THE COMING elevation of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle to the rank of a cardinal has been making news not just here but overseas, complete with talk of his becoming another “papabile” or possible Pope. He impressed many fellow bishops as well as other religious and lay observers during the just concluded Synod of Bishops when he called for a “humbler, simpler Church.”
Although the Philippines has the third largest Catholic population in the world, after Brazil and Mexico, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle is only the seventh Filipino to become a cardinal. There’s politics along the long road to Rome and the papacy, but I want to write today about another aspect of that long journey, this time toward canonization.
When it comes to Filipinos canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, we’ve only had two, their official Latin names being Sancto Laurentius Ruiz de Manila and Sancto Petrus Calungsod de Visayas, both martyrs.
I looked up information on saints and other candidates for canonization according to their nationalities, and started with Wikipedia which, as I constantly warn my students, should only be used as an initial lead for more research, including going into non-English sites, for details. Here’s what I found:
It seems the countries with the largest number of saints and cardinals are those in the West—countries with Catholic majorities, Italy being foremost. But there is a twist to the saints: we also find large numbers of saints from countries where Catholics were persecuted minorities. China had 120 saints canonized at one time by John Paul II in the year 2000, all of them martyrs killed in the 19th century during the Boxer Rebellion.
Japan has had more than 400 martyrs canonized, again in large batches depending on when they were martyred. Not all these martyrs were Japanese, our own San Lorenzo Ruiz being canonized together with 15 other Catholic martyrs executed in 1637 by Japanese officials.
Road to Rome
The road to canonization is a long one, from being declared “Servants of God,” then being elevated to “Venerable,” then to “Blessed” and finally to “Saint.” The prospects of more Filipinos being canonized seem dim, at least in the near future, with no one currently in the category of “Blessed.”
Two are listed “Venerable” in a Wikipedia entry on Filipino saints. One is Ignacia del Espiritu Santo (1663-1748), more popularly known simply as Mother Ignacia. She established the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM), a congregation that remains active today running numerous schools throughout the Philippines.
The other is Isabel Larranaga Ramirez (1836-1899), who founded the Hermanas de la Caridad del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). There was practically no information about Ramirez in English Internet sites, and only a bit more in Spanish websites. Ramirez was born in Manila to a Spanish father and Peruvian mother. Her father died when she was only two and her mother moved to Spain and later back to Peru, where Ramirez spent most of her childhood. She died in Havana, Cuba, and the order she founded is not even present in the Philippines.
There is a filipinosaints.multiply.com site which names another “Venerable” with Filipino links: Jeronima de la Asuncion (1555-1630). She founded the famous monastery of Santa Clara, the first Catholic institution of its kind in the Philippines. Mother Jeronima was actually a Spaniard and belonged to the order of St. Clare, also known as the Poor Clares. At the age of 66 she took a long voyage, lasting 15 months, from Spain to Manila, where she put up a monastery in Intramuros. She died in 1630 and was buried in Intramuros. When the monastery relocated in the 1950s to Quezon City, her remains were transferred there. People still go to the convent offering eggs and seeking the intercession of Santa Clara to bring sunny weather. (The song Santa Clara is another matter, associated with fertility rituals in Obando, Bulacan.)
In the category of a “Servant of God,” the first step toward canonization, there are 16 listed for the Philippines. Again several of them are not Filipinos but lived and worked in the Philippines. Many of those listed were founders of religious congregations, including an American, Father Aloysius Schwartz, who established the Sisters of Mary of Banneux and the Brothers of Christ. They operate excellent schools for very poor children in the Philippines, Korea, Guatemala, Mexico and Brazil. Fr. Aloysius died in 1992.
There is one Japanese listed among the Servants of God for the Philippines: Justo Takayama, born in 1552 in Nara, Japan. Takayama came from a samurai family that converted to Catholicism. When the persecution of Christians began, he chose to give up his land and title rather than retract. In 1614, after Japanese authorities imposed a total ban on Christianity, he and some 300 other Japanese Catholics were expelled, and they ended up in Manila. This Catholic samurai is honored today with a statue in Paco, in Plaza Dilao.
Three of the “Servants of God” for the Philippines are listed as martyrs. One is William Finnemann, SVD, who was the bishop of Calapan during World War II. He was murdered by the Japanese. Another is Eugenio Sanz-Orozco, born in 1880 in Manila but died in Spain in 1936 during the Civil War there. A third martyr is Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, a Claretian priest killed in 2000 in Basilan by Moro rebels.
Filipinos tend to look at saints mainly as intermediaries for all kinds of requests and appeals, with San Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod as kababayan (compatriot) “connections” to heaven. There’s already a site dedicated to San Pedro Calungsod filled with testimonials, the new saint being credited for cures from illnesses, for fund-raising, even for passing the NCLEX (American licensing exams for nurses). I worry that this emphasis on a Filipino connection makes Filipinos lose sight of the original idea of saints as exemplars, people to imitate, not just for their piety (as in San Pedro Calungsod, always shown with eyes lifted to the heavens) but also for their faith in terms of dedicating their lives to people.
We hear too little about saints who walked in our midst, in our times. I think we have too many Italian saints but I would not mind seeing three more, all of the PIME order—Fathers Tullio Favali, Salvatorre Carzedda and Fausto Tentorio—who served Filipinos in Mindanao for many years, tagged as subversives and killed in cold blood because their solidarity with the poor was deemed dangerous and subversive.
We did have our share of Filipinos who lived out and died for their faith during martial law, but it is unlikely they will even begin on the road to Rome because they espoused radical liberation theology with a “preferential option” for serving “the poor, deprived and oppressed.” Their stories need to be told, they are samurai saints in the sense of courage, fortitude and faith.
For an article about the politics around canonization, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13207940 by Fr. John Allen.
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