Categorized | Featured, Filipino, Manhattan, Religion

From Rome to New York: Filipinos Celebrate New Saint

San Pedro

San Pedro.  Credit: Poltographer, Flickr

In the small social hall of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel in Little Italy, Manhattan, a couple of dozen Filipino men and women gathered on Sunday morning. As they ate from a buffet of fried pork and eggs, they kept an eye on a projector screen, where a recording from Rome showed Pope Benedict XVI conducting an open-air mass in Vatican City.
“That’s San Pedro,” she whispered.Linda Borano, a volunteer at San Lorenzo, was explaining the canonization process when she suddenly stopped and stared at the screen, a small smile forming on her lips.

On the screen was a portrait of Pedro Calungsod, a young teenage missionary from the Philippines who on Sunday became the second Filipino saint canonized by the Catholic Church. As a number of Filipino flags appeared on the screen, the group in New York clapped and cheered, echoing the joy of thousands of Filipinos who were in Vatican City to watch the canonization of Calungsod, along with six other new saints.

This was a long time coming. Pedro Calungsod was a young migrant worker in the Philippines who, in 1668, traveled to the Marianas Islands (now Guam) with Jesuit missionaries. There, he preached Christianity to the indigenous people, often facing religious persecution. He was eventually killed in 1672 after helping a Filipino priest baptize a local girl.

Though Calungsod was considered a martyr, centuries passed before Catholics in Guam and the Philippines began to promote recognition of him. In 2000, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II. A year later, a woman who was pronounced clinically dead in the Philippines was revived after her doctor said he had prayed for Calungsod’s intercession. The Vatican approved the event as a miracle, which qualified Calungsod for sainthood.

“We are proud. We thank God for giving us a new saint,” said Father Jomarie Legaspi, who led the 2:15 afternoon mass at San Lorenzo Ruiz following the viewing of the canonization from Rome. The church is named after the first Filipino saint, who was canonized 25 years ago.

San Lorenzo Ruiz is New York’s “Church of Filipinos,” and the congregation marked yesterday’s canonization with a day-long celebration, complete with prayer, entertainment – and, of course, food, both before and after mass. And, because no celebration can be complete without dancing, there was line dancing to old favorites like “September” from the 70s and newer hits like this year’s “Gangnam Style.”

Meryl Sicat, who traveled from Long Island to attend the celebration, said she felt “happy, blessed.” Marixa Dygico, who comes to San Lorenzo Ruiz every Sunday, said she has been praying for this for years. “I’m happy for this because he is the second Filipino saint, and he was so young,” she said. “We can say that we are so blessed.”

Missing from Sunday’s celebration here was Reverend Joseph G. Marabe, San Lorenzo Ruiz’s director. Marabe, who as a young boy traveled to Guam and visited the site where Calungsod’s body is said to have been thrown into the ocean, joined a delegation of 25 Filipino Catholics from the northeastern U.S. at the canonization ceremony in Rome. About 5,000 Filipino pilgrims, including the country’s vice president, attended the Vatican City ceremonies.

The crowd at San Lorenzo Ruiz was much smaller – only about 30 parishioners.

A picture of San Pedro Calungsod sits on the altar at the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel in Manhattan on Sunday, October 21st. Credit: NASTASIA BOULOS

But some said they hoped the event would resonate with Filipino Catholic youth. “It’s important for them to learn that offering their life to God is worth doing,” said volunteer Bolano, who chairs the church’s oversight committee and is helping organize a November 4 celebration of Calungsod that is targeted at young church members. “If the youth responds,” she said. “It could signify a new wave of evangelization.”

For now, though, Calungsod is not well known among Filipino-American youth. He was about 17 (his exact date of birth is unknown) when he died, but a distance of three centuries may make it hard for youth to connect. Few young people attended Sunday’s celebration.

The Catholic Church recognizes about 10,000 saints, most of them from Europe. In Asia, the Philippines has the largest percentage of Catholics – about 80 percent of the country. Yet other Asian countries where the church is not nearly as strong have more representation among the saints; just two percent of Japan is Catholic, for example, though about a dozen saints are from there.

In his speech at the canonization ceremony, the Pope spoke about San Pedro’s life in the Marianas mission. “May the example and courageous witness of Pedro Calungsod,inspire the dear people of the Philippines to announce the Kingdom bravely and win souls for God,” he said.

Justin Pepito, a 20-year old whose family is originally from Cebu, Calungsod’s hometown in the Philippines, came from Connecticut to attend the ceremonies at San Lorenzo Ruiz yesterday.

“This is good,” he said, “because we are one of Asia’s most Catholic countries, but we are still underrepresented in the Christian world.”


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