SaintBy Raymund Fernandez
Cebu Daily News
It is only right that we should shape our new saint, St. Pedro Calungsod, in the colors of our own culture. As when Juan L. Mercado calls him an overseas Filipino worker or OFW. He is really telling us that we should come to “own” him as a Filipino in the most profound sense of the word. We could go one step further. We should also “own” the very concept of sainthood itself.
This act is important. Around the time the “boy” saint was martyred, we ourselves were also the target of a comprehensive program of conversion. This program was at the heart of a greater program of colonization. We were converted and colonized for better AND worse. Unless one were a fanatical colonial believer, this fact should not be glossed over. The enlightened faithful ought to include this in the appreciation of our new saint.
Some of the literature on the boy-saint has him studying by the banks of the Loboc River in Bohol. There you might still find the decaying remains of a many storied convent behind the church which used to be a Jesuit seminary. It was here where he allegedly studied.
The church convents always provided some amount of education for some of the young that were favored by the clergy. In tracing the growth of art in the Philippines, part of the narrative recalls how priests often taught young boys how to read, write and draw. In the absence of regular schools, the churches were always places where a young person might find a modicum of education while they assisted priests in their work.
And so the sight of a young person accompanying an old priest wherever he went would not have been strange. In fact, it is even now a common sight in the countryside. This young boy is never given much attention. He is only co-star to the priest. But he gets to eat what the priest eats. He is accorded the same hospitality. He is called either culitos or sacristan. He is always the carrier of the priest’s things.
St. Calungsod must have been only a little older than a boy when he accompanied his priest all over Guam. What was he doing there? He was going about his life. He would not have shared the same religious background by way of training as the older priest. Did he share the same evangelical convictions? Surely only in his own peculiar way.
We Filipinos are a traveling culture. Even now, it is not strange for a young country boy to go off away from home ostensibly to live with another family in the city to find work and education. It is common practice even now. He might have looked forward to coming home from time to time. He would have saved what little pay he received. He would have been proudly happy to bring it home to share with his parents and siblings. In this sense, little has changed since then. Most likely, as with other saints the young St. Calungsod grew up as a typical young boy.
Part of the St. Calungsod narrative has him leading his priest tied to a rope to that fateful place of their martyrdom. But who was leading whom? For while the priest might have been too blind to see where he was going, it must have been he who told the young boy where to go. In the poetic sense, notwithstanding our converted-colonized past, they were both equal, their fates inexorably tied together.
Did they try to run away? Or did they stand their ground instead, raising their holy books as their last defense against Chamorro spears and bolos? This part we can only imagine in our heads and hearts the same way an artist might picture them now.
Only little that is exact is ever left for posterity. Which is just as well. For we might as well finally realize it is not ever the exact truth of the saint which is important, now as in the future. Does it matter what this boy-saint actually looked like? Does it even matter what they looked like the short time before and after they were hacked and stabbed until they fell? Does it matter who was to blame for all these?
We are better off to picture them, silhouetted on a grassy hill against the deep blue of the Pacific heaving in the distance unmindful of ordinary men and boys following the God of their faith. Does the ocean care what they are doing there? If it had a mind to could it intervene? The young boy is about to die for something he cannot possibly fully understand. For who can understand it even now? This thing called life. Country. Nation. Religion. Conversion. Martyrdom. Sainthood. Faith. God?
It is enough to believe that while they stood walking on that hill a cool ocean breeze blew their way caressing their skin warmed and sweaty under the tropical sun. It was here their God had placed them on this particular fateful day. They will soon die as we all will in our own place and time. But for now, they bask inside a warm soothing grace. They smile, each happily remembering his own home, and what it feels like to come there once again.
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