Only Love Can Save

1 million join historic Calungsod thanksgiving Mass

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As the sun set over the Cebu mountains, the words of an aging cardinal sounded across an open field, where almost a million people gathered to give thanks for a new saint.

Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu Ricardo Cardinal Vidal talked of love, courage, and good citizenship in a homily that exalted virtues of San Pedro Calungsod, a Visayan teenager of the 17th century, whose values he said were needed today.

Vidal, 83, spoke of “love rooted in faith” like that of Calungsod as being “the only one that can save us.”

Addressing a solemn crowd that had President Benigno Aquino in the front row, Vidal called for an end to what he called “dual citizenship – being good Christians, but bad citizens.”

The National Thanksgiving Mass took place at dusk in the South Road Properties (SRP) in Cebu City without a drop of rain spoiling day-long activities.

About 70 bishops and priests were a majestic sight in red robes with gold trim, standing on a raised platform of a small temple built for the historic event. The altar table was sheltered under a giant pyramid of bamboo poles.

The official three-foot image of Calungsod in a glass urn nested in flowers was placed by one side as a choir of 2,000 members sang liturgical hyms in Latin, English and the Cebuano song most associated with the boy-saint “Way Sukod ang Pagmahal” (Love Without Measure).

The Mass, which offered in thanksgiving for the Oct. 21 canonization of Calungsod in Rome, Italy, was covered live by TV stations and video streamed live on the Internet to an audience around the country and abroad.

Looking out at the crowd, many of them Cebu parishioners who joined a foot procession to the vacant reclamation area and carried green palm branches, Vidal acknowledged how Calungsod had brought them together: “This remarkable gathering is a testament of how one life can be a principle of our unity.”

The Cebu cardinal was the moving force behind an almost 20-year campaign for the cause of beatification and later canonization of the young Calungsod.

Vidal cited the boy’s sacrifice in leaving home in the Visayas to join a mission to Guam to spread the Christian faith. Calungsod was killed by natives in an attack, where he could have chosen to run away, but stayed behind to die by the side of Fr. Diego de San Vitores. The boy’s chastity and decision to become a catechist was also underscored by Vidal.

“This is the love that we must teach our young,” said Vidal, “not the love that is self seeking, not the love that sets no limit to the self, that robs lovers of their souls but the love that gives dignity, the love that edifies, the love that enobles.”

Some quarters may see in Vidal’s sermon a pastoral critique of the thorny Reproductive Health bill pending in Congress, which the Catholic church rejects and which President Aquino supports as an advocate of “responsible parenthood”.

In his homily, Vidal warned that “our concept of love today is infected with self-seeking. It seeks the easy way out. It seeks fulfillment withtout facing consequences. It does not assume responsibility.”

The prelate said it was important that “we exercise restraint for that is the nature of rationale beings” and that to do otherwise would “ultimately lead to the breakdown of human society.”

“Our love must be purified by faith. We must love as Jesus loves. We must love one another as He has loved us. This is the love that can save us,” he said.

Vidal noted that “This kind of love is difficult to teach. But who says every noble thing is easily acquired?”

The templete, specially built for the occasion, overlooked a 27-hectare field, a marshy reclamation lot that was backfilled with soil and limestone in a few months.

Cebu City police chief Ramon Buenafe estimated that the crowd reached 800,000 to 1 million.

The peak crowd pressure occurred when devotees in the foot procession and fluvial processsion converged at the SRP past 2 p.m. Police had to suddenly open some guard railings to avoid unruly shoving.

But in general the crowd was peaceful and cooperated with security forces, he said.

Two devotess almost lost their wallets to pickpokets before the Mass started shorly past 5 p.m., by the theives were immediately arrested and the wallets were returned to their owners.

About 10 other suspected snatches were rounded up as a preentive measure.

President Benigno Aquino, who addressed the crowd after the Mass, kept politics and controversies out of his remarks.

He said he hopes the life of St. Calungsod would continue to guide and inspire the nation.

“Truly Saint Pedro reflects the kindness of the Visyans; he proves how a single individual can bring about widespread change,” he said.

Other than Vidal, the other cardinals who attended were Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales of Manila.

Most Rev. Giuseppe Pinto; the apostolic nuncio in the Philippines and Fr. Fernando Rojo, the main postulator for Calungsod’s cause were there.

Msgr. Rodolfo Villanueva led around 2,000 choir members from various parishes in Cebu and the Seminario Mayor de San Carlos Choir.

During the mass, prayers were read in Tagalog, Ilonggo, Waray, Bicolano, Cebuano, English, and Chabacano. /With reports of Ador Mayol, Chito Aragon

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