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MANILA, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - Three priests have been murdered over the past six months in the Philippines.
Father Richmond Nilo, the parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Zaragoza, was shot in the chapel on Sunday where he was preparing for Mass. Surveillance video obtained by police shows that he was targeted in a premeditated murder by a group of men.
CCT video shows one of the men crouching by one of the chapel windows and firing seven rounds from a .45 caliber pistol through the window, killing Fr. Nilo beside the altar. Amado Corpus, the regional director for Central Luzon police, explained at a press conference on Monday that Fr. Nilo was followed as he drove to the chapel. The car drove away, but a few minutes later a motorcycle with two men stopped beside Fr. Nilo's car.
Corpus explained, "They shot the priest almost two to three meters away from the altar."
Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other several officials from the diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can wittingly embolden more crimes against priests."
In a statement released on Tuesday, the clergy of the archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan decried the killing of priests.
"The bloodied soil is crying to Heaven for justice," they wrote. "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."
They also called for a day of reparation on June 18, the ninth day after his death, to be a day of fasting and abstinence, with a dawn pilgrimage, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Masses.
Additionally, they call that "all the parish church bells should ring for 15 minutes at six o'clock ... to commemorate the time when Fr. Nilo was killed."
The statement recalled the power of the Rosary that helped remove Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986 and "cast the dictator from his throne."
"Courage is contagious. Cowardice stinks. Prayer heals. Penance revives the dead," the statement read. It continues:
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.
Some parishioners believe the murder was a result of a rift with members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ, INC). The INC was started in 1914 by Felix Y. Manalo, an ex-Catholic, who believes himself to be the restorer of the church of Christ and "God's last messenger."
Father Nilo was reported to be "a stern defender of the Catholic religion" and a public debate with the INC was scheduled for August 31.
Noel Jetajobe, the Vicar General, said these rumors were unfair, noting there have been other public debates that didn't result in killings.
Corpus confirmed that a religious motive has been included in the investigation, but said, "We cannot say the motive until it's supported with enough evidence."
A witness who was planning to attend Fr. Nilo's Mass told reporters that there were around 70 people inside the chapel when Fr. Nilo was shot. Corpus explained that a police task force is preparing a composite sketch based on the CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts.
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