At Large

Saint for youth, OFWs

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It’s only fitting that the life and martyrdom of San Pedro Calungsod, who was canonized at the Vatican last Sunday, should be popularized in a “rap” number by performers clad in casual jeans and tees, wearing dark shades and “gangsta” bling-bling.

Some conservative members of the Catholic Church may have frowned on the performers’ get-ups, not to mention their attempt at popularizing the nation’s newest saint through a medium that’s been known to promote gang culture and demeaning images of women. But if the goal was to reach young people and, more important, get them to pay attention, then rap was indeed the ideal medium.

They were, after all, talking about a teenage saint, one who left family and all that was familiar to go on an adventure, travelling by ship to an alien land, there to teach catechism and assist Spanish Jesuits in converting the natives to Christianity.

Young people today would certainly identify with Calungsod’s sense of adventure and daring, his willingness to abandon what’s now known as his “comfort zone” to explore life outside the country. Just like thousands of today’s young Filipinos who—with the world of employment at their fingertips, thanks to the Internet—have no qualms about seeking work abroad, wherever that may be, in a search for better wages, fulfilling jobs and the challenge to prove themselves “world class.”

Maybe that’s why some folk have proposed that San Pedro be promoted not just as the “Patron Saint of the Youth,” but also as the “Patron Saint of OFWs,” or overseas Filipino workers, the politically correct and inclusive term promoted by former President Fidel V. Ramos.

No one knows precisely what drove San Pedro to join his Jesuit mentors on their mission. Was his decision to confront the angry Chamorro chieftain and shield a Spanish missionary borne out of heroism and faith, or just the instinct of a young person protecting an older, respected figure? The only thing we know for sure is that his death lent an extraordinary dimension to his adventure, elevating it to one wrapped in legend and sanctity.

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Also truly apt was the presence of many migrant Filipinos at the rites marking San Pedro Calungsod’s canonization. They are indeed real heirs to the Filipino wayfarer tradition of which the new saint is a vital part. Our migrant history began, so we are told by historians, even before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors on our shores, with groups of Filipinos reaching as far as South America in their great boats known as “balanghai.”

For decades now, Filipino migrants have also acted as modern-day missionaries, reviving Catholic traditions even in Europe, where the great cathedrals and churches used to stand empty, serving mainly as tourist attractions. That is, until the arrival of Filipinos in great numbers, providing parishes not just with their numbers but also with their spirit of community and camaraderie, building up communities of believers.

In Europe and the United States, I am told, parishes have begun holding “Misa de Gallo” or dawn Masses during the Christmas season at the behest of their Filipino parishioners. This brings a tradition, begun by Spanish missionaries to accommodate early-rising Filipino farmers, full circle back to the “Old World,” re-evangelizing among waning Catholic populations.

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It has also been said that Filipino nannies and domestics, particularly in the Middle East, have been doing their own share to “evangelize” a new generation among the Muslim population.

Some nannies have been known to teach their Muslim wards to say the Rosary or even learn Catholic prayers. While others are content to simply teach, by their presence and example, what the Church describes as “witnessing” to the faith, not needing to preach or proselytize but setting an example of Christian life by doing, being and accepting.

So we can see that the work of evangelization continues even long after the age of colonization, with Filipinos called to be missionaries even if their motive for moving abroad has been economic, and while working as domestics, nurses, doctors, construction workers, teachers or executives.

Not all of them will have rap songs prepared in their honor, or have documentation of their good deeds, or perhaps miraculous accomplishments. Perhaps in this age of cyber-communications and social media, there’s no longer any need for saints or martyrs. But we are all called to sanctity, whatever form that may take, and thinking about the sainthood of a young catechist who chose to hitch his fortune with that of his Jesuit mentors could give us an idea of what makes a saint, and what sainthood means in the here and now.

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San Pedro Calungsod was one of seven saints proclaimed at Sunday’s rites in the Vatican. One of San Pedro’s more remarkable companions in sainthood was Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint who lived in an area that straddles northern United States and Canada.

Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” St. Kateri was about the age of San Pedro Calungsod, dying at the age of 24 after fleeing her settlement due to the hostility of her Mohawk tribal folk to her Catholic faith and her work with missionaries.

“This is validation for the Mohawk people and native people in general that one of ours is now counted among the saints,” Joe Delaronde, an organizer of events surrounding the sainthood of St. Kateri, was quoted by the Winnipeg Free Press. “For us, she’s always been kind of a patron saint anyway,” he added. “When you had trouble, you were always encouraged to pray to Kateri and that is something that has gone on throughout my entire life.”

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