By Robin Gomes
Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led thousands of faithful in prayers for peace amid growing tension between the United States and Iran, following the assassination of a top Iranian general in Iraq last week.
Speaking at the solemn predawn Mass on the occasion of the carrying of the statue of the Black Nazarene at Rizal Park, the Archbishop of Manila hoped that the brewing conflict “may not lead to war”.
Tensions escalated after a U.S. drone airstrike in Baghdad on Jan 3 killed Qassem Soleimani, Tehran's most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.
Calling on the faithful to pray intensely so that “an escalation of revenge will not occur between the US and Iran”, the cardinal also urged for prayers for the Filipinos who could be caught up in the middle of a brewing conflict in the Gulf region.
Speaking in his homily, he said, “Let us pray for the safety of our fellowmen in the Middle East, to dispel the desire to destroy one’s neighbour, to dispel the desire to take vengeance." He also urged prayers for the anxious families at home in the Philippines.
The cardinal led the crowd into a moment of silence for peace in the Middle East.
The Philippine government has ordered the evacuation of more than 1,500 Filipino workers in Iraq amid the escalating Middle East tensions.
According to the Ministry of Labor records, over 2,000 Filipinos work in Iraq, some of them in US facilities, while over 1,000 reside in Iran, among them Filipino women married to Iranians.
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel, Cardinal Tagle then asked the devotees to imitate Jesus in His mission of love. “Jesus’ mission of love is also our mission,” he said, adding, “We should not let ourselves be the cause of danger and harm of our fellows.”
“A real devotee of Jesus is the way of life and salvation. The success of love should start within us,” the cardinal added.
The feast of the Black Nazarene, which attracts millions of people, celebrates the "traslacion" , or the "solemn transfer" of the image of a black Jesus of Nazareth carrying His cross, from a chapel at Quirino Grandstand to the minor basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo district in Manila.
Thursday’s Mass of the Black Nazarene was Cardinal Tagle’s last as Manila archbishop, a post he held for eight years.
He will shortly be moving to the Vatican to take up his job as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees the Catholic Church's vast missions across the globe.