The everyman as saint

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

VERY little is known about the life of San Pedro Calungsod, so chances are the value of what has been gathered about him so far is being exaggerated. The Cebu archdiocese may not admit it, but it is obvious that the Calungsod story is incomplete and what we have are not enough to give us a full picture of the kind of youth he was.

The Cebuanos’ perception of Calungsod’s character, for example, is based on conjectures and not on real description by people who knew him. I would even say that who we believe Pedro was is mainly based on priest-researchers imagining of his person.

The few times that Calungsod was mentioned in written accounts were as a member of the supporting cast in the narrative wherein Fr. Diego Luis de San Vitores was the main protagonist. In narrating the martyrdom of Father Diego and Pedro in the Mariana Islands in 1672, Spanish chroniclers only mentioned the latter in passing, an almost indistinct figure in the shadow of a “heroic” priest.


That is not a condemnation of Spanish chroniclers because bourgeois historiography, after all, always favors personalities who play critical roles in the shaping of events. Besides, it is possible that they were as clueless as we are about Calungsod’s background.

Pedro may have been a catechist and good at it, but in the bigger scheme that was the Christianization of the Chamorros in the Marianas, he was merely one among the few other Philippines natives tasked to assist San Vitores and the other priests in establishing the mission.

In that setup, Pedro, in the eyes of the Spanish chroniclers, was a virtual nonentity.

He wouldn’t even have been mentioned by historians had he not been there when San Vitores was attacked.

I am not saying that this is the best way to record mankind’s march. I do not recognize great personalities as shaper of events with the greater mass of the people as mere followers. Instead, the acts of great personalities are actually the ones being shaped by the unfurling of events propelled by the masses of people. Great personalities merely ride on the crest of the waves created by the masses.

This thinking inverts the common notion of history writing and places bigger importance on the role ordinary people play in the shaping of events. San Vitores did not Christianize the Marianas on his own. He was half-blind and would not have survived the harshness of the islands’ jungles without Calungsod and his compatriots who most likely functioned as aides, together with the other Spanish priests and soldiers.

It is in this sense that Calungsod’s canonization, which took precedence over that of Father Diego (who has been beatified but has not been declared saint yet), is justified. In a way, Pedro represents not only the unknown members of San Vitores’s mission but also the masses who are the real shapers of history but has been left out in the narrative.

In this sense, too, the lack of information on Calungsod’s life no longer matters.

Calungsod is the everyman: he can be the ordinary church worker who toils under the radar, the man who cleans the church premises, the “kolitos” who do the bidding of an officiating priest, etc. He is nondescript and therefore common. His life mirrors those of others like him. One therefore will know who San Pedro is by merely observing how other ordinary people act and live.

If only because of these, Catholics in Cebu and the country should say a prayer of thanks for his sainthood.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on November 30, 2012.


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