(Part 2)

NO ETHNIC groups in these islands have been stereotyped as much as Kapampangans have. We've been tagged as dugong aso, mayabang, rebelde, masarap magluto. Well, you can add one more trait to the list: relihiyoso.

Just count the number of Masses said every Sunday in Pampanga churches, the number of people in each Mass, and the number of parishes in each town (not to mention the number of bishops in the archdiocese), and then consider the role the clergy played in leading the people out of the dark days of Pinatubo, and the readiness with which they elected a Catholic priest as their governor.

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The country's first priests, first nuns, first Jesuits, first Recollects, first cardinal-they all came from Pampanga. The town that has produced the most number of priests in the Philippines is Betis, which is actually just a barrio of Guagua.

The Kapampangan Revolt of 1660 fizzled out partly because Francisco Maniago could not get the critical mass of Kapampangans to support his cause-they had all been talked out of it by their parish priests! The Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas mentioned one Augustinian friar, Fr. Jose Duque, "who was in charge of isolating and pacifying the tumult and revolt that so disturbed the loyalty of the Pampangueños in 1660. He calmed their ferocity with his ardent sermons, and reduced them to meek lambs."

During the Revolution against Spain, Kapampangans expressed their gratitude and fidelity to their Spanish parish priests by saving them from the wrath of the revolucionarios (except those in Mabalacat and Mexico towns, where the friars were hanged).

In Angeles, for example, parishioners petitioned to retain their Spanish parish priest who "is the reason not a single person in this town has ever made common cause with the insurgents."

The friars felt so secure in Pampanga that many of them stayed here long after Spain had ceded the colony to the United States. One founded St. Augustine Academy in Floridablanca in 1951 and another founded St. Catherine Academy in Porac in 1945.

And then there's Felipe Sonsong, the Macabebe soldier turned missionary, who is being promoted as a possible candidate for beatification and, who knows, even canonization.

Imagine how a race, barely a few dozen years after being Christianized in 1571, already producing saints and martyrs. Sonsong is actually only one of several Kapampangans who deserve to be canonized.

To continue from last week's column:

Seven years after the Kapampangan Revolt, and shortly after his wife's death, Sonsong, already 56 at the time, left behind all his worldly possessions and entered the religious life, first with the Augustinians in Intramuros.

Sonsong served his superiors "with great promptness and attentiveness," imagining himself "as a slave of the religious." He helped mostly in the construction of houses, convents and churches, and soon he made a reputation for himself as a master carpenter, so that when the Dominicans needed someone to build a church in the Parian district, Sonsong was volunteered by his Augustinian superiors.

He had now become quite a devotee of St. Joseph the Carpenter, just as he had been devoted to St. Isidore while he was still a farmer. Sonsong also wore the brown scapular as a sign of his devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Now with the Dominicans, Sonsong was assigned a spiritual director, who saw Sonsong's "profound humility and holy manner" and made him a donado, the title given to those laymen who could not be admitted into the novitiate (because they were natives) but were allowed to perform some of the missionaries' work.

Meanwhile, in another part of Intramuros, the Jesuit priest Fr. Diego Luis de Sanvitores had just acquired funding from the Queen Regent of Spain, Maria Ana, for a mission to the Ladrones Islands (eventually renamed Marianas in her honor), and was looking for volunteers to join him on the trip.

Sonsong went to see Fr. Sanvitores, throwing himself at his feet, and "with many sighs and sobs, begged him to be so kind as to bring him with him to the mission he was planning." Fr. Sanvitores actually preferred younger men who could withstand the rigors of the journey and the harsh conditions in the mission, but the 57-year-old Kapampangan who was now raining tears all over his shoes looked strong enough (he was, after all, a soldier, farmer and carpenter), so Fr. Sanvitores accepted him.

Sonsong's first assignment, which probably puzzled him, was to sew and mend the clothes of the members of Fr. Sanvitores' mission. "Though he had not previously exercised this occupation," wrote Fr. Lorenzo Bustillo, one of the members of the mission, "the good will and charity with which he burned to serve God in whatever task they assigned to him, made him succeed in everything."

Finally, on the day of their departure, Fr. Sanvitores assembled his team at the port in Cavite: he had 12 Spaniards, four of whom were Jesuits, and 19 natives, including 14-year-old Pedro Calungsod of Cebu (who was a catechist) and 10-year-old Andres de la Cruz of Pampanga (who was the soprano in a boys' choir that would join the trip), and a few other Kapampangans who were all teenagers.

Felipe Sonsong was the oldest, even older than Fr. Sanvitores himself, who was 41. And yet he behaved like he was the servant of everybody, executing every task with great charity.

"He did not go out of his little corner until he had finished what he had been entrusted with, except to go to some other necessary task to which he had been newly assigned," noted Fr. Bustillo. As soon as he finished one task, he quickly handed it to Fr. Sanvitores "so that the latter might occupy him anew, without ever giving in to idleness."

In the rare times when he had no assignment, Sonsong "totally occupied himself in devotions and spiritual books, in long periods of prayer, and in giving good advice to those of his nation (fellow Kapampangans)... so as to do their best in serving God."

Sonsong also "instructed them on the mysteries of our Faith. These were his usual conversations when he spoke with those of his nation or with Spaniards, in one language or the other." Afterwards Sonsong would bow to them and asked pardon "for whatever errors he might have committed" and then, "showing reverence to all, he bade them farewell."

They reached Guam after more than a year on the sea (their ship first sailed to Acapulco, Mexico before sailing back to Guam). (More next week)