Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), called on all priests and bishops to stand up and defend what is right as he denounced what he called the persecution of the Church.
In his strongly worded Easter message, Villegas also took a swipe at Catholics who watch silently as government implement actions that run counter to the Church’s dogma, obviously referring to the killing of drug suspects and the reimposition of the death penalty, which the Church has strongly opposed.
“It is so fashionable to make churchmen the punching bag of public officials to the glee of our parishioners,” the Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop said.
“The Church is under persecution. The signs are clear. The teachings of God on life and family are under attack. Do not let evil intimidate you. Do not let their threats silence the priests and bishops. This is not the time for cowards. This is the ripe season for martyrs. This is a moment of glory,” Villegas said.
He warned that rebuffing Church morals and doctrines must be stopped, because if it continues, “we will see less and less priests and bishops reaching old age and more priests and bishops dying as martyrs at the prime of their lives.”
Villegas called on bishops and priest to stand up and take courage, even if it means going to jail for the sake of the Gospel or death for the sake of the Catholic faith.
“The Church will not die when Christ’s believers are killed. The Catholic faith will bloom, grow and glow. What we cannot do in life as Catholics, we will be able to do when they kill us and make us martyrs. First they will kill our name. Then they will destroy our beliefs. Then they will kill our body. But no one can stop our hearts from beating only for God,” the prelate said.
He then turned to Catholics who allow their “idols,” obviously referring to President Rodrigo Duterte, to curse the Pope.
“How many of our Catholic countrymen fully believe in the Catholic teachings and live by the same Catholic moral principles? How many of our Catholics openly and blatantly declare “I am a Catholic but I agree that drug addicts must be killed; they are useless. I am a Catholic but I am pro-death penalty. I am a Catholic but I favor gay marriages. I am a Catholic but I do not always obey my bishop who is too old-fashioned. I am a priest but my bishop’s circulars are optional for obedience. I am a Catholic congressman but I when I vote on bills, the budget allocation for my projects are primary, not my conscience. I am a Catholic but I do not mind if the Pope is called son of a prostitute. I am a Catholic and I bash the CBCP on social media. I am a Catholic but I share fake news. I am a Catholic but I am not against corruption in government as long as they help the poor,” Villegas said.
“As I look at our churches and chapels filled with devoted people during Holy Week, I ask myself “How many more of such faithful parishioners do we really have now?” he added.
Earlier, Villegas said that attempts to silence the Church is one of three forms of persecution that has been in existence for the past 2,000 years.
“Another type of persecution is to silence the Church. To tell the Church to keep quiet and not get involved in anything that is not in manner of speaking religious. So the Church should not engage in politics, in culture in business and in whatever form,” he said.
But the prelate stressed that it is not in the nature of the Church to keep quiet because doing so is a betrayal of its mission.
“As Catholics, we believe that we share in the suffering of the Lord. But here is also an unnecessary suffering because it violates human rights, it violates the honor of God, glory of God. The unnecessary suffering we want to resist,” he said.
He pointed out that the separation of Church and State is a mandate of the Philippine Constitution but there is no such thing in Church law that prohibits it from guiding the people on the political situation.
“Separation of Church and State is good for the State and it is good for the Church. But there should be no separation between God and human because when God is separated from man and man separated from God, man becomes the loser. God still stays as God but we become less human when we separate ourselves from God,” Villegas said.