Saintly ‘saling pusa’
“Saling pusa,” meaning an accidental participant, was how San Lorenzo Ruiz was once described. The first Filipino Catholic saint was martyred in Japan while accompanying a group of Spanish Dominicans, although there has been speculation that the sacristan or parish assistant at the Binondo Church was fleeing the country after being accused of killing a romantic rival. But “saling pusa” might well also be a “title” attached to San Pedro Calungsod, our latest saint, whom Church authorities want to proclaim as the patron saint of the youth and overseas workers. Records place his age at 14 when he accompanied a group of Jesuit missionaries to Guam (once known as the Ladrones Islands or Island of Thieves, but renamed the Marianas), there to preach and baptize the native Chamorros.
It was while accompanying a Jesuit priest, Diego Luis de San Vitores, that Calungsod met up with a Chamorro chieftain who was furious that the missionary had baptized the chieftain’s newly born daughter. (Rumors had been spread that the water used in baptisms was “poisonous.”) An account says Calungsod could very well have fled the rampaging Chamorros but he chose to stay put and defend San Vitores.
Calungsod was hit in the chest by a spear; he fell to the ground and was finished off with a machete blow to the head. It is said that San Vitores gave absolution to Calungsod before he, too, was killed by the Chamorros. The corpses of Calungsod and San Vitores were then stripped, tied with large and heavy stones, brought to the open sea, and hurled into the deep.
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Martyrdom is one of the fastest and “easiest” routes to sainthood. Yet that is also the reason we have only, so far, two Filipinos elevated to sainthood.
So peaceful was the Filipinos’ conversion to Christianity that they did not have to die defending their new Christian faith. Although, if historical records are to be believed, hundreds of natives, among them babaylanes or shamans, were massacred because they had been deemed threats to the Christianization of the populace. (Unfortunately, there are no “saints” in folklore.)
Ruiz and Calungsod were martyred in foreign lands, joining missionaries seeking to expand Christianity’s reach to Japan and to Guam. There are, to be sure, other Filipino candidates for sainthood, one of them being Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, who founded the first indigenous religious order for women, the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVMs, who run St. Mary’s College). Mother Ignacia was proclaimed “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, which is, if I’m not mistaken, a step before being named “Blessed.”
A martyr need only to be proven as having died for his or her faith to be proclaimed a saint. Other candidates, like Mother Ignacia, not only have to be proven to have lived “exemplary” lives but also need three miracles or miraculous cures attributed (with scientific proof) to their intercession.
One thing we can say about Mother Ignacia and her ilk, though, is that they were no “saling pusa.” In reimagining Mother Ignacia’s brave decision to found her own congregation of women, Nick Joaquin portrayed her as defying local religious authorities, who wanted to confine her and her companions to the status of “beata” or religious women with no canonical recognition of a religious order. But when this recognition was granted in 1732, Mother Ignacia chose to step down as Mother Superior and lived the life of an ordinary nun until her death in 1748.
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There’s a story, says Lisa Macuja, about an aging Russian danseur who was asked if he could dance until his 50s. “Yes,” he replied. His 60s? “Yes,” he replied. His 70s? “Yes,” he said, smiling, and added: “But pity the poor audience.”
There’s a variation to this, but it involves a dancer neglecting to attend dance practice: “Miss it one day, and your body can tell the difference; miss it two days, and your fellow dancers can tell the difference; miss it for a week, and the audience can tell the difference.”
Giving less than your best, or failing to live up to the demands of the dance is a mortal sin among dancers, it seems. To Lisa Macuja, who is in the midst of her “Swan Song” series as she gives farewell performances of the best-known and most difficult roles in classical ballet, it’s all about “not cheating the audience.”
So even if she could, if she wanted to, alter the demands of the choreography to make it still possible for her to dance, Lisa says she would rather “retire” the roles now, while she can still do them justice.
She dances “Giselle” tonight, and “Carmen” on October 26 and 27 at the Aliw Theater to round off her “Swan Song” series for this year. Just concluded are her performances of “Don Quixote,” “Kitri” being her favorite role, and a favorite as well among her followers who love her uninhibited, pixie-ish interpretation.
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One thing audiences don’t see or appreciate is how physically risky a dancer’s life can be. I once saw Lisa dropped by her partner during a particularly difficult lift while doing “Don Q.” I remember marveling at how she was still able to continue dancing after that.
As it happens, says Lisa, there was only one time when she couldn’t go back onstage after an injury. “I had twisted my ankle and couldn’t even stand up,” she says, recalling how the other company members simply improvised steps then and there.
She is even luckier than other dancers, she says, some of whom suffered “career-ending” injuries that took them out of dance — or at least the particularly rigorous demands of ballet. Which is why Lisa commands not just gratitude for her decades of dance, but also respect for knowing when it’s time for her to walk away.