San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said his heart was filled with gratitude when he saw a sea of white as he celebrated Mass at the San Carlos Borromeo Cathedral last Christmas Eve and yesterday, Christmas day.
In response to his call that parishioners wear white during Masses on December 24 and 25 to demand for an end to extrajudicial killings in Negros Island, thousands of parishioners throughout the Diocese turned church pews to white, the fourth straight year they did so.
“I feel until now so much gratitude in my heart! For so many reasons, [including] that our people are still very much with us,” Alminaza told Kodao.
“We are very much in touch with our people and we truly express their deepest sentiments when we called on them to wear white as an act of solidarity and to express our desire for and commitment to peace, sanctity of life, human dignity and human rights, and our collective call to end the killings, COVID pandemic and abuse of our common home,” the prelate added.
Towards the end of his homily at the funeral Mass for slain red-tagged community doctor Mary Rose Sancelan and husband Edwin last December 22, Alminaza again called on his Church’s faithful to collectively act for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the island.
The Sancelans were shot to death by unidentified assassins at past five o’clock in the afternoon of December 15 near their home in Carmen Ville Subdivision, Barangay Poblacion, Guihulngan City.
Their assassination was the latest in a long list of extrajudicial killings in the island that included massacres of peasants and assassination of lawyers, activists, progressive politicians, dubious midnight raids that resulted in massacres in the past three years.
The Philippine National Police-Central Visayas’ counter-insurgency program Oplan Sauron has also resulted in mass arrests of workers, journalists and human rights defenders.
Sancelan, Guihulgan City health officer and Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) chief, was previously included in the hit list of the anti-communist vigilante group Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista (Kagubak) in 2019.
Kagubak mistakenly named her as JB Regalado, Central Negros New People’s Army spokesperson.
Sancelan was among the five in the Kagubak hit list who have since been killed, including lawyer Anthony Trinidad, Heidi Malalay Flores, and Boy Litong and his son.
But Alminaza expressed gratitude that the faithful of his Diocese “have not lost yet [their] right values and priorities : sanctity of life, human dignity and human rights, integrity of creation, solidarity. “
The prelate said the Diocese’s display of solidarity proved that it is “a listening Church.”
“I also feel affirmed, very happy, inspired and encouraged. It shows the collective efforts of everyone: our priests, religious, and lay faithful,” he said.
Alminaza said he witnessed how the members of the diocese reminded each other through text and personal message before they left their homes to wear white in accordance with his request.
“I witnessed how we all feel so empowered that we are all in this together! Our message is CLEAR: #WearWhiteForPEACE #StopTheKillingsPH #DefendLifeAndRights #SilenceKills #Justiceforallvictims #CareForThePoor #CareForOurCommonHome,” he said.
Alminaza however revealed that while his brother priests were mostly happy to see a sea of white during the Masses, one told him he felt angry because of the continuing incidence of extrajudicial killings in Negros and throughout the country.
But the Bishop said that the priests of his diocese mostly felt happy with the response of the faithful.
“I feel further affirmed when another (priest) also shared, ‘Personally, I felt joy because I saw the lay faithful listening and participating and cooperating in our various advocacy and diocesan pastoral concerns, particularly our collective call to end the killings, commitment to peace, sanctity of life, and others,’” he said.
Another priest told him the people’s response has become a powerful symbol of the diocese’s collective awareness about the social realities the Church is faced with, the Bishop said.
The priest added he felt challenged not to get discouraged or remain in the sidelines because the people look up to [the Church] for guidance especially at this time.
Bell ringing to continue
Alminaza told Kodao that the nightly 8 PM ringing of church bells throughout the Diocese will continue this Christmas [season], “and beyond until the killings stop.”
“The bells are intended to prick the conscience of those who move in our midst and exact evil in killing hapless civilians; they must turn from their wicked ways,” he said.
“The bells ring as a soothing reminder to families who have been victimized that we are with them in their grief. Most importantly, they are a clarion call to our people that we must rise and pursue justice and peace!” Alminaza added.
The Bishop said he is asking the vigilante group Kagubak to stop terrorizing the people in Guihulngan with a list of those to be killed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)