Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, incoming head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has issued a call for peace amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran.
The outgoing Manila prelate highlighted the Middle East crisis in his homily during midnight Mass on Jan. 9 in observance of the Philippines' Feast of the Black Nazarene.
"Let us remember that in other parts of the world hangs the threat of violence. Let us hope that it will not result in war," the cardinal told thousands of people gathered in a park in the Philippine capital.
He called on Catholics to offer prayers for the safety of people trapped in conflict areas, especially Filipinos in the Middle East.
"Let us pray that ... the desire to destroy others, the desire to take revenge will subside," said Cardinal Tagle, current president of Caritas Internationalis.
He reminded devotees of the Black Nazarene that Jesus’ mission was not to destroy. "His mission was to give the world eternal life ... not destruction but life, not punishment but salvation."
Earlier this week, the Philippines ordered the evacuation of its citizens in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon as tensions between the United States and Iran escalated following the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US airstrike on Jan. 3.
"We will go there to convince and compel Filipinos there to head back to the Philippines," said Bernard Olalia, head of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency.
"Our marching orders were mandatory repatriation," read a statement from Jomar Sadie, the charge d'affaires at the Philippine embassy in Baghdad. He said Filipinos in Iraq had already been instructed to obtain exit visas.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to ready aircraft and ships "at a moment's notice" to evacuate Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran.
"I'm nervous. Iran seems to be hell-bent on retaliation, which I think will come. It's a matter of time ... The cry for blood is there," said Duterte.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has announced that two battalions of Filipino troops will be sent to Iraq to help in the evacuation process. "They will not be there to fight ... but they must be able to defend themselves," said Lorenzana.
An estimated 2,190 Filipinos and their dependents are listed working in Iraq, while another 3,000 are believed to be in the country illegally. At least 30,000 Filipinos are believed to be living in Lebanon, while about 1,200 others are in Iran.
Lorenzana, however, said not all Filipinos in Iraq and Iran are willing to leave despite the threat of war, adding that many Filipinos in Iran were already married to Iranians.
Church leaders in Manila earlier called on Filipinos to pray hard for peace and "resort to prayers that all must give peace a chance, work for the common good and strive for stability."
Bishop Ruperto Santos, vice-chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said war must be avoided because "there are no victors in war, just victims."
"Let us pray that the Lord moves Pope Francis and other peace-loving global leaders to mediate peace and avert the further escalation of this heightened political tension in Iran, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East," said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan.
"What a terrible way to start a new year. Shame on global leaders who dance to the tune of warmongers ... for pushing the world to the brink of another global war."