Another Filipino saint
Today is the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Filipino Catholics may well connect the celebration with the excitement over the impending canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod. A Visayan catechist of the 17th century who was killed by the Chamorros of the Marianas (today’s Guam), Pedro is set to be raised to the altar for wider veneration only a little more than a decade after his beatification in 2001. He follows more or less the path of the Filipino protomartyr, San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, who was beatified in 1981 and canonized in 1987, in one of the swiftest canonizations in history.
There’s really nothing fundamentally different between beatification and canonization. Both essentially attest that a Christian had died in principal virtue and is enjoying beatitude in heaven. But while beatification proposes a beato be venerated for a limited cult, a canonization offers him for wider, more universal veneration.
The Catholic Church makes a distinction between beatification and canonization for its own pastoral, apostolic mission: it holds up certain individuals who have passed away as embodiments of the Gospel message of sacrifice and charity. They are presented to the Christian community as worthy of veneration and prayers, so that they can intercede and help in the Christians’ own struggles to live according to the faith. Beatification and canonization are instruments to bolster the communion of the Church.
Like Stephen, Lorenzo and Pedro are martyrs; their deaths attest to their virtue. The general lot of Christians doesn’t get to enjoy the opportunity to die a martyr’s death; perhaps they don’t pray for it lest they buckle under pressure and become disheartened and apostatize. Even Lorenzo at first denied the faith before his persecutors in Japan in the 17th century, but he quickly amended and chose to suffer and die instead, uttering the immortal lines, “I will die a thousand deaths for Christ.”
Pedro didn’t get to make a similar remark, perhaps a dampener for hagiographers who are always on the lookout for famous last words. But the circumstances of his death didn’t provide him with much room for literary effusion. He was hacked to death when he defended Diego Luis de San Vitores, the Jesuit apostle of the Marianas, who was also killed by the Chamorros. That he readily offered his body as a shield for the priest should indicate Pedro’s purity of resolve, so characteristic of young people. In fact when they were martyred, Stephen and Pedro were young men in the cusp of their youth.
Cebu, Bohol and Iloilo claim Pedro as their own, but that’s a minor detail when one considers that with his canonization, there will be more proper appreciation for the contributions of the Visayas to the Philippine Church. After all, Cebu is the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines, and the Christian message was first received in the Visayas. Since then the Visayas and the rest of the Philippines have largely remained a fortress of Christianity.
Because the evangelization of the Philippines went without major religious persecution like what attended the Christianization of Asia Minor, Europe and elsewhere, the missionary success in the Philippines has been called a miracle. But the blood of the martyrs was apparently invested elsewhere, as the deaths of Lorenzo and Pedro tend to show.
It is almost certain that Pedro will follow the path of San Lorenzo: after canonization, he will be held up for wider veneration and become another saint of Filipino overseas migrant workers. The Philippine diaspora may have provided mixed blessings for the family: It has resulted in parental absenteeism, material debasement of family values, and adolescent social maladjustment, but it is also true that OFW families have remained by and large stable, albeit struggling, and the benefits of the diaspora for global Christian evangelization have been immense. The moribund churches of Europe have fought off dormancy by being filled up by Filipinos. The archbishop of Oslo at one time named as one of the rectors of his cathedral a Filipino priest taking up studies in Norway, grateful that many of the devoted church workers in his archdiocese were Filipinos. In the Middle East, some Islamic kingdoms have allowed the construction of Catholic churches in recognition of the contributions of Filipino contract labor. In all of the places where Filipino labor is present, Filipinos bring with them their cultural heritage and their vibrant Catholicism.
The blood of Lorenzo and Pedro—the seed of the martyrs—has borne much fruit.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.