Manila, Philippines, Nov 6, 2017 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has called for a prayer campaign to address violence in an escalating conflict between police and drug traffickers.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drug trafficking began last year, nearly 4,000 Filipinos are reported to have been killed by the police. While police say the killings have been acts of self-defense against armed gangs, critics allege that police forces are conducting unauthorized, extrajudicial executions. Vigilante groups are also said to have conducted murder in the midst of the drug war.
The bishops’ prayer campaign challenges Filipinos to pursue healing and repentance, instead of escalating the violence.
“Repent so healing can begin. Stopping the killing is only one big step. The journey of healing for the values of our nation turned upside down will be a long journey still,” said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Filipino bishops conference.
“God's people, let's go back to the Lord … we choose darkness over light … We choose violence rather than peace,” he added.
On November 5, an estimated 3,000 Filipinos gathered for Mass and a procession along the Abenida Epidanio de los Santos, a historic Manila highway where a non-violent protest helped end the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
The prayer campaign involves praying the rosary for 33 days, until the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8th.
In August, the deaths of three teenagers prompted a 40 day prayer campaign, in which churches rang their bells nightly, and parishioners gathered to honor the dead with candles.
In his homily on Sunday, Archbishop Villegas urged Filipinos to work for justice while resisting the temptation to violence.
“May your blood speak to us, disturb us and move us to act to resist violence,” he said, noting that curses will be cast on a nation which spills the blood of its own citizens.
Healing begins with asking for repentance, the archbishop said, and he challenged clergy and government officials to be the first to turn away from sin and commit to the service of their roles.
May leaders ask forgiveness, he said, “for falling for the lure of comfort and the attraction of convenience, for giving in to the temptation to be powerful and popular rather than be humble and faithful, for our tendency to judge rather than seek unity, for keeping quiet when we should speak and blabbering when what is needed is silence, God forgive us leaders of your Church.”
He called for greater respect of the country's democratic institutions and laws, noting that civil servants are servants to the people and not in power because of weapons. He encouraged the government to pursue justice not revenge, and to rule by respect rather than fear.
The war on drugs was a major part of Duterte's 2016 presidential campaign. Reportedly, over 7,000 people have died from police officers and vigilantes from July 2016 to January 2017.
In recent months, groups like the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism have accused the government of providing unclear statistics.
Harry Rogue, a presidential spokesperson, denied any extrajudicial killings, and said the government was looking into more than 2,000 suspicious deaths. He also encouraged the bishops to work more closely with drug rehabilitation and anti-drug forces.