“We just lost a young priest, zealous and dedicated, one who smelled like his sheep, to an assassin’s bullet,” Mgr Sergio Utleg said. “What hurts us most is that he was killed while still in his soutane,” said Fr Adalbert Barut. “It was like the message was that he was killed because he was a priest”. Local missionary fears for the security of priests and all men and women religious working for the rights of tribal minorities and workers.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The Archdiocese of Tuguegarao (Cagayan province) has appealed to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for a swift probe into the murder of Fr Mark Anthony Ventura (pictured).
The 37-year-old parish priest from the outskirts of Gattaran, a town in northern of Luzon Island, was gunned down as he concluded Mass in Peña Weste gymnasium on Sunday.
In a statement, Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg said that the special PNP task force set up should act swiftly solve Fr Ventura’s case.
Preliminary information from police indicates that the clergyman was blessing the children and talking to the members of the choir, when at 8.15 am, a still unidentified man, wearing a motorcycle helmet, got in through the back of the gym and shot him twice.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said the suspect ran towards the highway and rode on a motorcycle driven by another unidentified companion and fled towards Baggao.
“We make our appeal to the authorities, especially to the PNP Task Force, to act swiftly in going after the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice,” Archbishop Utleg said.
“There have been too many murders already, done with impunity in our country by assassins riding in tandem. May this be the last,” he stressed.
The prelate said prayers would be offered for all priests and men and women religious “for their perseverance in their vocation, their good health and their personal safety.”
“We just lost a young priest, zealous and dedicated, one who smelled like his sheep, to an assassin’s bullet right after he said Mass and was baptising children,” Utleg noted. “Let us offer our prayers for him, for his bereaved family, and the lay faithful of our beloved Archdiocese”.
In a statement released yesterday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) noted that Fr Mark was known for his actions against the activities of mining companies and for helping indigenous peoples of the province. The area around Gattaran is known for its copper and gold mines.
Fr Adalbert Barut, parish priest in Tuguegarao, said that every clergyman in Cagayan is in shock. “What hurts us most is that he was killed while still in his soutane. [The killers] did not even wait until he [took] it off. It was like the message was that he was killed because he was a priest,” Barut said.
Ventura is the second priest to be killed in Luzon in the last five months. In December of last year, retired priest Marcelito Paez, 72, was shot dead by unknown assailants in the city of Jaen, Nueva Ecija province. The case remained unsolved.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, a local missionary expressed fear about the security of priests and all men and women religious working for the rights of tribal minorities and workers.
"These killings, coupled with cases like the expulsion of Sister Patricia Fox, are fuelling fear,” he explained. “We are under pressure. It seems to be back in the days of President Marcos's dictatorship.
"Recently, we have held meetings with officials and civil authorities,” he noted. But “Throughout the country, especially in the south, tensions are also fuelled by the presence of rebel groups.
"In some cases, arrest warrants have been issued against tribal people working closely with the Church for alleged links to insurgents. This climate makes missionary work difficult, and the bishops do not intend to raise tension level with strong statements."