Catholic bishops in the Philippines have issued a powerful call to repentance over the repeated killings taking place in the war on drugs being waged by President Rodrigo Duterte.
"We need to repent as a nation," say the bishops in a letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of Bishops' Conference in the Philippines. "Repent now. Time is not ours. Start the healing by repenting now. We can not heal as a nation by blaming others. We have only ourselves to blame first. Let the healing begin here ... in each one here. Lord forgive us and heal our broken land."
Three teenagers were killed in August, including Kian delos Santos, aged 17, who was quoted as begging for his life and saying to police during a raid: "Please stop. I have a test tomorrow." People took to the streets to protest after the teenagers were killed. Thousands of others have died and Duterte has been accused of committing crimes against humanity.
The bishops letter states: "At every Mass's offering we hear the words repeatedly of the Lord pronounced by the priest, 'This is my blood to be poured out for you'. By pouring out his blood, the Lord teaches the real meaning of power. The height of love is to offer one's life for the beloved. Leadership is for service. Service is dying that others may live. When the blood of the Lord falls, blessings are poured out and grace."
But when a man pours out his neighbor's blood, this is not "grace" but leads to "curse and punishment", the bishops say.
Thousands have signed petitions against the killings.
The bishops say tens of thousands of their countrymen have been massacred, causing great sorrow to parents, children, spouses.
"When we do not stop the slaughter, the people are cursed by the punishment of killing our own countrymen. The Virgin says to Fatima, 'Stop disobeying the Lord because he is too much hurt by human sins.' What is the call? What should we do? Come back to silence. 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. God's people, let's go back to the Lord. We've lostour way lost path and are choosing darkness over light, violence over peace.'
The statement continues: "Let us return to the Lord, seek His pardon and promise to reform our lives NOW! Peace to you brother bishops and priests, let us be the first to repent and turn away from sin. 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. Have mercy on us."
When party loyalty prevails over love of country people need to repent, they add. Let civility and courtesy prevail over curses and lies. Let the institutions of democracy be revered and safeguarded; let dialogue prevail over the many reasons for division. When mediocrity in social services becomes normal, the poor suffer first. Honourable servants in government in the administration or in the opposition, what will it profit you to gain the world, insure your wife or husband or daughter or son win in the next elections… but lose your soul?"
Turn to the Lord and turn away from destructive politics, they urge.
"Peace to you in the armed forces and the police. Stop the violence and uphold the law. Seek justice not revenge. Choose to be respected rather than feared."
They call for ethical leadership from officers, for integrity over the quick fix and for everyone to remember that power belongs to the people not to the weapon holder.
"Serve your countrymen not the politicians. Edify us through your self-discipline. Return to the Lord and obey God rather than evil men."
Addressing drug users, the bishops say they are alright – and they can still change. "There is still hope!"
About eight in ten Filipinos are Catholics.
Duterte has waged his war on drugs since he won the presidential election in May last year, when he pledged to kill criminals and called for the killing of drug addicts.
Pic: A priest and other mourners carry the coffin of Kian delos Santos, the 17-year-old student who was shot during anti-drug operations during a funeral mass inside a church Caloocan, Metro Manila, Philippines August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao