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Catholic Heroes… St. Pedro Calungsod

April 19, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Guam, a small island about 1,600 miles east of the Philippines, is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This small island, which has played an important role in U.S. military activities in Southeast Asia since the early twenty-first century, was recently a pawn in the political chess game with North Korea.
The Jesuits first came to the Philippines in 1581. They frequently went to Guam to preach the Gospel. In the mid-seventeenth century, they took a young man, Pedro, with them who served faithfully until his death.
Little is known about Pedro Calungsod, including where he was born and who his parents were. He was probably born in Visayas, a village in the Philippines — certainly he was born in the Diocese of Cebu around July 21, 1654. He must have been raised by a devout Catholic family and formed well in the faith since he was chosen to be a missionary.
As was common at the time, Pedro was most likely selected by the Jesuits to attend one of their boarding schools in the Philippines. In addition to catechesis, he would have learned communication skills in Spanish, practiced some fine arts such as painting and singing, as well as the more practical skills of carpentry. These all would prepare him to serve in the missions.
In 1668, when Pedro was fourteen years old, the Jesuit missionaries chose their best catechists — including Pedro — to accompany them to present-day Guam.
At the time, the Spanish called it Islas de los Ladrones or Isles of Thieves because the people stole so much from Magellan and his men. The name was later changed to the Mariana Islands in honor of two persons. First, the Spanish wanted to dedicate the islands to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and second, they wanted to recognize the missionaries’ patron, Maria Ana of Austria, the Queen Regent of Spain.
Pedro accompanied Fr. Diego de San Vitores, a Jesuit priest, to Guam to convert the Chamorros. The people were receptive and many accepted Catholicism. Frequently, they would bring children and infants in danger of dying to the Jesuits for Baptism.
This led some to believe that Baptism was killing the children. This was something the Devil quickly exploited when trouble came in the form of a Chinese gangster, Choco. He had been exiled to Guam from Manila because of his crimes. Choco told the people that the baptismal waters used in the administering of the sacrament were poisonous, and thus so many children died after being baptized.
During Holy Week in 1672, the medicine men were quick to join Choco in his defamation as they saw the threat the Jesuits represented to their own methods. Young men who also resented the morality and holiness of the priests also joined the gangster. The natives, fanned by Choco’s rhetoric, sought to rid themselves of the missionaries.
Several were killed, according to a letter written by Fr. Francisco Solano on April 26, 1672. Those martyred were three Spaniards: Diego Bazan, Manuel Rangel, and Manuel de Nava; a Tagalog man named Damian, and Nicolas de Figueroa, a Pampango catechist.
The violence did not abate and reached its peak on the eve of Palm Sunday. Early in the morning Fr. San Vitores, accompanied by Pedro, went to Tumhon searching for their companion, Esteban. There they learned that a baby girl had been born. Of course, San Vitores was eager to baptize the child. However, Matapang, the father, refused the Jesuit. Matapang had become a Catholic, but after the rumors about poisonous waters began, he rejected the faith.
When Fr. San Vitores called out for any children who wanted to be baptized to come out, Matapang, with great sarcasm, shouted, “There inside, I have a skull. Baptize it for me with that water of God.”
Although Hirao, a local native, sought to appease Matapang, the angry father retorted to Hirao, “Let us kill him.” Knowing Fr. San Vitores was a good and holy priest, Hirao refused. Matapang verbally abused Hirao — who was also a former criminal — calling him a coward and again urged him, “Let us kill him!”
The rumors started by Choco did their damage, leading Matapang to try to taunt Hirao into being his accomplice. This also made villagers apprehensive about challenging Matapang, who was also their chief. Hirao, not wanting to be thought a coward, finally submitted to Matapang.
When they confronted the missionaries, Fr. San Vitores and Pedro led the adults away, taking them and the children to the seashore to begin preaching. They invited Matapang to join them, but his vile temper still flared. He shouted at the priest that he was angry with God and was against the Christian teachings.
Finally, Matapang and Hirao left to retrieve their spears. In their absence Fr. San Vitores baptized the children, including the newborn whose mother sought Baptism for her child. When Matapang returned and found out his child had been baptized, he flew into a rage and attacked Pedro and the priest. Pedro, young and trained in martial arts, could have fled easily, but he refused to abandon Fr. San Vitores.
Three Jesuits confirmed this account. Francisco Ezquerra, Gerard Bouwens, and Pierre Coemans wrote of Pedro that “as a good Catholic, he preferred to die side by side with his Father, and not to abandon him. Without any doubt we think that he would have first done away with his two enemies and saved himself and the Father if he were armed, and considering his energetic bravery. But the venerable Father’s pious heart would not allow arms in his companions.”
Pedro managed to dodge many thrusts of their weapons, but eventually one hit him and Hirao rushed to strike Pedro’s head, killing him. When the priest had also been killed, the two evil men tied up their victims and threw them into the sea. Thus, there are no first-class relics, but the machete is now venerated as a second-class relic.
In 1981, three centuries after these deaths, the papers for the beatification of Fr. San Vitores were discovered, bringing to light Pedro’s heroic end. The archbishop of Cebu, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, applied for the cause of Pedro to be opened. Pope St. John Paul II beatified Pedro on March 5, 2000.
In 2003, a woman from Leyte was pronounced dead on March 26. An attending physician sought Pedro’s intercession to save the woman, and two hours after she had been declared dead, she came back to life. This miracle paved the way for Pedro’s canonization. Pope Benedict XVI canonized him on October 21, 2012. His feast is celebrated on April 2, the day he was killed in 1672.
Dear St. Pedro, obtain for us, we pray, the grace to be zealous in the salvation of souls, brave in the time of persecution, and persevering in protecting those who serve God as His priests. May they fearlessly proclaim God’s mercy! Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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