Two Asian Layperson Saints
by Ricardo Liong
The canonization of St. Pedro Calungsod by Pope Benedict XVI on the 21st October, 2012 was a day of rejoicing for millions around the world. For Hong Kong’s 120,000 Filipinos, Catholics and others, it was a day of blessings. A native of Cebu, Philippines, at around 14 he was chosen to accompany the Jesuits in their missionary works. With Blessed Jesuit San Vitores, he preached Christianity as a missionary catechist to the Chamorro people in Guam. He suffered religious persecution and died as a martyr there at the age of 17 in 1672.This Second Filipino canonized saint’s Feast day is on 2 April.
St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint, was born in Manila to a Catholic couple –Chinese father and Filipino mother. He served as an altar boy and after educated by the Dominican friars, he became a skillful escribano (calligrapher).While living peacefully with his family of two sons and a daughter; he was falsely accused of killing a Spaniard. He then fled and joined the Dominican priests on their mission to Japan where he met an extremely painful martyrdom in 1637 atthe age of 36.St. Lorenzo Ruiz is the first saint canonized outside of the Vatican by Pope John Paul II in Manila in 1981 and his Feast day is on 28 September.
Both of these 17th century martyr saints were simple and ordinary people. More significantly, they were not clergy, i.e. priest or religious brothers, but laypersons like you and I.
Being ordinary folks they were not wealthy, powerful, or with special talents.Representing both marital status in life, St. Lorenzo Ruiz was a married man with three children and worked to support his family while St. Pedro Calungsod was still single teenager.
Rather than being leaders, the two saints were obedient followers and had patiently served as sacristan or altar boy and missionary catechist. As catechists, they have to learn and communicate in Spanish, a foreign language, in order to master the Catechism. Undoubtedly, they must be prepared to learn a new language, if not a dialect, in their missionary work in Japan and Guam.
The two saints were both migrants. Leaving their families behind, they endured sacrifices: long boat trips, physical hardship, living in a hostile foreign land with a different culture, religion and language. Completely cut-off from their families and friends, both saints were fully aware of the danger ahead. But they have a mission to bring the gospel to others. As missionaries, they finally paid the supreme sacrifice – martyrdom, i.e. to die for Christ.St. Lorenzo Ruiz’s last words were: “”I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for the Lord; If I had a thousand lives, all these I shall offer to Him.”(*)
While St. Lorenzo Ruiz sought asylum in Japan to escape from injustice, many in our present generation migrated to seek for a better job opportunity thus enabling their families to escape from their cycle of poverty. Compare with the saints’ sacrifices and hardship, the present situation of the migrants is far much better. Yet, many are constantly complaining instead of giving thanks to Our Lord for his blessings.
Four centuries later, on the topic of the New Evangelization, the Pope John Paul II said, “… missionary activity which is carried out in a wide variety of ways, is the task of all the Christian faithful…Missionary activity is a matter for all Christians…”Our present Christian migrants are called to the role of “new missionaries”. Atpresent, we are notcalled to die for our faithbut merely to do our share in our church’s evangelization efforts. As laypersons- with our simple and humble works, love and exemplary lives – we are seeking to reflect God’s glory in our daily encounters. Don’t forget that Our Lord had chosen simple fishermen as his apostles.
In the recent Synod of Bishops, the Synod Fathers said “…the Saints are ‘effective models’ for the New Evangelization”. To evangelize, we must learn more about our Catholic faith. It is never too late for us to study well our catechism. In fact, St. Pedro Calungsod’s icon shows him clutching a “Doctrina Christiana” or the catechism of his time. Learning a new language or dialect is an added advantage for our mission.
Saints are our friends in heaven regardless of race, nationality, or countries. The two saints’ patronage includes their native country, Guam, Overseas Filipino Workers, altar servers, Cebuanos, Visayans among others. St. Lorenzo Ruiz’s includes also the poor and the Chinese-Filipinos. Patrons, however, can be chosen by any individual or group as protector. As our friends, we seek their intercessions and prayers for the protection of our families and for a stronger faith.With stronger faith, we could learn to accept our little sacrifices and trails in life.
In the 2000 beatification in Rome, Pope John Paul II declared: “…From his childhood, Pedro Calungsod declared himself unwaveringly for Christ and responded generously to his call. Young people today can draw encouragement and strength from the example of Pedro, whose love of Jesus inspired him to devote his teenage years to teaching the faith as a lay catechist.” From this “Teenage Saint”, we ask for his help in guiding our children especially our teenagers.
Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod, be our friends, models, and pray for us.
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