Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files
Cebu's son has come home.
Last Friday, Cebu held a National Thanksgiving Mass, to welcome back the statue San Pedro Calungsod after it was canonized last Oct. 21 by Pope Benedict XVI.
An estimated 1.2 million people filled the 27- hectare reclaimed South Road Properties (SRP) open field where a small temple was built for the occasion, displaying admirable discipline and patience as they braved the noonday sun.
The celebration started with a foot procession followed by a fluvial procession in the early afternoon. Devotees of different nationalities, the wealthy, the powerful and the masses marched together to bring the image San Pedro Calungsod to the Templete carrying their own San Pedro Calungsod statues on one hand and a rosary in the other hand.
Devotees from different cities and provinces travelled to Cebu just to be part of the event; to have a brief look at the exact image that was brought in Vatican to be blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.
"I didn't have the money to take the airplane to go to Cebu, but I really want to attend this event. San Pedro Calungsod is an icon for the Catholics. He is a testament that we Filipinos, have a very strong faith," Aling Malou said raising her voice to be heard in the midst of the crowd chanting "Viva San Pedro Calungsod!"
Aling Malou is from Mindanao. "I took the boat from Mindano to go to Cebu, it wasn't an easy trip. And after this event, I will stay here until dawn and go back to the boat station to catch the first trip going back to Mindanao to save on paying for a place to spend a night," she said adding that even if she is tired, "God will give me strength."
And as the statue of San Pedro Calungsod emerged from the crowd to its stand in the main altar, the crowd turned quiet. It was an astonishing moment for everyone.
Aling Malou together with the other devotees, who were several feet away from the stage, slowly and softly started their chanting again, "Viva San Pedro Calungsod! Viva San Pedro Calungsod! Viva San Pedro Calungsod!"
It was the only thing you will hear you will hear that afternoon. The heat of the sun suddenly didn't matter. It was very solemn.
Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal presided the celebratory mass, with more 50 bishops and over 700 priests joining the entourage. The high mass lasted for two hours.
"Pedro Calungsod is an example of a young Filipino, who through his faith, became a beacon of what a true devotee should be. And thus, being a martyr, sacrificing his life for his faith," Cardinal Vidal intoned.
He continued: "This one remarkable gathering can be a principle for everyone. It was 340 years ago when a young Catholic martyr died not for himself but for the welfare of other people. And now the inspirational act the that Pedro Calungsod did is blooming like the flowers of May."
"San Pedro lives on in all of us. We are compelled by the love of Christ, not only to have a good faith but to practice it. Pedro made many sacrifices before he made his final sacrifice; he left home and country. He didn't experience the carefree life of being a youth. He spent his youth acquiring the basics of faith," Cardinal Vidal added.
President Benigno Aquino together with Vice President Jejomar Binay and members of the cabinet, Senate, Congress and the local government were also present at the event.
"The gathering today embodies the ideal Filipino. Pedro chose the difficult life, of being a Jesuit. And in the face of danger, Pedro did not stop and fulfilled his duty as a missionary. Truly, San Pedro reflects the kindness of the Visayans. An outward offering of oneself to the greater good of many," the President said.
"We now stand in the image of a young Filipino, who gave up his life for what he believed was right. May his story and what he did be a great inspiration, not only to the Visayans but to the greater Filipino," he added.
Governor Gwen Garci thanked the organizers and all those who joined celebration: "It was an extraordinary event because never we have seen beautiful blue skies, never have we seen such orderliness and solemnity though the people in the entire celebration. Today will be forever be etched in the minds of the Cebuanos and the Filipinos, as this is a historical event."
"And this event only justifies Cebu as the cradle of Christianity," Governor Garci stressed.
Very little is known about Pedro Calungsod.
Published account said he was born in the Visayas and served as a catechist when he was a boy. He went with some Spanish Jesuit missionaries to the Ladrones islands, later known as Marianas to evangelize the Chamorros in 1668. He was killed on April 2, 1672 in Guam, which is part of Marianas by islanders averse to Christianity. He was only 17 years old.
San Pedro Calungsod has come home.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")