Filipino Catholics gather to honor martyrs

Worshippers pray during a Mass honoring Filipino saints at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden, on April 23. The Inaugural Diocesan Celebration of the Filipino Saints Pedro Calungsod and Lorenzo Ruiz drew 300 people, including members of several area faith and community organizations.
Photo by James A. McBride

CAMDEN — As the unified choir of Saint John Neumann and Collegeville, Pa., began their uplifting hymns, and the saints’ icons were carried to the altar, the 300 people gathered here at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception raised their hands and voices, celebrating the faithful witness and example of their countrymen, two 17th century Filipino martyrs.

The inaugural day honoring Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod began with an afternoon Mass celebrated by Father Robert Hughes, vicar general, with Filipino priest Father Victorino Coronado, Father Edward Maher, pastor of Saint Mary Parish, Cherry Hill and Father John Fisher, rector of the Cathedral and homilist.

These two men who gave their lives for God — Ruiz in Japan and Calungsod while performing missionary work in Guam — stood courageous in their final moments, knowing who ultimately held their fate, remarked Father Fisher.

“These saints did not have fear, but love” and trust in the Lord, he noted.

Saint Lorenzo sailed with missionaries in 1636 to Japan, where Christians were persecuted. He was imprisoned and tortured. When told to renounce his faith or die, he declared, “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian even to the point of death. Only to God will I offer my life.”

Saint Pedro Calungsod, a teen catechist, was killed in Guam in the 17th century.

Witness accounts in the records of Jesuit missionaries show Saint Pedro died trying to protect his mentor, Jesuit Father Diego Jose Luis San Vitores, a missionary who was also killed in the attack. Two Chamorro chiefs pursued the missionaries when they learned Father San Vitores had baptized a chief’s daughter without his consent.

As the two saints turned their will over to God, so must those with faith, Father Fisher said.

“One’s entire life should be at the disposal and will of God. When we are free from our own thoughts of selfishness and entitlement, we allow God to work inside of us. The world needs more people like Lorenzo and Pedro.”

After the spirited Mass, which was said in various Filipino dialects, the festivities continued in Cathedral hall with native cuisine and DJ-backed dancing.

Members of faith and community organizations such as the Philippine Community of Southern New Jersey; the Filipino American Society of South Jersey; the Santo Nino Prayer Group of South Jersey; and the Filipino Apostolate of the Diocese of Camden were all present in Camden last Sunday.

“I am proud that the Filipino people can come out from all over New Jersey and celebrate today,” said Father Coronado, parochial vicar at Glassboro’s Saint Bridget University Parish.

“It’s an opportunity for us to grow in devotion to these saints, and strengthen our faith,” he added.

Estelita Santa Teresa and her sister, Lilia, parishioners at Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill, praised the day. “Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod can help us grow closer to our faith, and make it more significant and meaningful,” she said.