'They are killing our flock. They are killing us shepherds.'

MANILA, Philippines – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other leaders of his archdiocese released a strongly worded statement Monday evening, June 11, against the killing of Nueva Ecija priest Father Richmond Nilo.

"They are killing our flock. They are killing us shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God again as they did in Calvary," their statement read. 

Villegas and his fellow leaders also called on President Rodrigo Duterte "to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can wittingly embolden more crimes against priests."

Signing the statement alongside Villegas were Bayombong Bishop-elect Jose Elmer Mangalinao and other officials of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan.

Rappler received a copy of the statement via email shortly before 8 pm on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines denounced the "outrageously evil" murder of Nilo.

Nilo, 43, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Sunday, June 10, as he was preparing to say Sunday Mass. He was the 3rd Catholic priest to be killed since December 2017, following the murders of 37-year-old Father Mark Anthony Ventura in Cagayan, and 72-year-old Father Marcelito Paez in another part of Nueva Ecija.

Read the full text of the statement below:


Message to the People of God
by the Clergy of
the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan
on June 12, 2018

Our dear people of God:

They are killing our flock. They are killing us the shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God again as they did in Calvary.

Killing is the solution. Killing is the language. Killing is the way. Killing is the answer. Killing is encouraged. Killing is their job. Killers are rewarded. Killers boast of their murders.

They kill in the streets. They kill inside homes. They kill in tricycles and jeeps. They kill in plazas. They kill in the malls. They kill in the chapels. The nation is a killing field. They kill everywhere. They are happy to kill. But we are not a nation of killers.

Are you still clapping? Are you still laughing? You still find it funny? You still think "Dapat lang"? Are you still saying "Pagbigyan natin"? Are you still saying our people feel safer now? Are you still saying this is the best government we ever had? Is this the change you want? Are these the changes you dream of? Are you still saying "There are some good things happening! Focus on the good"? If they curse us again for speaking up, we will not be surprised.

Are you afraid to talk? You think silence is a virtue? You think we your shepherds should sow unity by being like the monkeys who see and speak and hear no evil? You think we can be the next target if we speak? Do you still care? Where is your faith? You talk in whispers. You are afraid to be heard? Have we become numb and dumb?

"Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" said King Henry II about Saint Thomas Becket. Like blind fanatics, the knights of the King went to the Cathedral, searched for the Archbishop, hacked him, and split his skull to make the King happy, but the king was unnerved instead. The King became penitent and offered penance. The murderers were disgraced.

Today, the murderers are commended and the king is undisturbed.

We your Archbishop, the Bishop-elect of Bayombong, and the clergy of the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan, represented by our Vicars Forane, say together:

We are not afraid. We trust in the Lord. We are ready to battle for God's honor. They want to bury us priests. But they forget that we priests are seeds. When you bury us, we will grow more and flourish. You cannot stop the Gospel from growing. You cannot stop God from being God. You cannot muzzle the voice of Truth.

Killing is a sin. It is all wrong. This is not Filipino. This is not Christian. This is not how our parents taught us. The earth, soiled by the blood of Father Mark Ventura, Father Tito Paez, and Father Richmond Nilo, is crying.

The bloodied soil is crying to heaven for justice. God's justice be upon those who kill the Lord's anointed ones. There is a special place in hell for killers. There is a worse place for those who kill priests.

We declare a Day of Reparation in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan on June 18th, the 9th day of the death of Father Richmond Nilo.

We call on you brother priests from the other dioceses and religious congregations to join us if your bishops and religious superiors so agree.

Let us implore the grace of God to touch the heart of the President of the Philippines to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can unwittingly embolden more crimes against priests.

We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit that our leaders in government may arrest the further erosion of law and order in the country and restore respect for human life and human dignity, keeping in mind that they are "the king’s good servants but God's first" (Saint Thomas More).

We beg the Lord to wake up our people, now walking in darkness and numbed by fear, to stand up for the Lord and courageously correct error and sin. May we find among our lay people the readiness to work actively for social and political changes grounded in Catholic moral teachings and Christian social ethics.

By the rosaries at EDSA 1986, we cast the dictator from his throne. Courage is contagious. Cowardice stinks. Prayer heals. Penance revives the dead.

"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, June 12, 2018

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

Bishop-Elect of Bayombong

Father Alvin Gerald Platon
Vicar General and Chancellor

Monsignor Oliver Mendoza
Moderator Curiae and Economus

Monsignor Manuel Bravo
Minister for Evangelization
Vicar Forane of Saint Vincent Ferrer

Father Allan Lopez, OP
Episcopal Vicar for Religious

Father Winston Estrada
Vicar Forane of Saints Peter and Paul

Father Hernan Caronongan
Vicar Forane of Epiphany of the Lord

Father Estephen Mark Espinoza
Vicar Forane of Saint Thomas
Minister for Social Action

Father Antonio Ray Quintans
Vicar Forane of Saint Dominic

Father Kristoffer Allan Soriano
Judicial Vicar and Vice Chancellor

Father Eric Galivo
Minister for Worship

– Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.