The Pope will canonize a teenage Filipino martyr on October 21 of this year. Pedro Calungsod, from one of the Visayan islands (the exact one is unknown), will be the second canonized Filipino saint and, like St. Lorenzo Ruiz before him, was a layperson during his lifetime.
According to accounts, in his early teens Calungsod accompanied Fr. Diego Luis San Vitores , S. J. to Guam to evangelize the Chamorros. Persevering against hardships, Calungsod, Fr. San Vitores, and other missionaries won over many converts. The prestige of the missionaries among the Chamorros aroused the envy of a certain Choco, who started rumors that the water the missionaries used to baptize was poisonous. The coincidental deaths of some sickly infants after baptism confirmed the rumor in the minds of many people, who apostatized. Persecution of the missionaries ensued.
One morning, Calungsod and Fr. San Vitores went to the village of Tomhon, Guam, to baptize the newly-born daughter of Matapang, a Christian convert who had apostatized. Matapang refused to have the baby baptized. Calungsod and Fr. San Vitores baptized the baby in Matapang’s absence, with the consent of the baby’s mother. When Matapang found out, he attacked them with spears. While defending Fr. San Vitores, Calungsod was pierced by a spear and was hit on the head with a cutlass by Matapang’s companion. The priest gave Calungsod absolution before he himself was killed.
The canonization of the young Filipino martyr is light in difficult times for the Church in the Philippines. I have always loved my country for being a haven for practicing the faith: churches and daily masses still abound, and public manifestations of piety are still considered normal, family values are still generally held in high esteem. But hatred of the faith has not been entirely absent from our shores.
For example, right now, Filipino legislators, in defiance of the bishops, push the passage of the so-called Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, which introduces state-sponsored, state-guaranteed, state-funded access to contraception; mandates hospitals and health workers under the pain of criminal sanctions to provide a “full range” of “reproductive health services” (which includes contraception); requires classroom-style sex education with morally ambiguous content and methodology in schools; and penalizes the dissemination of “malicious disinformation” about contraception. The media, with a few exceptions, publicly vilifies the Church for its position on the RH bill, presenting the Church’s stand as non-intellectual, outmoded, oppressive, unpatriotic, unrealistic, and “uncool”. Never mind the Church’s 2,000 years of infused and acquired wisdom on human sexuality, as well as the strong secular arguments against the premises on which the RH Bill is founded.
While they have not yet started massacring faithful Catholics in our country, religious persecution exists in one form or another. Anyone who publicly admits siding with the Church on the RH Bill and other moral issues runs the risk of being thought naive or unsophisticated, of being called names and subjected to other forms of abuse, as most online discussions of this issue shows. The temptation to choose popular public opinion over the truth to maintain a reputation for being forward-thinking is too strong.
But the example of Calungsod, who was killed for his faith at a young age, strengthens the Filipino faithful of today. If, with the grace of God, a teenage layperson can die for the faith, there’s no reason why, similarly aided, the ordinary Catholic cannot bear the costs of public fidelity to the truth.
As if his example is not enough, Calungsod helps us with his heavenly intercession. From heaven, he supports our struggles, not the least the struggles of his own countrymen. St. Pedro Calungsod, pray for the Philippines, pray for us.