philippines last week was laid to rest on May 7 as authorities doubled their efforts to catch his killers.
At least 1,000 people attended the funeral procession of slain priest Father Mark Anthony Ventura in Tuguegarao Archdiocese.
The 37-year-old priest was killed on April 29 minutes after saying Mass at a mission station in Gattaran, in Cagayan province.
"We just lost a dedicated priest, one who smelled like his sheep, to an assassin's bullet," Archbishop Sergio Utleg of Tuguegarao told mourners.
Several bishops and at least 50 priests from several dioceses also attended the funeral Mass for Father Ventura.
Archbishop Utleg said the church was "appalled by [the] horrifying incident," adding that the slain priest "did not deserve to die."
The prelate said that if a priest can die a brutal death "what can prevent anyone including myself from being killed for any reason whatsoever?"
The archbishop said Father Ventura had volunteered to be assigned to San Isidro Labrador mission station where he was killed.
"There he labored as a true and tireless servant of God, switching from directing a school on weekdays and pasturing his flock on weekends," said Archbishop Utleg.
The prelate described Father Ventura as a pastor "in the peak of health and at the height of zeal for souls."
"We were all expecting from him a long and fruitful service as a priest. All that is gone now, brutally ended by an assassin's bullet," said Archbishop Utleg.
Shot by hired killers
Police investigators said Father Ventura, a known environmental activist and advocate of tribal people's rights, was "shot dead by hired killers" as a result of a "serious personal grudge."
They said the killers seemed to not personally know the priest because they even asked villagers to point him out before shooting him.
At least two witnesses have already provided the description of the shooter and how events unfolded.
Archbishop Utleg said the killer was "a product of culture and society ... where there is less reverence for the sacred and for sacred persons."
The prelate said the killing was "an indictment of our own failures as a society, a society that allows murders and killings to be committed with impunity."
Bishop Alexander Wandag of Santiago urged Catholics to "stand against the culture of impunity and fight for justice."
"There are so many deaths done with impunity and absence of justice in the country aggravate the deteriorating social and human rights situation," he said.
Attack on the community
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, convener of the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum, said Father Ventura's murder was "an attack on the people he served and loved."
"The perpetrators did not just kill a priest, they took the life of a pastor who gave hope, despite the hardship and sacrifices, to the neglected," he said.
Father Ventura was the second Catholic priest to be killed in four months. On Dec. 4, 2017, Father Marcelito Paez of San Jose Diocese was gunned down after helping in the release of a political prisoner.
Nardy Sabino, secretary-general of the Promotion of Church People's Response group, said the priest's death "will likely become one among many unresolved cases of extra-judicial killings perpetrated with impunity in the Philippines."
"As we lament the death of another young, respected and prophetic leader, we must rise to the challenge of holding perpetrators — including the masterminds behind such deplorable acts — of extra-judicial killings accountable," Sabino said.