NEW YORK — Has it ever occurred to us that both Blessed Pedro Calungsod and San Lorenzo Ruiz died as martyrs for the faith in a foreign land? Pedro Calungsod, whose canonization will take place this coming October 21st in Rome, was martyred in 1672 in Guam, an island nation some 1000 miles off the Philippines. He was the companion of Jesuit missionary named Padre Diego de San Vitores serving as his sacristan.
Thirty fives years earlier, in 1637, Lorenzo Ruiz suffered the same fate in Nagazaki, Japan. He was in the company of fifteen Dominican missionaries who had left the Philippines on a religious mission to Japan when, as fate had it, they were arrested, put to jail, tortured, and finally killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith. This year, 2012, will mark the twenty fifth anniversary of the canonization of San Lorenzo Ruiz and companions.
The Philippines will have her second Saint in the person of Blessed Pedro Calungsod following the lead of San Lorenzo Ruiz in just a matter of 25 years. The two become in essence the first two Filipino Saints.
Two Filipinos to be recognized by the Church for their valiant faith; two Filipino saints to serve as models and as an inspiration for all Filipinos.
But, looking at the life and martyrdom of Blessed Pedro and San Lorenzo, there is a common thread that runs through the circumstances of their final sacrifice. It is quite significant to note that this ultimate act of sacrifice that God asked them to make happened in another land, away from home. Lorenzo Ruiz was martyred in Nagazaki, Japan. Pedro Calungsod was martyred in Guam. Why, in God’s design, did they not die as saints in their native soil? Pedro and Lorenzo would no doubt have been ready to die for the faith back home if the call to profess their faith by dying had presented itself there. Why did their martyrdom happen outside their native country?
If God’s ways are indeed mysterious, here lies the answer. It would seem that in God’s eternal design, the first Filipino saints to be presented by the universal Church to the world had to come from the ranks of those who left the Philippine shores to go to another shore. In the case of both Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod, there was a desire to help the priests they worked for in the Philippines in their apostolic mission. Actually, there really was nothing extraordinary about being a companion and assistant to a priest. It was routine work for them – Lorenzo did that as a church sacristan in Binondo; Pedro also did the same as a sacristan in Cebu.
But, God disturbed the ordinariness of their existence when he called upon them as ordinary sacristans, serving their priest-mentors on a foreign mission, to make an ultimate act of sacrifice for the faith. Just like Mary whose ordinary existence as a simple peasant Jewish girl was disturbed by an angel who announced to her that she would become the mother of the Son of God but who nevertheless responded to the call with a whole-hearted “Fiat voluntas tua” (Thy will be done), Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod must have taken inspiration from Mary and said in their heart “Lord, thy will be done!”
When called upon to give their life for God.
To think that God gave the Philippines her first two saints in the persons of San Lorenzo Ruiz and soon-to-be San Pedro Calungsod, who both died for the faith in another land, we wonder what God’s plan could be in this? If there is a reason for everything, why were these two Filipino “migrant” saints recognized as such at this point in time when the phenomenon of “Filipino diaspora” is making an impact in the life of the world, in general, and of the Philippines, in particular? That the presence of Filipino Catholics in many countries in Europe has enlivened the local Catholic churches there is something that is acknowledged by the European priests and bishops. Are the Filipinos trying to save the faith that their European counterparts have somehow lost? Perhaps.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the “Filipino diaspora” is seen to be impacting the economy in the best possible way. The remittances of the Overseas Filipino Workers or OFW’s to their families in the Philippines have buoyed the Philippine economy and spurred growth and development in all sectors as never before seen. The Philippines, it seems, is reaping a rich harvest from this thirty or forty-something “Filipino diaspora” phenomenon when the retiring OFW’s by the thousands are returning to the country with their savings and are investing in the economic development of the cities and countryside even as their college-educated children, who were the beneficiaries of their hard-earned money while working abroad, are now entering the workforce and presumably contributing to the country’s progress. Who can blame Time magazine when it called the Philippines a “tiger economy” in the making?
It ‘s a beautiful picture of the Philippines. Or so, it seems. Is it mere coincidence that the proclamation of the first Filipino saints happened at the height of the modern “Filipino diaspora”? Is it mere coincidence that the first Filipino saints were “migrants” themselves? Or, could this be part of God’s design for us the Filipino people?
As we reflect on the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod on October 21st this year and as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the canonization of San Lorenzo Ruiz (1987-2012), I suggest that we humbly thank the Almighty for blessing the Philippines with two saints to serve as inspiration to us all. I ask that we pray to San Lorenzo and San Pedro, our “migrant saints” and ask them to intercede for our country that it may continue on the road to prosperity and peace. Is it possible that these two saints have been there all along praying for our country?
Rev. Erno B. Diaz was a former Director of the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz in New York City and the Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz Association of America. He is currently the Administrator, St. Margaret Mary’s Parish in Staten Island, NY.
Fr. Erno poses with the framed picture of Blessed Pedro Calungsod in his rectory office in Staten Island, New York.