“A thousand roads lead to Rome.” This ancient adage resounds Oct. 23 when thousands of people flood into Piazza di San Pietro. There, Benedict XVI will canonize an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) as the second Filipino saint. St. Pedro Calungsod of the Visayas joins St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Binondo who was martyred in Japan.
Canonization is a rite where the Pope declares a person a saint. Among six others to be honored with Calungsod is the first native American Kateri Tekakwitha who was born of a Mohawk father and an Algonquin mother. There is also a German laundry maid, Anna Schaffer.
Calungsod was a “joven bisayo” by 17th-century documents. Did he come from Tigbauan in Iloilo or Ginatilan in Cebu? Does it matter?
The inquiry established that he and other lay catechists sailed from Mactan Island with Jesuit missionaries to Guam. There, he worked alongside Fr. Diego de San Vitores. In April 1672, both were attacked by Chamorros agitated by false charges. The 17-year-old Calungsod, who could have escaped, defended the half-blind San Vitores, historian John Schumacher, SJ, writes in “Philippine Studies.” He took spear thrusts and catana (machete) blows. Their bodies were dumped into the sea.
“Until the Guam archbishop told me you have a candidate for sainthood, I did not know Calungsod,” retired Cardinal Ricardo Vidal recalls. Fr. Juan Ledesma, SJ, wrote the first book for the beatification process. In 1985, Father San Vitores was beatified.
The canonization of two Filipino OFWs comes when the Philippines is one of the world’s largest providers of overseas workers. Over 3,000 depart daily. Most are young.
Overseas contractual workers make up 41 percent of this outflow, the World Bank estimates. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attract most of them. Immigrants total 29 percent. There are 3.4 million in the United States, concentrated in the West Coast. Women OFWs outnumber men. Household service workers dwarf the number of professionals. Their “padala” or home remittances bolted from $7.5 billion in 2003 to $18.7 billion in 2010.
San Lorenzo and San Pedro are relevant to OFWs whose high numbers will likely persist into the 2030s. Happenstance? “Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing it,” the Galilean said.
“Honor your visa,” Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma counseled 900 pilgrims flying to Rome. “Do not overstay.” On Palma’s mind were the “TNTs.” Dubbed as the tago nang tago, the “illegals” or “undocumented” Filipino workers could top 660,000 worldwide.
Two Filipino women, meanwhile, wait in the canonization pipeline. One is Isabel Larrañaga Ramirez who founded the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart in early 17th century. John Paul II named her “venerable” in 1999. The other is a “Chinay”: Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, who set up the Religious of Virgin Mary congregation in 1684. Benedict XVI named her “venerable” in 2007.
The Vatican has given the nihil obstat or green light to begin the study for possible beatification of Alfredo Ma. Obviar, first bishop of Lucena, on March 6, 2001. An Ateneo de Manila graduate, Obviar was assigned, in 1919, to Malvar town. “The joke then was only a new town needed a new priest.”
But Obviar handled ordinary duties, specially the catechizing of children with exemplary fidelity. “He was a very strict priest, a dreaded priest at times, but always a greatly respected priest,” colleagues recall. He died in 1978, at the age of 89.
In Cebu, a 4-member commission, overseen by retired Bishop Antonio Rañola, will wrap up early next year its preliminary examination into the late Bishop Teofilo Camomot’s life.
“Msgr. Lolong” would hock even his bishop’s cross to help the poor. But did he bilocate, as did Capuchin monk Saint Pio of Pietrelcina?
On Sept. 27, 1985, Camomot attended in Cebu City a clergy meeting presided by Cardinal Vidal. On his return to Carcar 40 kilometers away, a woman came up to thank Camomot for administering the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. “After your visit today, Tatay (Father) was able to get up.”
“How could you have gone (to Bolinawan)?” puzzled Camomot’s secretary who was with him. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. both were in Cebu. “Just keep that to yourself,” the bishop replied.
Camomot died in a 1988 car accident. Daughters of St. Teresa nuns jettisoned the prepared urn when Camomot’s body was found intact on exhumation 21 years later. Camomot’s new coffin and grave were sealed after Cardinal Vidal examined and certified its contents.
Canonization comes to a country of OFWs. But it is “no longer a nation of believers.” Only 21 percent of urban students believe in life after the grave, an earlier survey by McCann Erickson and Philippine Jesuits found. Majority or 88 percent believe in a Supreme Being. But only 15 percent were instructed in their faith by parents. “The phenomenon of bursting churches is actually misleading,” notes Windhover magazine. “Their doctrinal foundation and catechetical instruction seem to be faltering.”
If the rate the Church is losing members persists, the Philippines would no longer be a Catholic country in 40 years, theologian Catalino Arevalo told a recent University of Sto. Tomas symposium on Pedro Calungsod and lay spirituality. Only 6 percent of young Filipinos today have received “significant religious instruction,” a study on youth evangelization, commissioned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines found. “They are not turning away,” Father Arevalo said. “They are simply not being reached.”
Isn’t the canonization of Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod precisely about their reaching others with their faith?