The Biography of Pedro Calungsod
PEDRO CALUNGSOD was a young native of the Visayas region of the Philippines. Very little is known about him. He was just one of the boy catechists who went with some Spanish Jesuit missionaries from the Philippines to the Ladrones Islands in the western Pacific in 1668 to evangelize the Chamorros.
Life in the Ladrones was hard. The provisions for the Mission did not arrive regularly; the jungles were too thick to cross; the cliffs were very stiff to climb, and the islands were frequently visited by devastating typhoons. Despite all these, the missionaries persevered, and the Mission was blessed with many conversions. Subsequently, the islands were renamed “Marianas” by the missionaries in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Queen Regent of Spain, María Ana, who was the benefactress of that Mission.
But very soon, a Chinese quack, named Choco, envious of the prestige that the missionaries were gaining among the Chamorros, started to spread the talk that the baptismal water of the missionaries was poisonous. And since some sickly Chamorro infants who were baptized died, many believed the calumniator and eventually apostatized. The evil campaign of Choco was readily supported by the Macanjas (sorcerers) and the Urritaos (young male prostitutes) who, along with the apostates, began persecuting the missionaries.
The most unforgettable assault happened on 2 April 1672, the Saturday just before the Passion Sunday of that year. At around seven o’clock in the morning, Pedro—by then already about 17 years old—and the superior of the mission, named Padre Diego Luís de San Vitores, came to the village of Tomhom, in the Island of Guam. There, they were told that a baby girl was recently born in the village, so they went to ask the child’s father, named Matapang, to bring out the infant for baptism. Matapang was a Christian and a friend of the missionaries, but having apostatized, he angrily refused to have his baby baptized.
To give Matapang some time to cool down, Padre Diego and Pedro gathered the children and some adults of the village at the nearby shore and started chanting with them the truths of the Catholic Faith. They invited Matapang to join them, but the apostate shouted back that he was angry with God and was already fed up with the Christian teachings.
Determined to kill the missionaries, Matapang went away and tried to enlist in his cause another villager, named Hirao, who was not a Christian. At first, Hirao refused, mindful of the kindness of the missionaries towards the natives; but when Matapang branded him a coward, he got piqued and so he consented. Meanwhile, during that brief absence of Matapang from his hut, Padre Diego and Pedro took the chance of baptizing the infant, with the consent of the Christian mother.
When Matapang learned of the baptism, he became even more furious. He violently hurled spears first at Pedro. The lad skirted the darting spears with remarkable dexterity. The witnesses said that Pedro had all the chances to escape because he was very agile, but he did not want to leave Padre Diego alone. Those who knew Pedro personally believed that he would have defeated his fierce aggressors and would have freed both himself and Padre Diego if only he had some weapons because he was a very valiant boy; but Padre Diego never allowed his companions to carry arms. Finally, Pedro got hit by a spear at the chest and he fell to the ground. Hirao immediately charged towards him and finished him off with a blow of a cutlass on the head. Padre Diego gave Pedro the sacramental absolution. After that, the assassins also killed Padre Diego.
Matapang took the crucifix of Padre Diego and pounded it with a stone while blaspheming God. Then, both assassins denuded the bodies of Pedro and Padre Diego, dragged them to the edge of the shore, tied large stones to the feet of these, brought them on a proa to sea and threw them into the deep. Those remains of the martyrs were never to be found again.
When the companion missionaries of Pedro learned of his death, they exclaimed, “Fortunate youth! How well rewarded his four years of persevering service to God in the difficult Mission are: he has become the precursor of our superior, Padre Diego, in Heaven!” They remembered Pedro to be a boy with very good dispositions, a virtuous catechist, a faithful assistant, and a good Catholic whose perseverance in the Faith even to the point of martyrdom proved him to be a good soldier of Christ (cf. II Tim 2:3).
Padre Diego Luís de San Vitores was beatified in 1985. It was his beatification that brought the memory of Pedro Calungsod to our day. On 5 March 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified Pedro Calungsod at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.
The road to sainthood
For many years, the figure of Calungsod had been left to oblivion, until the Archdiocese of Manila pushed for his elevation to the pantheon of saints.
The Archdiocese of Cebu has been working on Calungsod’s case since the 80’s. It has included in its masses a prayer for beatification before the final blessing. A growing number of literature is also being produced about Calungsod.
Many devotees feel that Calungsod’s beatification is imminent, in time for the several beatifications scheduled on the great Jubilee Year 2000.
A report published in Today newspaper said the vice postulator for Calungsod’s beatification, Father Ildebrando Aliño Leyson, had recently been informed by the Roman Congregation for the Canonization of Saints, that the body would “take up the dossier on the young Filipino proto-martyr from the Visayas, formally discussing and passing at least a preliminary judgment on his case,” an optimistic phase for Calungsod’s speedy elevation. A plus factor in Calungsod’s cause is that he died a teenager and he should thus stand as a model and inspiration for the Filipino youth. Calungsod is the perfect example to Pope John Paul II’s idea of a youth dedicated to the Church’s mission of evangelization
Calungsod’s beginnings haven’t been solidly established, and there are disputes regarding his birthplace which could be Cebu, Bohol, or Iloilo, although the former already laid the process for beatification.
Based on accounts, Calungsod was taught in a Jesuit minor seminary in Loboc, Bohol. For young recruits like him, the training consisted of learning catechism, Spanish, and Latin. They would be later sent with the priests to the countryside to perform daily religious functions as altar boys or catechists. Some of them were even sent to missionary centers overseas to accompany the Jesuits in their arduous task of proclaiming the Good News and establishing the Catholic faith in foreign lands.
Heeding the call
On June 18, 1668, the zealous Jesuit superior San Vitores, answering a “special call,” began a new mission composed of 17 young laymen and priests to the Isles de los Ladrones (The Robber Islands), which the Spaniard renamed as Marianas, after the Queen Maria Anan and the Virgin Mary.
The task of converting the islands was first successful. The missionaries reached out to the backward poblaciones and baptized over 13,000 natives. Capillas began to rise at various sites as Catholic instruction became extensive. A school and church were even built and dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola in the City of Agadna in the northeast. Calungsod and other young missionaries were instrumental in realizing the Jesuits noble objectives.
The Marianas missions were eventually shaken by difficulties, conflicts of interests, and challenges from the natives themselves. Some converts broke away from the new faith and turned against the Jesuit for odd reasons, like fearing what some of the natives claimed as the “magical” rituals and ceremonies of the missionaries.
Choco, an influential Chinese who earlier came from a sunken wreck, misled the local folk about the religious practices of the priests, such as baptism, which he claimed to be a way of killing the children. He also claimed the Mass wine was poisonous. He was later arrested by San Vitores and converted to the faith.
Fierce native leaders made life hard for the Jesuits and their young helpers. Armed rebellions and movements took place in the localities. One major insurgency was the 40-day siege by a chieftain named Hurao of the Spanish garrison where the Jesuits were housed. The Spaniards overcame the insurrection and San Vitores revived their mission. The meek priest later forgave Hurao and asked authorities to release him.
The fighting did not stop there. The natives continuously seized and set afire the Spanish settlements. San Vitores and his companions were able to renew their evangelization only after a cease-fire agreement ended the hostilities.
The Jesuit mission in Marianas gradually declined as member of the mission were killed.
On April 2, 1672, San Vitores and Calungsod went to Agadna after a mass, to baptized new-born children and to visit and bring back to the faith an elderly Filipino named Esteban, who was once hired by San Vitores as his tutor in the local dialect.
While passing in the area of Tumhon, the two encountered the native Matapang, who had converted to the faith but broke away after being influenced by anti-Christian macana groups. Matapang’s wife had just given birth to a baby girl, and San Vitores offered her baptism. Matapang in disgust sent the priest and Calungsod away.
However, San Vitores and Calungsod stayed and went to the nearby beach. They gathered the children playing around and other adults for catechism. Like Christ gathering the little ones around him, San Vitores admonished Matapang to join them. Matapang resisted the call and left with a plan of getting back at the priest for good.
Matapang saw another native, Hirao, and asked for help in killing the priest and his companion. Hirao was at first hesitant, being aware of the priest’s kindness. He even reminded Matapang of the big help San Vitores showed him when he was severely wounded. But Matapang was resolute and even convinced Hirao to turn against the priest. They looked for weapons and plotted the death of the missionaries.
Upon their return, Matapang and Hirao attacked Calungsod, but the young missionary was able to escape the spears aimed at him. He tried to get closer to San Vitores to protect the priest, until a spear suddenly pierced through his chest, wounding him. One of the killers breached his skill with a machete axe. the priest suffered the same fate, with only “May God have mercy on you,” to utter.
News of the bloody sacrifice of the Jesuit missionary and his companion reached the Philippines and on May 3, 1672, a Te Deum and requiem was held in their memory in Manila.
Although he might have lived more than 300 years ago, Pedro Calungsod is perhaps representative of the Filipino’s youth’s dynamic commitment to the Catholic Church’s mission of evangelization.
True “fishers of men” and “harvesters in the Lord’s vineyard,” modern day Pedro Calungsod are all around the globe. They risk their lives in foreign lands while proclaiming the Good News of salvation to everyone.