Filling A Pipeline

by Juan L. Mercado


“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?

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