(a reflection of a religious brother for three Filipino priests who recently martyred)
June 17, 2018
The Catholic Church in the Philippines is once again in profound grief after one of her priests was mercilessly murdered. Fr. Richmond Nilo, from the diocese of Cabanatuan was shot several times just before he celebrated the mass at a chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija. His body was laying on the floor at the foot of the image of Blessed Virgin, soaked with blood. Another disturbing and painful image. He becomes the third priest losing his life in a bloody attack in the past six months. On December 4, 2017, Fr. Marcelito Paez was ambushed in Jean, Nueva Ecija. Just a few weeks ago on April 29, Fr. Mark Ventura was also gunned down moment after celebrating the mass. We may also include Fr. Rey Urmeneta who was attacked by a hit man in Calamba, Laguna. He sustained a bullet in his body, yet he survived death.
Several weeks ago I wrote an emotional reflection on the death of Fr. Ventura (see “A Death of Priest) and I would never hope that I would write another one. Yet, just sometime after the priest was buried without justice being served, Fr. Nilo lost his life in the line of duty. Surely, this is not the first time a priest is killed in the Philippines. The history has witnessed the killing of both Filipino and foreign priests in this land, but to lose three lives in just six months is truly alarming. I was asking myself, “Are we now living in the perilous time for priests? Is to become a priest a dangerous vocation? What’s the point of becoming a priest if it brings nothing but persecution and death?” We have left everything for Christ, our family, our future. Should we give up our lives in this heinous manner as well?
These questions are valid, yet these questions also, I realize, spring from fear. Many priests and even seminarians, myself included, have lived in the comfort of our seminaries, parishes or convents. Provided with readily available basic necessities, with individual rooms, with good-quality education, with other facilities and even amenities, we are actually living as middle-class bachelors. These privileges are meant to make us better and well-formed priests for the service of the people, but getting used to these facilities, we often lose sight of their primary purpose. Our priesthood is called as the ministerial priesthood because the ordained priests are to serve the people of God, but sometimes, the priests end up being served by the people of God. At times, the virus of clericalism and careerism infect our minds. Ordinations and positions in the Church are seen as promotions, career, or prestige. A better position means better perks! If the priesthood is just another way to make us rich, we have lost the priesthood even before we die! The death of a priest is terrible sorrow, but the death of priesthood in our hearts is tragedy!
Bishop Pablo David, DD of Caloocan, Metro Manila, reminds seminarians who are aspiring to become priests, that if the deaths of the priests gave them discouragement, rather than inspiration, it is better for them to forget the priesthood and leave the seminary as soon as they can. Bishop David notes that they are not helpless victims, but rather martyrs that bravely choose to face the dangerous consequence of preaching the Gospel and working for justice.
Since the beginning of Christianity, to become Christians and especially priests are dangerous vocations because we follow Christ in His way of the Cross. Yet, the martyrdom of the three priests turns out to be a shock therapy that wakes us up from our comfortable slumber. It is a call for many of us, seminarians, religious, and priests to ask what the purpose of our priesthood is. Have we died every day to ourselves? Are we ready to give up our lives to God and His people? Are we ready to follow Christ till the end?
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP