Tuesday, April 7, 2015

San Pedro Calungsod: What a young Pinoy martyr says to us today

NO, it is not as if San Pedro Calungsod is calling a press conference to read a prepared statement. It is rather you and I being challenged to read his statement from what words don’t provide: namely, his acts that led him to a violent death and to a martyr’s crown. These acts also lead us to glimpses of his character, the kind of life he represents and the response we are asked to make.
            To me the following are among the volumes his acts speak.
What is done for God’s Kingdom is timeless
First, we ask the question: How come it took more than three centuries for the Church and the world to recognize the heroism of one Filipino young man named Pedro Calungsod? The answer is that his cause was effectively shelved when the cause of Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores, the Jesuit missionary priest whom he accompanied even in death was also shelved shortly after they were violently murdered. It is beyond us to determine what factors were behind the centuries-old delay. But it goes without saying that being recognized by the Church on earth and the believing world then or now matters only insofar as it helps believers and non-believers come to know, give due honor to and emulate an authentic witness to Jesus Christ.
It seems to me that San Pedro Calungsod’s testimony may have greater weight now than in his own time if only because our young today are ever constantly challenged to be true to their Christian faith. The one truth that rings with greater clarity is that it matters little if he or his companions were not recognized at the altar of the Church sooner; his act of self-giving and martyrdom neither grows old nor irrelevant. The reason is that the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ that he proclaimed by his life and death is timeless. Here the axiom applies: “Age doesn’t matter because the matter doesn’t age.”

No one is too young to be a witness to Jesus Christ
Filipino parents, as a rule, are very protective of their children. In fact, even after marriage many of them live close to their parents, if not in the same roof with them and under their protective care. It is the poor who are mostly compelled to sometimes give up family proximity, for example today, because either the parents have to leave the country to find decent work or when able children themselves leave home to do their own share in the family’s survival and upkeep through a job thousands of miles away. Whether or not San Pedro came from a poor or well-to-do family is not established; no documents are on hand to provide that information. But it would not be surprising at all if, given the conditions and circumstances obtaining in his time, he did not come from a family of landowners or the moneyed elite. It would not have been easy for a Jesuit missionary to recruit for the missions a companion from among the natives’ elite families but a lot less harder to do so from poorer families who would have regarded it a great honor and privilege.
A willing young man, like Pedro, not without the lure of adventure possibly also at the back of his mind, would have likely come from such families. This consideration should not, however, detract from the fact that San Pedro Calungsod, whatever his social background was, proved himself a true witness to Jesus Christ in life and especially in death. I see in this a twofold challenge for today’s Pinoys: To the older ones among us, to not allow the opportunity of evangelizing the young to pass us by; to the young, to never delay evangelizing because of youth.

The missionary is a person of sacrifice
Today countless Filipinos continue to leave the country to look for opportunities to a better life. But at the time of San Pedro Calungsod this was not so. Leaving the country was mostly a choice for the moneyed elite, the criminal or the missionary among the native Filipinos. For the moneyed elite, it was mainly to seek better European education; for the criminal, for the obvious reason of being able to evade not only the responsibility for his actions but also a justice system tilted against him; for the missionary, to follow a vocation, a spiritual calling to leave everything for the sake of Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
In a word, San Pedro’s departure was to a life of sacrifice, not to greener pastures, except when the greener pastures referred to the other life. For San Pedro it was not been easy. He was young, he was a lay person who had to live like a religious detached from everything and everyone familiar. More than this, he had to embrace a life of uncertainty and danger, of provisions not sure of arriving regularly, of constant prayer and self-giving, of being with people teaching, catechizing or organizing them as Christian (Catholic) communities. San Pedro was a sacristan; part of his work was to carry a rather heavy altar stone everywhere Padre Diego Luis would go to, especially on extended periods where the Eucharist would have been celebrated periodically. Yet to all this he said yes and out of all this he even found cheer and contentment.

A lie is kin to death
Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores and Pedro Calungsod were killed because of a lie. It was one whose source was a Chinese merchant, exiled from Manila for having committed a crime. His name was Choco who spread the rumor that the water being used by the missionaries to baptize the children of the native Guamanians was poisonous and that this was the reason why some of them died shortly after baptism. A father named Matapang whose child was baptized by Padre Diego, with the assistance of Pedro, became murderously furious, as he took Choco’s lie hook, line and sinker. He had a partner named Hirao who initially refused but later joined Matapang after being called a coward by the latter. They killed Pedro first and then Padre Diego Luis.
The circumstances were uncanny. They seem reminiscent of the death and murder of Jesus himself: of the lie authored by Jewish and Roman authorities that he was an impostor, that he deceived people by his declaration that he is God’s Son and by his promise of eternal life. Incidentally they also remind us of real lies in our day and age that are just as deadly: for instance, that we can make life better without God and without the constraints of faith’s moral values, that promoting contraception and abortion are essential to human progress and development, that money and winning are everything, even at the expense of suppressing the voice of conscience and the demands of justice.

It takes courage to proclaim Christ in a hostile environment
San Pedro Calungsod and Blessed Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores had to face a group of people led by Matapang and Hirao that could only be described kindly as unfriendly. Of course, the better representatives of the Marianas’ populace could have been more numerous; unfortunately they did not rule the day. Historians point out that Pedro and Padre Diego could just have left the Marianas and returned to the Philippines or proceeded to more welcoming territories to proclaim Christ and the gospel. But they chose to stay and, without question, to offer their lives for the sake of the mission.
Their courage and generosity should not escape us. Courage because they did not run from their  mission even if they could; generosity because, in choosing not to fight even in self-defense, they made themselves ready for the ultimate sacrifice. For these reasons alone they deserve to be recognized even as human heroes. But having taken those actions for Jesus Christ and his kingdom especially makes them heroes of the faith.

Loyalty to Jesus Christ means loyalty to my brother or sister in faith
From hindsight students of San Pedro’s life and times, with ample support from historians, point out that, being young and strong, San Pedro Calungsod could have ably defended himself and even defeated his killers, Matapang or Hirao. He could have easily fled to safety and Padre Diego Luis would have understood, or been happier about, his action.
But the unshakable point is, San Pedro chose not to. He chose to stay with Padre Diego Luis and at some point used his own body to shield the priest. At that point Hirao struck him on the chest and, sensing an opportunity, went to strike him on the head as well, leading to the saint’s death. San Pedro’s action is often extolled for its depiction of the Filipino loyalty to friends and superiors. But in this specific case, something even higher was at stake: He was a catechist and a sacristan standing by a spiritual friend and pastor (Padre Diego) right to the bitter end. That is, and it is worth repeating, we see someone dying out of a sense of loyalty to Jesus Christ; to San Pedro loyalty to Jesus Christ and loyalty to a brother was inseparable.  San Pedro Calungsod, in a word, was an icon of the gospel.

The reality at work always and everywhere: love of God in Christ Jesus
There is always a veil of mystery when we are confronted with extraordinary heroism. Who would not marvel, for example, over a twelve-year-old St. Maria Goretti being able to resist a rapist, preferring instead to die rather than sin in his hands? Or who would not be in awe at the ability of a St. Maximilian Kolbe to courageously volunteer to die in place of a condemned married man and be the last to actually expire after helping his fellow condemned prisoners to face death under God’s grace? In the case of San Pedro Calungsod, who would not admire his choice to ignore his own personal safety and to sacrifice a whole future to stay and die with a friend and pastor? The event happened so fast and so was his fateful decision. But San Pedro did not hesitate.

I submit that this is because in all of these instances we witness the same reality at work in diverse ways and forms—God’s love. It is this love that we see in the most sublime way shining in Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice. And we see it continually shining in those who, like San Pedro Calungsod, are moved by the Spirit in certain graced circumstances, to follow Jesus Christ unhesitatingly on life’s many pathways to Calvary and the Resurrection.