(Attendees to the Mass offered during the first death anniversary of slain retired priest
Fr. Marcelito Paez of the Diocese of San Jose express their wish for the continuation
of the peace talks between the government and those who were tagged as enemies
of the state. Contributed Photo)
SAN JOSE CITY – An outpouring of love and respect for slain priest Fr. Marcelito Paez was observed as an “unprecedented event” during a Mass and a program held at the cathedral here last Monday.
“I had not seen one like it in my 50 years of ministry,” said Fr. Apollo de Guzman, a retired priest and a close friend of Fr. Paez. “About 15 bishops and many ministers from different religious sects came and attended our concelebrated Mass.”
In an emotional tone, De Guzman said, that when that part of the Mass in “where we were asked to greet one another, we went down from the altar and hugged them. It was like hugging the body of our slain comrade.”
Bishop Roberto Mallari of the Diocese of San Jose City officiated the Mass as the principal celebrant and was assisted by 34 active and retired priests of the diocese. Representatives from various groups, that included the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, groups of Catholic faithful from the different parishes of San Jose City, volunteers for the Justice for Fr. Tito Movement, and the relatives of Fr. Paez also attended the morning Mass.
The bishop also stepped down from the altar and hugged the bishops of the other religious sects, De Guzman said.
“Many of them spoke in the program after the Mass and recalled how in his lifetime Fr.Tito as a priest spent time taking the cudgels and showing concern for the welfare of the poor and the oppressed,” De Guzman said.
They voiced their cry for “Justice for Fr. Tito” and lamented that up to now no new leads or developments for the solution of the case were reported by the task force formed by the police to investigate the case, he said.
The Mass and program were held a day before the actual death anniversary of Fr. Paez to give way to the private commemoration by surviving siblings and close relatives of the priest.
Fr. Paez, 72, was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen as he was driving through Sitio Sangalang at Barangay Lambakin in Jaen town December 4 last year. He was then on his way home to the “Bahay-Pari” retirement house in Baloc, Sto. Domingo after he helped secure the release of political prisoner Rommel Tucay in Cabanatuan City.
Tucay was an organizer of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon in Nueva Ecija and was arrested by soldiers in March last year, according to the rights group Karapatan.
Bishop Mallari said Paez managed to stop his vehicle after he was shot at by the motorcycle- riding gunman from behind and told the gunmen, “I’m a priest, I’m a priest.” The gunmen sped off and Paez pulled to the roadside where he was picked up by some residents of the place and was brought to a hospital in a nearby town.
He suffered two gunshot wounds and died as he was being prepared for his surgical operation.
In a statement, Bishop Mallari called Fr. Paez a “comrade for others,” as he was the head of social action commission and the justice and peace office of the diocese and a coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
He also echoed the call for the solution of the killing of the priest.
De Guzman said that the way the bishops and ministers of other denominations and other social action movements displayed during his death anniversary meant that the he was loved by various sectors because of his concerns for the poor while still living. He said Fr. Paez never hesitated in joining the ecumenical movement and reached out those for other religious sects in quest for a lasting social justice and an end for the oppression of the poor in the country.
Earlier in the day, the bishops and ministers from other religious sects also went to the tomb of the slain priest at the public cemetery here to off er their prayers.