NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines – The mass has ended and the priests have left but hundreds of parishioners stayed and lined up at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish church in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija on Monday, June 11, to see the remains of slain Catholic priest Richmond Nilo.
Fr Nilo was shot to death on Sunday, June 10, as he was preparing for evening mass at a small chapel in Barangay Mayamot, with about 70 mass-goers as witnesses to the crime.
The chapel, Nuestra Señora dela Nieve, was just one of the many chapels he visited every Sunday of every week to hold masses for parishioners who could not afford to commute to the main parish in the town. Fr Nilo was the parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish.
This was why it was no surprise that hundreds of mourners flocked to his wake. Fr Nilo was known as a hardworker who pushed to preside over at least 7 to 10 Masses every Sunday to accommodate as many barangays as he could. On weekdays at the Parish, he often said at least 6 masses.
“Masigasig siyang pari, gusto niya nakakarami siya ng barangay na pinagsisilbihan. Naiinip yan kapag hindi nagmi-misa, gusto niya palagi nasa labas siya,” Hermes Colacito, a member of Knights of Columbus told Rappler.
(He was a hardworking priest. He wanted to serve as many barangays as he could. He would be restless if he was not saying masses. He was always on the go.)
Fr Nilo was also the financial administrator of the Diocese of Cabanatuan, where he helped fellow priests survive after their retirement.
Prior to this, he was president of the College of the Immaculate Conception in Cabanatuan City.
He would have celebrated his 17 years in priesthood, and his 44th birthday in July this year.
Fr Noel Jetajobe, vicar general of the Cabanatuan Diocese described Fr Nilo as a priest who loved to joke around, at the same time serious in his vocation.
He added that Fr Nilo was passionate about apologetics, or in defending religious doctrines, especially against members of Iglesia ni Cristo.
On August 31, he was supposed to face in a debate INC minister Ramil Parba at Freedom Park in Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija. This would have not been his first debate. Fr Nilo has previously engaged in debates with ministers and members of the INC in other cities.
Some parishioners believed this may be a possible motive for the killing of the priest, as Nilo also frequently argued on Facebook with INC members about religion.
Central Luzon Regional Director Superintendent Amando Corpus however said that the PNP has yet to establish a motive because they were still gathering evidence.
Jetajobe also said the rumors circulating about the possible involvement of the INC was unfair because previous debates have come and gone and these did not result in any form of violence.
“While it is true that Father Richmond was scheduled to have a debate, it is unfair to point them [INC] to this crime as there were previous debates with them in other places that did not lead to any killings,” Jetajobe said in Filipino.
Not to die in vain
In his homily in the wake of the slain priest, Bishop Sofronio Bancud of the Diocese of Cabanatuan also described Fr Nilo as a passionate defender of the Catholic religion.
He added that while Fr Nilo has been physically silenced, the words he taught and lived by will forever remain in the hearts and minds of those he served.
“They think they have silenced Father Richmond? No. Everything he has taught us lives on within us,” Bancud said in Filipino.
“It is true that in his killing, some of us feel scared, and some of us have cried as it is indeed saddening. But, Father Richmond is not silenced. His words continue to live even in his passing,” he added.
“I hope that his death does not go in vain. I hope this serves as an example for all of us to continue to live deeply the words that we preach in our Catholic faith.”
Bancud also asked parishioners not to “leave” their side and, to keep praying for the safety of priests.
He also mentioned the deaths of the two priests prior to Fr Nilo's slaying, – Fr Marcelito “Tito” Paez, and Fr Mark Ventura who were both killed within the last six months.
A message to priests?
Meanwhile, Fr Jetajobe could not help but ask why the killing was comitted inside the chapel, and worse beside the altar.
In the crime scene, the blood of the slain priest stained the floor of the chapel, just below the crucifix and a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The gunman fired his gun from the window of the chapel, the bullets piercing through a tarpaulin. Printed on the tarp were the lyrics to the Mass hymn, “Papuri sa Diyos,” or the Gloria in Filipino.
“He could have been killed outside. Why inside the church? Why inside the chapel? Are they trying to send a statement to the priests?” Jetajobe said.
“It’s saddening because the church is supposed to be neutral,” he said.
Still, Jetajobe said the Diocese would not speculate and would fully trust on the investigations of the PNP.
He added that while he could not deny that he also feared for his life, he knew that this was part of their vocation.
“I’m not saying I’m not scared, as I don’t want to die this way,” he said in Filipino.
“But this is part of our job. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. We just hope that in this case, there is justice.” – Rappler.com