SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Martyred by imperialism?

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 February) – In October this year, the Vatican will officiate canonization rites for what will be the Philippines’ second saint, Pedro Calungsod, a Visayan lay worker who was killed in Guam on April 2, 1672. He was 17 or 18 at the time of his death.

Personally, I have no doubt that Calungsod was devoted to his faith. Otherwise, he would not have volunteered to be sent to an island that lies in the middle of nowhere, the same island where the Americans banished the irrepressible Apolinario Mabini. That should make him a cut above the rest of us who would balk at the slightest hint of trouble and personal discomfort.

Dying in the belief that one does so in the name of faith or some other cause that he or she holds dear is a beautiful way to die. Calungsod must have felt this in his young, sincere heart as the killer’s weapon pierced his flesh. Idealism led to his early death but with it a hallowed place in the annals of a grateful church.

Nonetheless, while Calungsod only had noble intent in joining the mission to Guam, the Spanish colonialists had things in mind other than spreading the faith – advancing the Crown’s imperial interests. Guam, which is part of the Marianas Islands, hosted defensive structures that protected galleons plying the Manila-Acapulco (Mexico) trade route.

Calungsod and [his] fellow missionaries worked as the medieval versions of present-day civil-military relations operatives working in hostile territories. They were there to do conversion work among the Chamorro natives to soften local resistance against Spanish presence, although they were likely unaware of their real objective.

A few years back, another would-be Filipino saint met a similar fate in Japan. Lorenzo Ruiz, now known as San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, was tortured to death along with other Christians who refused to recant their religious belief.

What has been omitted in narratives is that Japan had allowed Christianity to prosper for over a century. Portuguese and Spanish missionaries had moved around that country in relative freedom. The Pope however favored Portugal in the struggle over who should colonize Japan.

Christianity had thrived in Japan from the 16th century until the early part of the 17th century, in part because the country’s rulers benefited from the ensuing commercial activities spawned by the Portuguese and Spanish presence. But Japanese authorities eventually started cracking down on the Christians for being perceived as a political threat. Lorenzo Ruiz happened to arrive there just as the persecution intensified.

Japanese authorities however were not entirely wrong in their suspicion as to the ulterior motive behind the proselytizing being done by the missionaries. Both Portugal and Spain had always wanted to colonize Japan, and make it a jump-off point for the conquest of China.

It was in this context that Lorenzo Ruiz, who fled home to avoid prosecution for an alleged murder, met a brutal death leading to sainthood 350 years later. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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