Calungsod and being selfless

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

I WASN'T there, and so this narrative is a summation of the testimony of people who were in the vicinity. I won’t mention names and places, because only the story is important.

This happened years ago in a mountain barangay. Three youthful peasant organizers were in “hostile” territory, sort of, and did the wrong thing: they led a campaign against the illegal cultivation of plants that had become the main source of sustenance of some farmers there. They uprooted the plants they found and burned them. The reaction was swift.

One night, a group of armed men lured the three teenagers to go outside the house where they were temporarily staying. They were met by a hail of bullets. One died instantly, the other a few minutes later. The third one, wounded, managed to reach a neighboring village where he died in a farmer’s house.


Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. But not in the case of the three, who sacrificed their lives in selfless pursuit of a noble goal. Which reminds me of the youthful Pedro Calungsod and his own martyrdom.
Martyrdom is situational. Periods of oppression and exploitation, and the protests and struggle that sprout in them, produce more martyrs than in less trying times. Think World War II or Martial Law years later in the Philippines. Then think of the current Facebook-energized age. The former sparked more nobility of purpose. The latter more selfishness.

The stress is on the word “more,” because in every era both nobility and selfishness exist in what can be considered a dialectical embrace. And it is up to the individual which kind of existence he wants to choose. Seventeenth century Philippines, the period Pedro Calungsod was born in, was no exception.

Calungsod, the details of whose life even the best researchers of the Cebu archdiocese could not fully unravel, will be among the chosen Catholics to be canonized in Rome on Oct. 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Then again, knowing how Calungsod lived is only secondary to knowing the consequences of the final choices that he made in his life. Those choices were what made chroniclers of the Spanish colonial period mention his name, though only in passing.

Calungsod died in the Marianas Islands, specifically in the present-day Guam, in 1672.

Many of us already know the story: He was a young sacristan and catechist chosen to accompany a Jesuit missionary, Diego Luis de San Vitores, to Christianize the Chamorros in Guam. The mission turned sour, they were attacked and Calungsod chose to be with San Vitores’s side instead of escaping. They were both martyred.

That was the final test of his character. But before that, the choice of going with San Vitores to a hostile territory (life was harsh in the very rural Marianas in those times, and the Chamorros were a different people) was admirable. Missionaries, in a way, are to a certain extent like the peasant organizers that we were years ago. Surviving is a test of will and faith, or in our case, commitment to a cause.

How we live--or die--is a matter of choice. Calungsod, like the three peasant organizers that I mentioned earlier, chose to follow a heroic route in the pursuit of faith and cause. Then again, they were in a far different setting from where the present generation of young people is now. The challenge is different, and so are the choices.

But no matter what era, whether peaceful or violent, the measure of heroism is always this: selflessness.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 12, 2012.


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