In Philippines, US, Catholics prepare to welcome new teen saint

MANILA, Philippines - Catholics in the Philippines and the U.S. are preparing to celebrate the Oct. 21 canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod, a teen catechist killed in Guam in the 17th century.

Witness accounts in the records of Jesuit missionaries show Blessed Pedro died trying to protect his mentor, Jesuit Father Diego Jose Luis San Vitores, a missionary who was also killed in the attack. Two Chamorro chiefs pursued the missionaries when they learned Father San Vitores had baptized a chief's daughter without his consent.

Blessed Pedro, a native of Cebu province in the Philippines, "was the first to be attacked in the assault," explained Msgr. Ildebrando Leyson of the Cebu Archdiocese. "And they marveled how he was so skillful in evading the darts of the spears ... until finally he was hit in the chest. He fell and the other assassin split his skull."

Blessed Pedro's martyrdom has captured the imagination of some admirers, but it was his intercession that made the Vatican take notice.

Msgr. Leyson, rector of the Shrine of Blessed Pedro Calungsod, spent about 15 years looking into Blessed Pedro's history. He was part of a team of clergy that had to verify miraculous works attributed to the martyr, who was beatified in 2000. Msgr. Leyson said there were many claims of sick people being healed because they asked for Blessed Pedro's intercession.

In 2003, an unnamed patient recovered from a type of deep coma that is rarely survived. When such patients do survive, they normally remain in a vegetative state.

One afternoon a doctor in Cebu, who worried he might lose his patient, implored Blessed Pedro to intercede, and four hours later the patient started showing vital signs, according to Msgr. Leyson. Over several weeks, the patient - who had never heard of Blessed Pedro - was up and about. Scientists could not explain the situation, and the Vatican's team of expert doctors and clergy studied the phenomenon for six years before deeming it a miracle in 2011.

Msgr. Leyson said the archdiocese is careful not to focus on the identity person who was healed to respect their privacy and to help keep a spiritual perspective.

"We would want that the attention should be focused on God, who did the miracle," he said. "And to Pedro Calungsod whose intercession it was that occasioned the miracle ... otherwise we would be worshipping something else!"

In Seattle, Deacon Fred Cordova of Immaculate Conception Church took note of Blessed Pedro when he learned about the miracle. The 81-year old Filipino-American was born to Filipino parents and was raised in the United States.

Deacon Cordova is a retired historian, and he helped found the Blessed Pedro Calungsod Guild in 2005. He said he thinks of Blessed Pedro as a friend, and the guild founders thought that, in the spirit of friendship, his impending sainthood would be a good way to bring Filipino-American Catholics together and help them feel at home in their adopted culture.

"They may go into a parish and not feel ownership ... like they're there just as guests," Deacon Cordova told Catholic News Service by phone. "We try and make them feel very much a part, to participate in everything of parish life besides just the sacraments, besides just the liturgy."

Deacon Cordova said the guild has received generous donations toward planned celebrations and events around Blessed Pedro's canonization.

Another group is preparing for Blessed Pedro's ascension to sainthood through the +Big Movement in Manila. One of the movement's founders, Clarke Nebrao, is a lay missionary who wanted to commemorate the Cebu Archdiocese's "Year of Missions" by looking to Blessed Pedro as an example.

"We thought of 'plus big' because he didn't do anything big (before he was martyred)," said Nebrao. "But everything he did became so significant that we know that in our life today, if we do small acts of kindness, small acts of goodness (for) others through the mission, eventually the Lord will magnify that life that you have given and the life that you have lived for him."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970