Archbishop Villegas hits killings in Christmas plea

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
Archbishop Villegas hits killings in Christmas plea
'Murder is ugly. Extrajudicial killing is ugly,' Archbishop Socrates Villegas says in a Christmas message about the 'ugliness' during this 'feast of beauty'

MANILA, Philippines – On the feast of Christ’s birth, the stench of death.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas denounced extrajudicial killings in his pastoral letter to be read on Sunday, December 25, in a reality check about the “ugliness” during this “feast of beauty.”

Villegas, also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, required his priests to read this as their Christmas homily within his archdiocese of one million Catholics.

“Murder is ugly. Extrajudicial killing is ugly,” Villegas, 56, said in his pastoral letter. (READ: Full text of Villegas’ pastoral letter)

“Christmas comes to us as a feast of beauty, but we are not blind and numb to the ugliness that has come upon us,” he said.

The archbishop explained: “We have Christmas but there is blood spilling on our streets and sidewalks. We have Christmas and we party but there are now more than 5,000 families mixing Christmas carols with their quiet tears because a loved one has been stricken down by a bullet. Their noche buena (Christmas dinner) is bland and tasteless because the bitter taste of death is too strong to forget.”

“There are Christmas carols in the air, but there is blood by the garbage dump and even inside jails. There is a Christmas parol by the window at home but the unresolved murder at home outshines our Christmas lights,” he said.

“Christmas brings us pain, not just joy,” the archbishop also said. “Let not the Christmas feasting become like morphine to numb us and make us forget.”

Villegas issued this message as almost 6,200 people have been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Of this number, more than 4,000 people have been slain in extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings.

‘Christmas is hope’

In an attempt to explain why the killings happen, Villegas pointed out that Filipinos, like those from other parts of the world, tend to elect leaders “not with diligent prudent reflection, but from anger.”

“Anger has become so common and ordinary that the culture of revenge is slowly enchaining us. Anger pushes us to pursue the illusion that we must kill in order to defend life,” he said.

“Living in anger, we start to live in fear. We fear for our lives and our family’s lives,” he added.

Villegas, on one hand, acknowledged that fear and anger “are indeed strong human feelings.”

On the other hand, he said, “greater than anger and fear is hope.”

Villegas said: “Christmas is not a story of anger and fear. Anger and fear came from Herod not from Christ. Christ brings hope; Herod sows anger and fear. Christmas is Christ not Herod. Christmas is hope, hope stronger than fear and anger.”

The archbishop said, “Christmas is hope. We have hope.”

Villegas is the protegé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, an outspoken prelate who helped oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

He recently led prayer rallies against the hero’s burial for Marcos and against the planned revival of the death penalty, which were Duterte’s campaign promises.

Like Villegas, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has criticized the recent spate of killings in the Philippines.

In his own Christmas message, Tagle urged Filipinos to make room for the poorest and the most neglected, including those “who have gone astray,” as a way of making room for Jesus on Christmas. 

“Why is there no room for hope for those who have gone astray but much space for condemnation by the self-righteous?” Tagle asked. “Why is there room for destroying lives but minute space for saving them?” – 

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email