“A thousand roads lead to Rome.” This ancient adage resounds October 23 when thousands flood into Piazza di San Pietro. There, Benedict XVI will canonize an Overseas Filipino Worker ( OFW) as the second Pinoy saint. St. Pedro Calungsod of the Visayas, joins St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Binondo, martyred in Japan.
Canonization is a rite where the Pope declares a person a saint. Among six others to be honored with Calungsod is the first native American: Kateri Tekakwitha, born of a Mohawk father and an Algonquin mother. There is also a German laundry maid, Anna Schaffer.
Calungsod was a “joven bisayo” by 17th century documents. Did he come from Tigabawan, Iloilo or Ginatilan in Cebu? Does it matter?
The inquiry established that he and other lay catechists sailed from Mactan Island, with Jesuit missionaries, to Guam. There, he worked alongside Fr. Diego de San Vitores. In April 1672, both were attacked by Chamorros agitated by false charges. The 17-year old Calungsod, who could have escaped , defended the half-blind San Vitores historian John Schumacher, SJ, writes in “Philippine Studies”. He took spear thrusts and catana (machete) blows. Their bodies were dumped into the sea.
“Until the Guam archbishop told me you have a candidate for sainthood, I did not know Calungsod, ” retired Cardinal Ricardo Vidal recalls. Fr. Juan Ledesma, SJ, wrote the first book for the beatification process. In 1985, Fr. San Vitores was beatified.
Canonization of two Filipino OFWs comes when Philippines is one of the world’s largest providers of overseas workers. Over 3,000 depart daily. Most are young.
Overseas contractual workers make up 41 percent of this out flow, World Bank estimates. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates attract most of them. Immigrants total 29 percent. There are 3.4 million in the US, concentrated in the West Coast. Women OFWs outnumber men. Household service workers dwarf numbers of professionals. Their “padala” or remittances home bolted from $7.5 billion in 2003 to $18.7 billion in 2010.
San Lorenzo and San Pedro are relevant to OFWs whose high numbers will likely persist into the 2030s . “Happenstance”? “Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing it’, the Galilean said.
“Honor your visa,” Cebu archbishop Jose Palma counseled 900 pilgrims flying to Rome. “Do not overstay.” On Palma’s mind were the “TNTs”. Dubbed as the tago nang tago, illegals or “undocumented” workers could top 660,000.
Two Filipinas, meanwhile, wait in the canonization pipeline. One is Isabel Larrañaga Ramirez who founded Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart in early 17th century. John Paul II named her “venerable” in 1999. The other is a Chinay: Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, who set up the Religious of Virgin Mary congregation in 1684. Benedict XVI named her “venerable” in 2007.
The Vatican gave the nihil obstat or green light to begin the study for possible beatification of Alfredo Ma. Obviar, first bishop of Lucena, on March 6, 2001. An Ateneo de Manila graduate, Obviar was assigned, in 1919, to Malvar town. “The joke then was only a new town needed a new priest.”
But Obviar handled ordinary duties, specially catechizing of children with exemplary fidelity. “He was a very strict priest, a dreaded priest at times, but always a greatly respected priest”, colleagues recall. He died in 1978, age 89.
In Cebu, a four-member commission, overseen by retired Bishop Antonio Ranola will wrap up early next year it’s preliminary examination into the late Bishop Teofilo Camomot’s life. Msgr. Lolong would hock even his bishop’s cross to help the poor. But did he bilocate, as did Capuchin monk Saint Pio of Pietrelcina?
On Sept. 27, 1985, Camomot attended in Cebu City a clergy meeting presided by Cardinal Vidal. On their return to Carcar 40 kilometers away, a woman came up to thank Camomot for a administering Anointing of the Sick. “After your visit today, Tatay was able to get up.” “How could you have gone (to Bolinawan )?”, puzzled Camomot’s secretary. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. both were in Cebu. “Just keep that to yourself,” the bishop replied.”
Camomot died in a 1988 car accident. Daughters of St. Teresa nuns jettisoned the prepared urn when Camomot’s body was intact on exhumation 21 years later. Camomot’s new coffin and grave were resealed after Cardinal Vidal examined and certified contents.
Canonization comes to a country of OFWs. But it is “no longer a nation of believers.” Only 21 percent of urban students believe in life after the grave, an earlier survey by McCann Erickson and Philippine Jesuits found. Majority or 88 percent believe in a Supreme Being. But only 15 percent were instructed in their faith by parents. “The phenomenon of bursting churches is actually misleading,” notes Windhover magazine. “Their doctrinal foundation and catechetical instruction seem to be faltering.”
If the rate the church is losing members persists, the Philippines would no longer be a Catholic country in 40 years, theologian Catalino Arevalo told a recent University of Sto. Tomas symposium on Pedro Calungsod and lay spirituality. Only six percent of young Filipinos today received “significant religious instruction”, a study on youth evangelization, commissioned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines found. “They are not turning away,” Fr. Arevalo said. “They are simply not being reached.”
Isn’t the canonization of Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod precisely about their reaching others with their faith?