‘To kill a priest is to kill Christ’
SAN JOSE CITY — Catholic Church leaders on Monday gathered in this city in Nueva Ecija province to bury retired priest Marcelito Paez, who was gunned down by motorcycle-riding assassins in Jaen town on Dec. 4.
“Those tasked with implementing the laws of the land should see to it that the perpetrators of this deed be brought to justice,” said Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos, who issued a pastoral statement as a representative of Central Luzon bishops to the 10-member Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines permanent council.
Papal Nuncio Gabriele Caccia and two bishops led the 11 a.m. funeral Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral for Paez here.
During the ceremony, San Jose Bishop Roberto Mallari said Paez was not just an activist, but was also a revolutionary who died to protect others.
Paez, 72, was attacked by two men on the night of Dec. 4 after driving a former political prisoner to safety.
The priest’s murder “has pointed to the existence of intolerance, cruelty and violence,” Santos said.
Santos said killing a priest was like crucifying Jesus Christ.
“To kill a priest is to kill Christ. To kill a priest is to crucify Christ. The priest is alter Christus (another Christ),” he said.
Policemen were seen at the cathedral grounds during the funeral Mass but they kept their distance.
After the hourlong Mass, friends and family brought out Paez’s casket while priests and activists sang the popular protest song, “Bayan Ko.”
Paez’s four surviving brothers and a sister attended the wake and the funeral.
Catalina Paez, the priest’s sister-in-law and schools superintendent in the Science City of Muñoz, said the family was expecting authorities to give justice to the priest who “devoted his life in the service of God and fellow men, particularly the farmers and the poor, whose human rights he believed were being violated.”
“His brothers and sister said they are too old already and cannot pursue [Paez’s] killers themselves,” Catalina said. “Besides … what for? If his friends want to help solve his violent death, let it be.”
“We live it to God for His verdict on the killers of Fr. Paez and others who may have a hand in his murder,” Catalina said.
Paez’s 65-year-old brother, Enrique, flew home from California and spoke for the family at the Mass.
In Cabanatuan City, a police task force formed to solve the priest’s murder announced it still needed to pursue leads.
“We are coming out soon with a report about our findings on Fr. Paez’s killing. Right now we have no lead that would help us identify the killers or those who may have a hand in his killing,” said Supt. Angel Bondoc, deputy police director of Nueva Ecija and commander of Special Investigation Task Force Paez.
Paez was attacked shortly after driving former political detainee Rommel Tucay, his family and friends to Jaen where a vehicle would take them to Metro Manila.
Tucay, a member of Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Luzon, had just been acquitted by a court for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, Bondoc said.
Tucay’s mother had asked Paez to bring Tucay and his family to safety. After dropping them off at Jaen, Paez took the road back to a retirement house for priests in Baloc village in Sto. Domingo town.
Paez had served the Diocese of San Jose for 32 years and was the coordinator of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Central Luzon.
Bishop Santos said Paez looked after those on the fringes of society, those who were most often denied justice and those oppressed by inequality.
“[Paez] retired from active ministry but not from his mission and he continued to serve those who sought his help,” Santos said.
He said Paez’s death was now at the top of the list of unsolved killings in recent months. —Reports from Anselmo Roque, Armand Galang, Julie Aurelio
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