A Young Filipino Martyr
A Young Filipino Martyr:
Pedro Calungsod

by Catalino G. Arevalo, S.J.

 

Sometime in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II's "great Year of Jubilee," we will most probably have a new Filipino "blessed." A beatus, one proclaimed by the Church as a Christian who lived a life of "heroic virtue," or who gave his life in martyrdom for his faith, is held up for the veneration of the faithful, usually of a given locality or place.  The candidate for this honor from the Philippines who is next in line is the youth, Pedro Calungsod, who was slain in odium fidei, "in hatred of the faith," on 2 April 1672.

 

Calungsod was a young man, "joven Bisayo" (as the 17th century documents say), when he was slain by two natives of the island of Guam (then called Guahan), while defending his priest-companion, the Jesuit mission-founder Father Diego Luis de San Vitores. San Vitores was on a mission trip, and he chose (as it seems he often did) this Filipino catechist and factotum to accompany him.  This mission assistant was only 18 in 1672 (or so most biographers of San Vitores believe). He had left the Philippines, it seems, at the age of 13 or 14.  The Jesuit priests, starting a new mission in Guam, had taken 17 Filipinos, many of them teen-aged boys, as catechists, sacristans, bearers of mass-kits and provision-bags on mission journeys.  They were to be all around workers in the mission. They would help construct chapels and temporary residences.  They were live together, in a community, with the priests and the soldiers.  They were considered oblates, people who had given their lives to be mission-assistants, serving without pay, sharing whatever food and lodging the priests had, living devotedly and piously, laboring indefatigably for the cause of the Lord.

 

The young men had been, in today's language, "minor seminarians." They had been taught Spanish and a little Latin; they were taught how to read and write.  They learned the catechism by heart (they learned it by singing it through!). They mastered a repertoire of religious hymns and learned the rubrics of sacred rites thoroughly.  They knew their tasks well. They were loyal and obedient to the missionary Fathers. They were usually "the brightest and best" among the young men, the most devout, the most faithful.  And also, blessed with good health.  The Jesuits, on recruiting them, had them travel with them to Mexico first, then to the mission territory; they were volunteers (or at least regarded a such).  It is good to note this: Pedro Calungsod was, by fact and in intent, an authentic missionary.

 

Pedro Calungsod was slain by a native chieftain, Matapang, once a Christian.  The chieftain was helped in this by a non-Christian fiend, Hirao. Matapang plotted to kill the Magas (their name for "the great teacher") because the Jesuit mission-superior had been baptizing the native babies, and only on that morning of 2 April, he had christened Matapang's own recently-born daughter.  Matapang's wife (it seems) had brought her baby for baptism, against her husband's wishes.  Hirao was persuaded by the chieftain to help him kill the priest.

 

San Vitores and Calungsod were teaching the catechism to children and adults gathered at the beach in Tumhon, a few kilometers away from Aganda (today's Agaña). Matapang and Hirao armed with spears and machete knives (called catanas, locally), came upon them.  They had to kill the catechist Pedro first.  He was strong and agile. He was brave and loyal to his priest-companion. Several darts and spears were flung at him. One finally struck his chest, Matapang's spear. Hirao ran toward him as he fell, and split his skull with the catana. San Vitores rushed to the dying boy's side.  Seeing Pedro already dying, the two attackers next turned on San Vitores, killing him in exactly the same way they had slain Calungsod.  The Jesuit, trying to the end to dissuade them, also fell at their feet in death, with words of forgiveness.

 

The slain priest and his companion were then stripped. Their bodies were tied together and a large rock attached to their remains. Then they were brought to the sea, and there dropped, so the waters and the sharks could finish them off.

 

Thus in the early morning of 2 April 1972, Diego Luis de San Vitores from Burgos, Jesuit son of a Spanish grandee, and his catechist-helper Pedro Calungsod, barrio boy from the Visayas, met death together, slain for the Christian faith.  Their bodies were consigned to the sea together, their fates linked in life and death by their loyalty to Jesus and his Church.

 

Who was Pedro Calungsod then? Where did he come from? At least four towns in the Visayas claim him: Ginatilan and Tuburan in Cebu, Loboc in Bohol, and Leon in Iloilo. Cebu and Bohol are rated "more probable" as places of origin, but Leon in Iloilo rates high in probability too. Loboc in Bohol had a Jesuit "minor seminary" where the boy could have been educated. But in Tigbauan near Villa de Arevalo, Iloilo, the Jesuit Pedro Chirino had established the first Jesuit school for native boys in the Philippines.  It is not unlikely that a boy could have come from nearby and joined the Tigbauan school. The Calunsods (written now, more commonly, without the "g") of the present tell us they have old family traditions that say a Calungsod boy, only 11 or 12, had gone to Mactan island, joined the Jesuit mission station, and then traveled with the priests to some islands "near Hawaii" and was later killed with the Fathers there.

 

What is indisputable is that he was a Visayan and a young man. "Joven Bisayo": all the documents of the time say this, repeatedly. He belonged to the Diocese of Cebu. At that time all the Visayas (Eastern and Western) --even the island of Guam --belonged to the Diocese of Cebu.

 

So the Pedro Calungsod who will be beatified was a "brown-skinned native" Visayan. It seems an outstanding young man of his time and place, "pride of his people." Perhaps it doesn't matter if he was ultimately form Cebu, Bohol or Iloilo. All the Visayans can rightly claim him as their own. All Filipinos will be proud to do so also.

 

St. Lorenzo Ruiz, our first canonized Filipino saint, was Chinese mestizo from Binondo, Manila. He was married and was father to a family. He died as a martyr in Japan, earlier in the 17th century. He was fleeing the Philippines, secretly joining the Dominican missionaries, seeking to evade the law for some crime we don't really know anything about.

 

Pedro Calungsod was young and unmarried, a teenager at death, a mission-volunteer. Almost certainly a barrio boy. The Iloilo Calunsods today claim Pedro's father was a skilled craftsman, a goldsmith. The skills of goldsmithing run in the family, they say. There are Calunsod goldsmith even today; one practices his craft at Molo, Iloilo. (A friend of Cardinal Sin, a Calunsod, once gifted him with an episcopal ring created by another Calunsod. This is a source of pride to the family.)

 

We hope that many more among Filipino Catholics will join the campaign of prayer that Pedro Calungsod may soon be beatified by Pope John Paul II. The Cebu archdiocese, under Cardinal Vidal's enthusiastic leadership, is "pushing the cause" with much intense prayer and preaching, publication and promotional activities. What we are asked to do now is storm heaven for this gift to our people as we welcome the year 2000, the year of the great Jubilee of the coming of God's Son, as man, into our world. Calungsod's beatification would be one of the real high points of the Jubilee for us Filipinos.

 

We have, then a religious event to look forward to. Saints are gifts from the Lord to a people. They become channels of many blessings. And, as this new year begins, blessings from the Father in heaven are what we need most of all. We trust "blessed" Pedro Calungsod will be a new intercessor for us all. Our young people need a timely role model and patron like this teen-aged martyr , who deserves a special place in the life of the Church in our country. After all, even in heaven, he remains one of our own.

Prayer to
Blessed Pedro Calungsod
 
Blessed Pedro Calungsod,
student, catechist, young migrant,
missionary, faithful friend, martyr,
you inspire us
by your fidelity in times of adversity;
by your courage in teaching the faith
in the midst of hostility;
and by your love in shedding your blood
for the sake of the Gospel.

Make our troubles your own
(here mention your request)
and intercede for us
before the throne of Mercy and Grace
so that,
as we experience the help of heaven,
we may be encouraged to live
and proclaim the Gospel here on earth.
Amen.
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Prayer for the Beatification
of the Servant of God
 
Lord God,

through your Son Jesus Christ,
You taught us that there can be
no greater love than to lay down
one's life for one's friends.
Your servant, Pedro Calungsod,
inspires us by his fidelity
in times of adversity,
by his courage in teaching the Faith
in the midst of hostility,
and by his love in shedding his blood
for the sake of the Gospel.
We humbly ask you to raise him
to the honor of the altar,
so that we may count him
among our intercessors in heaven
for the glory of your name.
We ask this
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN
Prayer for Special Intentions to
BLESSED PEDRO CALUNGSOD
 
My Lord,

In your grace,
you have shown through your
servant,
Beato Pedro Calungsod,
the sublime prize of following
you;

Through his martyrdom, you
have shown us that age and
race will not hinder us from
serving and loving you;

His youthful fervor in
defending the faith earned him
the title to be called Blessed;

Thus in confidence,
I humbly call unto him to pray
with me, and to intercede for
this urgent favor
(make a request) and that through
his glorious life, I may try
to emulate him, together
with Mother Mary, who
have without reserve said
yes to your will.

AMEN.
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