Pedro Calungsod was a young native of the Visayas region of the Philippines. Very little is known about him. He was just one of the boy catechists who went with some Spanish Jesuit missionaries from the Philippines to the Ladrones Islands in the western Pacific in 1668 to evangelize the Chamorros.
Life in the Ladrones was hard. The provisions for the Mission did not arrive regularly; the jungles were too thick to cross; the cliffs were very stiff to climb, and the islands were frequently visited by devastating typhoons. Despite all these, the missionaries persevered, and the Mission was blessed with many conversions. Subsequently, the islands were renamed “Marianas” by the missionaries in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Queen Regent of Spain, María Ana, who was the benefactress of that Mission.
But very soon, a Chinese quack, named Choco, envious of the prestige that the missionaries were gaining among the Chamorros, started to spread the talk that the baptismal water of the missionaries was poisonous. And since some sickly Chamorro infants who were baptized died, many believed the calumniator and eventually apostatized. The evil campaign of Choco was readily supported by the Macanjas (sorcerers) and the Urritaos (young male prostitutes) who, along with the apostates, began persecuting the missionaries.
The most unforgettable assault happened on 2 April 1672, the Saturday just before the Passion Sunday of that year. At around seven o’clock in the morning, Pedro—by then already about 17 years old—and the superior of the mission, named Padre Diego Luís de San Vitores, came to the village of Tomhom, in the Island of Guam. There, they were told that a baby girl was recently born in the village, so they went to ask the child’s father, named Matapang, to bring out the infant for baptism. Matapang was a Christian and a friend of the missionaries, but having apostatized, he angrily refused to have his baby baptized.
To give Matapang some time to cool down, Padre Diego and Pedro gathered the children and some adults of the village at the nearby shore and started chanting with them the truths of the Catholic Faith. They invited Matapang to join them, but the apostate shouted back that he was angry with God and was already fed up with the Christian teachings.
Determined to kill the missionaries, Matapang went away and tried to enlist in his cause another villager, named Hirao, who was not a Christian. At first, Hirao refused, mindful of the kindness of the missionaries towards the natives; but when Matapang branded him a coward, he got piqued and so he consented. Meanwhile, during that brief absence of Matapang from his hut, Padre Diego and Pedro took the chance of baptizing the infant, with the consent of the Christian mother.
When Matapang learned of the baptism, he became even more furious. He violently hurled spears first at Pedro. The lad skirted the darting spears with remarkable dexterity. The witnesses said that Pedro had all the chances to escape because he was very agile, but he did not want to leave Padre Diego alone. Those who knew Pedro personally believed that he would have defeated his fierce aggressors and would have freed both himself and Padre Diego if only he had some weapons because he was a very valiant boy; but Padre Diego never allowed his companions to carry arms. Finally, Pedro got hit by a spear at the chest and he fell to the ground. Hirao immediately charged towards him and finished him off with a blow of a cutlass on the head. Padre Diego gave Pedro the sacramental absolution. After that, the assassins also killed Padre Diego.
Matapang took the crucifix of Padre Diego and pounded it with a stone while blaspheming God. Then, both assassins denuded the bodies of Pedro and Padre Diego, dragged them to the edge of the shore, tied large stones to the feet of these, brought them on a proa to sea and threw them into the deep. Those remains of the martyrs were never to be found again.
When the companion missionaries of Pedro learned of his death, they exclaimed, “Fortunate youth! How well rewarded his four years of persevering service to God in the difficult Mission are: he has become the precursor of our superior, Padre Diego, in Heaven!” They remembered Pedro to be a boy with very good dispositions, a virtuous catechist, a faithful assistant, and a good Catholic whose perseverance in the Faith even to the point of martyrdom proved him to be a good soldier of Christ (cf. II Tim 2:3).
Padre Diego Luís de San Vitores was beatified in 1985. It was his beatification that brought the memory of Pedro Calungsod to our day. On 5 March 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified Pedro Calungsod at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome. (Fr. Romy Velos)