Pope Benedict XVI blesses Filipino nuns and other faithfuls at the closing of the canonization rites at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Oct. 21.  (AP photo)

Exclusive to the Filipino Reporter

VATICAN CITY — Newly-canonized martyr San Pedro Calungsod received the most thunderous cheers and applause of all the seven blessed figures elevated to sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, with the teenage saint drawing the biggest crowd of his compatriots from the Philippines and all over the world, including the United States.

Filipino pilgrims and delegations, many of them dressed to the nines while some proudly waved the Philippine flag, comprised nearly a quarter of an estimated 80,000 Catholics who converged at St. Peter’s Square to witness the canonization of the Cebuano altar boy who was killed for his missionary work in Guam in 1672.

The Pope himself made it a point to acknowledge the overwhelming Pinoy presence with a special mention of the Philippines as the only Catholic nation in Asia in his closing remarks.

Even souvenir vendors around the Vatican walls seemed cognizant of the Pinoy people power as key chains and rosaries bearing Calungsod’s image were prominently displayed in the stores.

Two of the new saints were Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint from New York’s 17th century; and Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii.

Both saints also drew large groups of supporters, but were no match to Calungsod’s droves of cheering squads when the Pope read out the names of each of the news saints.

Vice President Jejomar Binay led the Philippine Government contingency, while various leaders of the Philippine Catholic church present included Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, who was named cardinal along with five others from around the world by Pope Benedict XVI in a surprise announcement at his weekly general audience on Oct. 24.

Also present were two retired Filipino cardinals, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu and Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales of Manila, and other bishops and archbishops, who had all come to the Holy See to attend the synod of bishops.

Spiritual healer Fernando Suarez was also present and was among the popular religious figures mobbed by star-struck Pinoys before and after the ceremonies.

Two of the new saints were Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint from the U.S., and Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii.

Many Filipinos, however, are still unsure about Calungsod’s official role as a patron saint.

While Binay mentioned that he could be the saint for the country’s overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) — a designation already held by the San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint known as the protector of immigrants — the Philippine church is said to be maximizing the teen saint’s appeal to young people.

Calungsod’s novena prayer invokes him as “student, catechist, young migrant, missionary, faithful friend, martyr.”

In a brief chat with Tagle inside the St. Peter’s Basilica, the popular Filipino church leader told the Reporter that Calungsod’s canonization is “a day of pride for all Filipinos, especially teenagers.”

He expressed hope that the youth all over the world will emulate the life and sacrifices of Calungsod especially in this modern time when evil and everyday temptations abound.

“Even at a young age, you can show your faith in and love for God,” Tagle said.

“It doesn’t matter how young you may be, you can always make the best choices in life that will reflect your Christian faith.”

“Our youth today are very smart and intelligent and I wish they would also seek guidance from Saint Pedro Calungsod,” he added.

Another well-loved prelate, Bishop Precioso Cantillas of Maasin, Leyte, said the ranks of clergy must learn from Calungsod in protecting and defending priesthood “by trying to be authentic and true to our life and ministry.”

“The faith we need to know and teach is the Catholic faith, distinct from Christian faith which is based on the Scriptures only and on a personal interpretation of them,” said Cantillas in a homily he delivered at the Basilica di Sant’ Agostino a few days before the canonization rites.

“It is a Catholic faith which believes in Christ and the Church he founded on the Apostles and continues to uphold the ‘12 articles of Faith’ found in the Apostles Creed,” Cantillas said.

“The catholicity of the faith for which Pedro Calungsod died as martyr is his act of protecting the priest, Fr. Diego Luis Sanvitores. Believing in the priest, in the Bishop and in the Pope, respecting and obeying the Office, the Sacred Order, the Priesthood of Christ, they hold is distinctively Catholic faith. Other Christian believers fail in this respect; they would prefer their own reasons or wills than that of the Magisterium of the Church and those duly representing Her authority.”

Meanwhile, the Reporter caught up with dozens of Filipino attendees who expressed pride and joy in witnessing Calungsod’s canonization.

“This is a once in a lifetime experience kaya nakaka-excite talaga at proud na proud ako bilang Pilipino,” said Edgar Intal, a Rome-based Filipino from Minalin, Pampanga.

Baka wala na ako sa mundo next time na magkaroon ulit ng Filipino saint ulit kaya ine-enjoy namin mabuti ang araw na ito.”

Ang ganda ng feeling na nandito ako,” said Marilyn Maturbo Kwiatkowsti, a Catbalogan, Samar native now based in Mannheim, Germany.

“I saw the Pope at maginhawa talaga sa pakiramdam. Isang bus kami na mga Pilipino at kahit malayo ang travel namin eh sulit pa rin nang makita namin ang Santo Papa.”

Sister Mary Grace Villaplana, a Rome-based young nun, said Calungsod will serve as “my inspiration.”

“At a very young age, San Pedro Calungsod bear witness to the truth of faith,” said Villaplana.

“At my age, he will be my inspiration to live my life as a servant of the Lord as I strive for others to see Christ in my life, words and actions.”

Sister Teresita Maclang, a Fil-Am nun from the La Mission Franciscana based in Mission, Texas, said Calungsod’s life, like San Lorenzo Ruiz’s, must be propagated not just among Filipinos but worldwide.

“San Pedro Calungsod made the supreme sacrifice like many other saints before him,” noted Maclang, who flew to Italy with this writer for the solemn occasion.

“He left his family and friends behind to devote his teenage years to teaching the faith as a lay catechist on the Mission to the Chamorros. He lived and died for his faith and this alone deserves great emulation.”

Some attendees, however, expressed dissatisfaction when one of the prayers were read out in Cebuano, the dialect of Calungsod’s native Cebu, and not in Filipino, the Philippine national language that is based in Tagalog.

“They should have done it in Tagalog because only the Visayan-speaking were able to understand the prayer,” said Rome-based Minerva Pacheco Subijano of San Pablo City, Laguna.

“This is a very special occasion for all Filipinos and not just the Cebuanos or Visayans.”

Manila journalist Joey Villarama, who covered the event for TV5 network, told the Reporter that there’s actually “a perception” among many Filipinos back home that Calungsod’s canonization has turned into “an exclusively Visayan event.”

But Visayans present at the canonization denied the alleged perception, saying the Cebuanos and all the others from the region are simply overwhelmed that one of them is elevated to sainthood.

“This is just a once in a lifetime event for the Visayans that’s why we expect the non-Visayans to understand our extreme joy over this historic and religious milestone,” said Ben Velez, a Cebuano based in Rome.

“We (Visayans) are not trying to claim Pedro Calungsod exclusively as our own. We just want to proclaim to the world that he is a Visayan, that we are proud of him. But he represents the entire Filipino nation and the Catholic community all over the world. No doubt about it.”

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