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Saturday, October 20, 2012
Pedro rested for a moment as he guided the nearsighted Fr. Diego up the footpath that would lead them to faraway Agana, the headquarters of the mission that arrived in the Ladrones islands in 1668. It was already 1672 and Fr. Diego had remained tireless in preaching the gospel to the native Chamorros. Pedro looked back at the remote place they were to leave behind and at the church that they just constructed.
He led Fr. Diego along with a rope tied to the priest’s waist so he wouldn’t bump into trees and rocks along the way. Despite his physical limitations, Fr. Diego plodded on, large rosary beads dangling around his neck and in his hand a long wooden pole with a crucifix attached to the top. He brought with him a satchel with his breviary, bible and holy oil.
Those were uncertain times. A young Spaniard was murdered in the woods months before and the Spanish military commander retaliated by ordering the arrest of several Chamorros, in the process killing one of the chiefs of Agana for resisting arrest. Enraged villagers attacked the mission headquarters but the Spanish troops put up a successful defense, driving the attackers after 40 days of siege.
After a period of calm, Fr. Diego received news that chiefs opposed to the Spanish were planning a new offensive. At the end of March 1672, a Mexican catechist was killed in Ritidian, a village north of the island. Fr. Diego sent two Filipino catechists and a Spanish soldier to Agana to warn the Jesuits of possible uprising. They were ambushed and killed along the way.
Fr. Diego and Pedro didn’t know of the ambush when they began their trek to Agana. They stopped by a village called Tumon. Fr. Diego had heard reports that a mission helper there had deserted his post. He looked for the helper and met instead a Chamorro noble, Matapang, an old friend and Catholic convert. Fr. Diego offered to baptize his sick daughter but Matapang refused. The priest baptized the child, nevertheless, without Matapang’s knowledge.
At that time, many Chamorros had died of illness associated with the arrival of the Europeans. And it didn’t help that a Chinese castaway named Choco had, in the early stages of the mission, spread the story that the priests were poisoning people with the water they used for baptism. Matapang thus got furious with what Fr. Diego did to his child.
Fr. Diego and Pedro were on the outskirts of Tumon when Matapang and a companion, Hirao, caught up with them. The natives were armed with spears and cutlasses and went after Pedro first. The young Catechist was only 17 and agile, but he was unarmed in keeping with Fr. Diego’s admonition not to intimidate the natives. He could have escaped, but he chose to protect the priest. A spear pierced his chest and he fell dead.
Fr. Diego knelt and prayed for the forgiveness of Pedro’s assailants. He kissed his crucifix as Matapang and Hirao rushed towards him, one of them splitting the priest’s skull with a cutlass and the other spearing his heart. Matapang stripped Fr. Diego of his crucifix and cassock and Pedro of his clothing, then brought their naked bodies out in the bay, tied stones around them and cast them into the sea.
When news of the death of Fr. Diego and Pedro spread, bells rang and Te Deums were chanted in Manila, Mexico and Spain. Sermons were preached and books written.
(Main source: “Journey of Faith: Blessed Diego of the Marianas” by Francis X. Hezel, SJ, micsem.org)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 20, 2012.