God will provide strength through persecution, new Filipino bishop says

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A new bishop in the Philippines has called for Catholics to show courage in the face of violence and persecution.

Speaking at his own consecration, Bishop Fidelis Layog addressed the difficult circumstances facing the Church in the country, but called them an opportunity to witness to the strength of God and his Church.

Pope Francis appointed Layog to serve as auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan last month. He was consecrated on April 8, at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Dagupan City.

"This is the time for us to show how strong we are in faith and how strong the foundation of our Church is," the new bishop said, according to the Manilla Bulletin.

"Let us not fear knowing that we are never alone. God is with us. God will prevail."

Thousands of people attended the liturgy, led by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who leads the archdiocese where Layog will serve as auxiliary bishop and chair the Commission on Bible Apostolate.

According to social media posts from St. John Evangelist Cathedral, Villegas said the event was a witness to hope and faith at a time "when bishops are bashed, threatened, and cursed."

"Who would want to be a bishop these days?" the archbishop asked the assembly.

"Yet, [Layog] is called by God, set aside to be a bishop by the successor of Peter himself, and today we make an act of faith that the powers of hell cannot prevail against the Church."  

Layog's consecration comes amid a series of violent threats, attacks, and killings of clergy in the Philippines. The willingness of some priests and bishops to speak out against  human rights abuses in the country has set them at odds with both organized crime and President Rodrigo Duterte, whose controversial policies in the war on drugs have been accused of leading to thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Three priests were shot and killed by gunmen in 2018. Father Mark Ventura, Father Marcelito Paez, and Father Richmond Nilo were killed at different times throughout the year.

In the last few months, Archbishop Villegas and Bishop Pablo David of Kalookan have both received death threats. Authorities have offered both bishops protection, which they have so far declined.

"Being threatened and attacked has always been the experience of the Catholic Church from the very beginning. The Church has faced persecution in the past and even up to this time," said Layog.

Persecution of the kind facing the Church in the Philippines has tested and will continue to test the foundations of the Church, the new bishop said, while calling it an opportunity that must be embraced, and which leads to a greater relationship with God.

"We must accept and face these challenges because it builds a stronger Church and a deeper faith," he said.

"It leads us to a deeper relationship with God, a deeper prayer life where we find ourselves praying more and asking for God's help in the face of many social ills and challenges."

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