St. Calungsod saintly arm could be dangerousBy Nicholas Sy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A picture indeed paints a thousand words, as does the portrait rendered by artists of Pedro Calungsod, who on Sunday officially became the second Filipino saint next to San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Artists depict Calungsod with his right palm pressed on his chest and his eyes lifted to heaven. Attention is drawn to his eyes—serene, discerning the Lord’s command.
Perhaps, this focus is reasonable. His eyes, after all, played a role in his martyrdom. He was killed in 1672 while refusing to abandon a determined but nearsighted Jesuit he had been guiding through the jungles of Guam.
Modern historical research would show, though, that the arm on his chest deserves as much attention. Calungsod most likely led a vigorous and active life. He was a young man, one among a number of lay companions assisting the Jesuit mission in its labors. They built houses, acted as interpreters and, when needed, were armed as militia.
Poring over 17th-century accounts, I came upon a Jesuit letter that particularly underscores this fact.
In 1671, about half a year before Calungsod’s death, a murder occurred on the island. Joseph de Peralta was out in the woods chopping branches to make crosses when he was slain by locals who wanted to steal his knives.
Fr. Francisco Solano, S.J., who was in charge of the missionary residence at the time, led a search party to chase and track down the murderers. One suspect, Tumas, escaped, although “he was wounded by a blow from a machete struck by Pedro Calonsor Indio Bisaya.”
Looking at the present-day artistic renditions of Calungsod, it’s hard to imagine that that arm once swung a bolo at an escaped suspect. Yet it did, and the same arm also helped plant rice, dig fortifications and build churches. It was an arm that helped pave the way for the missionaries to introduce Christ to the Chamorros of Guam.
With Calungsod’s canonization, schools and parishes will once again be engaged in a lively discussion on the martyr. People should be reminded, though, that he served the mission not just through his death but also through his lifetime of active service.
We hope the story of Pedro Calungsod can help students and congregations alike reflect on the meaning of service in today’s world of poverty and natural disasters. The Jesuit missions, by the way, are still open for lay volunteers.
(Editor’s Note: The author, an M.A. History student from Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, worked briefly at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and has just completed a yearlong research grant project from the Spanish Ministry of Culture on the Jesuit mission in the Marianas.)