Imagine Juan, a local municipal official in the Philippines as he sat in the church alone. He was waiting for the priest and when Father Pepito came into the sanctuary, he noticed Juan looking distressed and he went to him and he asked in Tagalog, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, Father, I want to confess but I am ashamed of what I have done, not even God can forgive me,” he answered speaking in Tagalog.
“You don’t know the mercy of a loving, caring Jesus. If you are truly repentant and willing to make amends for what you have done, forgiveness is possible.”
“Father, forgive me, my conscience will not let me sleep at night, I am deeply troubled by what I have done.”
“What is it you have done?”
Then he opened up and his story, poured out seeking relief and expiation of past deeds.
“Father, I joined a police squad. I became a vigilante, we wore hood and we just selected anyone in the neighborhood. It was a young suspect, a teenager, tagged as a suspect but we had no evidence on him doing anything illegal and the group said we will get him.”
He fell silent his head sunk into his hands and he wept.
“What happened, what did it mean to “get him?” Father Pepito asked him fearing the worst. Wiping his eyes and in a low whisper Juan confessed, “We killed him, at night, we took him out of his house and shot him, we made it make look like he fired a gun at us, but he didn’t and then we wrapped him in a plastic bag and taped him and put a sign, “Drug addict ito.” It was to be a warning to others.”
Father Pepito was shocked hearing this story. He prayed to God to give him the moral strength to hear it out and to know the right thing to do. He was silent for a while and then asked Juan.
“Why did you and the others do it?”
“For money, we were offered a payment, a bounty for every one killed and we were told we could save the nation.”
“Was that all?” Father Pepito asked.
“No,” Juan answered. “That was just the beginning, there were many others,” he said and he sobbed again.
Father Pepito was listening to a contract killer, a serial assassin and he had to think if this was a real confession, a real change of heart and mind, a turning to God or just a man with a troubled conscience seeking psychological relief and counseling.
“Juan, if this is to be a true confession,” he replied after a while, “you will turn to God and follow his way and change your life. You have to believe and live out the Gospel and repent, do penance and make restitution first, then you will be truly forgiven ”.
“What is the penance and restitution?” Juan asked looking up at Father Pepito.
“You have to turn yourself into the custody of a trusted authority under the protection of the Bishop and testify in the Senate about the death squad. That will be a true confession and your penance and restitution to the victims of the death squad. Then you will truly be forgiven. True faith must be seen in action for good.”
There is a good change coming in some Filipino communities where the conscience of the people is emerging from a dark night of unknowing. They are realizing that they have been led astray and mesmerized by the shrill rhetoric of the voices of violence. They were convinced that killing suspects was the best way to bring peace and create a drug-free society. Many Filipinos these days are slowly awaking to the truth that the extrajudicial killing (EJK) of the poor is really murders and that to remain silent before evil is to give support to the evil. One report says that forces unknown have killed 12,000 already. No one has been held responsible. But the day of reckoning is approaching.
The people are now listening to the voices proclaiming the truth and protesting the killings such as outspoken Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan City. He calls on the killers to repent and they need to be prayed for as they are the “living dead.” If he will continue with his proclamation of the Gospel message that every person has the right to life of dignity, he too might be charged as a drug lord to silence his voice.
That is what conscience is: an inner knowledge of what is true and false, good and evil, right and wrong. Conscience can be manipulated and weakened and can be corrupted to believe that what is evil is good. This is achieved by fake media hype, the example of leaders making false promises and lies repeated many times over and hyperbole. Proclaiming the Gospel with a prophetic voice is to bring people to accept and live by the truth.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA: a nonprofit dedicated to protecting children.