At least a thousand people joined the funeral march for Father Marcelito Paez, a 72-year-old Catholic priest murdered on Dec. 4 on the main Philippine island of Luzon.
The activist priest was ambushed four hours after facilitating the release of a political prisoner.
More than 100 priests conducted the mass with two Filipino bishops – San Jose Bishop Roberto Mallari and Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud – presiding at the Eucharistic celebration.
Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, the Papal Nuncio, attended the mass at the Saint Joseph Cathedral in San Jose, in the province of Nueva Ecija. He did not give any message and priests billed his presence as “a silent form of solidarity and prayer.”
Tears flowed as mourners lined up to pay their last respects to Fr Paez, a retired priest who was a national board member and Central Luzon coordinator for the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
He was buried in the Sto. Niño Cemetery in San Jose.
Fr Paez’s casket was placed on the floor to symbo-lize his life as a temporary gift from God.
Peers of the priest said it also symbolized Fr Paez’s humility and decades of ser-vice to the poorest Filipinos.
The bishops wore red and violet stoles to proclaim the priest’s “martyrdom.”
Bishop Mallari said that Father Paez’s, when gravely wounded, told one of his assailants, “I am a priest,” prompting a retreat by the man preparing to give him the final shot.
“Father Paez, like a shepherd, vowed to die first before harm reached his flock,” the bishop said.
He did not retreat from danger.
Fr Paez’s death, the bishop said, should prompt clergy and laity to question the meaning of his sacrifice in terms of both personal change and change within the church.