New teen saint a reminder of laity’s role in Pacific evangelization

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AGANA, Guam, Oct. 19, 2012  — While little is known about the life of Blessed Pedro Calungsod, his canonization brings to light the role of the laity in the evangelization of the Pacific in the 17th century.

Blessed Calungsod, among the seven people to be declared saints by Pope Benedict XVI Oct. 21, came to the Mariana Islands in 1668 and was one of a group of lay catechists who assisted the Jesuit missionaries in their Pacific mission.

“The importance of San Pedro is, at 18 years he became a saint, which means he is an example for youth,” said Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agana. The archbishop was among a contingent of clergy and laypeople traveling from Guam to Rome for the canonization.

A Filipino native from the Visayas Islands, Calungsod was in his early teens when he arrived in Guam with Jesuit Father Diego Luis de San Vitores.

“We think that there were about 30 or 35 laypeople altogether,” said Jesuit Father Francis X. Hezel, priest in residence at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica and author of several publications on the Jesuit missions in the Pacific. “These people were handpicked. They had a personal association with the Jesuits that they were coming to serve.”

In those days, it was common for young people who were not studying for the priesthood to travel with the missionaries as they contemplated entering consecrated life, he said.

“Most of these people are nameless,” said Father Hezel. “Pedro is known because he had the good fortune to be with San Vitores at his death, but he represents another 20 or 25 nameless catechists, most of them Filipinos, who were killed during that turbulent time.”

On April 2, 1672, Calungsod was martyred alongside Father San Vitores after the Jesuit baptized the infant daughter of Chamorro Chief Mata’pang. While Father San Vitores baptized the girl in her mother’s presence, it was without the consent of the chief. After learning of the baptism, Mata’pang enlisted the assistance of Chamorro warrior Hirao, and together they attacked and killed Father San Vitores and Calungsod. Their deaths occurred on the Saturday before Passion Sunday.

Today, a monument depicting the baptism stands just off the coast of Tumon, Guam, near the site where the two were martyred.

While Father San Vitores was beatified in 1985, the cause for the canonization of Blessed Calungsod was not initiated until 1994, after the Archdiocese of Cebu, Philippines, rediscovered documentation in the 1980s that associated the young teen with Father San Vitores’ martyrdom. Calungsod was beatified March 5, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.

Blessed Calungsod’s cause represents the move by Pope John Paul to “raise up new models of holiness for the people of our time,” Father Hezel said. As a lay catechist who died for the faith, Blessed Calungsod fit that model.

The canonization is also a reminder of the role of the laity and of the Asia-Pacific people in the spreading of Catholicism in the Pacific islands, he said.

“These catechists that came here with the missionaries were the people who made possible the planning of the faith here. (Calungsod) also represents the contribution of the Philippines and Mexico to this island group. After all, they suffered greatly, too, in planting the faith here.

“It wasn’t just the European Jesuits who gave their lives for the faith,” Father Hezel said. “If Pedro Calungsod stands for anything, in my view, it is the important role that others from the outside had in nurturing the faith and in channeling the Spanish culture into these islands.”

Catholics make up 85 percent of the population of Guam, which was ceded to the U.S. from Spain in 1898. Chamorros, the island’s indigenous inhabitants, constitute 37 percent of the population, while Filipinos make up 26 percent.

Guam is the largest island in the Mariana Island archipelago. (Gina E. Taitano/CNS)

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