Biography of Blessed Pedro Calungsod
PEDRO CALUNGSOD was young native of the Visayas Region in the Philippines. Little is known about his life. Based on accounts, Pedro was taught as a lay catechist in a Jesuit minor seminary in Loboc, Bohol. For young recruits like him, the training consisted of learning the 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 mission centers overseas to accompany the Jesuits in their arduous task of proclaiming the Good News and establishing the Catholic faith in foreign lands. And that was the case of Pedro Calungsod.
On June 18, 1668, the zealous Jesuit superior Padre Diego Luís de San Vitores, answering a "special call," began a new mission composed of 17 young laymen and priests to the Ladrones islands. Pedro was one of the boy catechists who went with them in the Western Pacific to evangelize the native chamorros.
From Hospitality to Hostility
Life in the Ladrones was hard. The provisions for the mission like food and other needs 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. The missionaries reached out to the backward poblaciones (towns) and baptized over 13,000 natives.Capillas (chapels) 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. 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.
The hospitality of the natives however soon turned to hostility as the missionaries started to change the traditional practices of the chamorros, which were incompatible with Christianity. The missionaries objected their ancestral worship. The chamorros dug up the skulls of their dead relatives and kept them as miraculous talismans. These were enshrined in special houses guarded by native shamans called macanjas. The chamorros prayed to their ancestral spirits and asked them for good luck, good harvest and victory in battle.
They also objected to the practice of young men called urritaos of consorting with young unmarried women in public houses without the benefit of the sacrament of matrimony because they considered this as a form of institutionalized prostitution.
They also displeased the upper caste chamorros called matuas who demanded that the blessings of Christianity be limited to members of this group. The inferior castes should not be given the privilege of becoming Christians.
An influential Chinese named Choco who earlier came from a sunken wreck became envious of the prestige that the missionaries were gaining among the chamorros. He started to spread the talk that the baptismal water of the missionaries was poisonous. And since some sickly chamorro infants who were baptized died by coincidence, many believed the calumniator and eventually apostatized. The evil campaign of Choco was readily supported by thematuas, macanjas and the urritaos who, along with the apostates, began persecuting the missionaries.
The Martyrdom of Pedro Calungsod
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, about 17 years old—and the superior of the mission, Padre Diego, 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 Christian teachings.
Determined to kill the missionaries, Matapang went away and tried to enlist in his cause another villager, namedHirao, 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 insulted 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 their feet, brought them to sea and threw them into the deep. The remains of the martyrs were never to be found.
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 disposition, 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. 2 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. Here’s an excerpt from the homily of Blessed Pope John Paul II during the Beatification Rites of Blessed Pedro Calungsod and 43 others:
"If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven" (Mt 10: 32). 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.
Leaving family and friends behind, Pedro willingly accepted the challenge put to him by Fr Diego de San Vitores to join him on the mission to the chamorros. In a spirit of faith, marked by strong Eucharistic and Marian devotion, Pedro undertook the demanding work asked of him and bravely faced the many obstacles and difficulties he met. In the face of imminent danger, Pedro would not forsake Fr. Diego, but as a "good soldier of Christ" preferred to die at the missionary's side. Today Bl. Pedro Calungsod intercedes for the young, in particular those of his native Philippines, and he challenges them. Young friends, do not hesitate to follow the example of Pedro, who "pleased God and was loved by him" (Wis 4: 10) and who, having come to perfection in so short a time, lived a full life (cf. ibid., v. 13).
In 2008, Most Rev. Ricardo Cardinal Vidal expressed hope that Blessed Pedro Calungsod would soon be canonized. A beatified person can be proclaimed a saint only after miracles attributed to him (or her) are authenticated. Several people have sought his intercession and attested to the miracles that he manifested: the cure of a young man who was inflicted with bone cancer and the salvation of a kidnap victim among others. All of these happened through Blessed Pedro Calungsod's intercession.
On March 24, 2011, the Vatican consultor physicians declared that a supernatural healing has occurred. On July 2, the Vatican consultor theologians authenticated that the supernatural healing was due to the intercession of Calungsod. Then, on October 11, the Vatican consultor cardinals, archbishops and bishops unanimously affirmed what the physicians and theologians declared could point to an authentic major miracle and that it is opportune to declare Calungsod a saint.
On Dec. 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI received in audience Angelo Cardinal Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and authorized the promulgation of the Decree concerning a miracle of Calungsod. The Pope has finally approved the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod and six others for sainthood. This act fulfills the requirements for canonization. By the time this article is written, the Vatican is yet to schedule the date for the canonization.
Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod
O God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, graciously grant the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod, if it be for the greater glory of your Name and for the good our souls. AMEN.
Our Father... Hail Mary... Glory be.