Catholic Church

Archbishop Villegas starts rosary campaign to defend Philippines from China

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Archbishop Villegas starts rosary campaign to defend Philippines from China

SHEPHERD. Archbishop Socrates Villegas celebrates Mass marking the 40th year of the assassination of former senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr., at Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City on August 21, 2023.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

Archbishop Socrates Villegas says that ‘if God is with us, no power can ever prevail against us’

MANILA, Philippines – One of the Philippines’ most popular Catholic bishops launched a 50-day rosary campaign beginning Thursday, June 27, to defend the Philippines from China as tensions rise in the West Philippine Sea. 

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the rosary campaign will run until August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, or the Catholic belief that the mother of Jesus did not experience death and was brought to heaven.

In a pastoral letter, Villegas cited evidence of “insidious attempts” to trample on “our sacred shores.” Referring to China, he attributed these to “a foreign power that governs by an ideology that recognizes no God and keeps all religion and the practice of faith under the heavy heel of its totalitarian boot.”

His Facebook page “Father Soc” said the rosary campaign aims “to protect the Philippines from atheist China.”

Villegas mentioned China’s “provocative actions against Philippine Coast Guard vessels” in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines but is claimed by China. He said that “our marine environment is relentlessly wrecked” in these waters, even as China engages in espionage and infiltrates the Philippine government.

Archbishop Villegas starts rosary campaign to defend Philippines from China
Call to ban POGOs, too

Villegas cited at least three moral issues involved:

  • protecting the interests of Filipinos, particularly fisherfolk “have been deprived of the abundance that once allowed them at least a decent existence”;
  • safeguarding “the right of persons to believe and to practice their faith without any interference from the State, and the right of the Filipino nation to be shielded from the onslaught of agents of an atheistic ideology”;
  • defending nature “against destructive forces, particularly greed and arrogance,” as underscored by Pope Francis’ landmark document on the climate crisis, Laudato Si. 

One of the other issues cited in the pastoral letter involves Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) run by Chinese companies. POGOs have been associated with illegal gambling and prostitution, which the Catholic Church has long opposed.

The supposed benefits of POGOs, Villegas explained, “are overshadowed completely by the threat they carry with them – and in fact, the dreadful harm of their presence.”

“The recent raids that revealed the extent of the evil at these POGO hubs – including incidences of human trafficking and torture and money laundering – make it a moral imperative that no longer should they be granted the protection of the law and that they, in fact, should be outlawed,” the archbishop said.

The title of his pastoral letter – “Lord, Save Us! We Are Perishing! (Matthew 8:25)” – refers to the biblical story of Jesus calming a violent storm, to the surprise of his apostles who first panicked when they saw him asleep.

‘The Church must respond’ 

Villegas’ call for a rosary campaign is the latest display of concern by Filipinos about the West Philippine Sea dispute. According to an OCTA Research survey released on June 5, around 76% of Filipino adults “perceive China as a country that poses the greatest threat to the Philippines.” This was a 17% increase from the time the Marcos administration began in 2022.

“The Church must respond –  and she must respond as Church. This means that we will find the confidence to take a firm stand because of our conviction that if God is with us, no power can ever prevail against us!” said Villegas.

In a pastoral letter, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas recalled the Virgin Mary’s promise in her reported 1917 apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, that “Russia would be converted” if Catholics prayed the rosary. Back then, he said, it was “the height of Soviet power, when it seemed invincible and it had won over close to a third of the world’s population to its ideology.”

Villegas said that “this is not superstition” because when praying the rosary, Catholics meditate and “are configured into the mind and heart of God.” 

Villegas, once the private secretary of the late Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, added that the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos was preceded by the Marian Year of 1985. It was a year dedicated to prayer, fasting, and charity dedicated to Mary.

“Let us do it again! The rosary is simple and small and powerful like the mustard seed in the Gospel,” the 63-year-old archbishop said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.