Saints and "nones"

Another Filipino, only the second, will be named a saint this Sunday. Pedro Calungsod was killed in Guam in April 1672 by the native Chamorros as he was assisting a Spanish bishop, the Jesuit Diego Luis de Sanvitores, in baptizing a baby girl.

The first Filipino saint is Lorenzo Ruiz, a missionary killed in Japan in 1637. He was canonized in 1987.

Not much is known about Blessed (beatified 2000) and soon-to-be Saint Pedro, except that he hailed from the Visayas and that he was a teenager, likely around 17 (some accounts say he was 14) at the time of his death.

The story is that it was the baby’s father and his companions who set out to attack Padre Diego. He did not want his daughter baptized. Pedro, being a lad, was agile and was able to skirt the spears of the attacker. He chose, however, not to leave Padre Diego. The boy eventually got hit with a spear on his chest and was finished off by the enemy with a blow to the head. The priest barely had time to raise a crucifix and give Pedro the final sacrament before he himself was killed.

The killers then stripped the two dead men, tied stones to their feet and threw them into the sea. To this day, the bodies have never been found.

In fact, Kyodo News reports that there is no reference whatsoever to Calungsod in the 72-year-old marker that identifies the spot where Sanvitores was killed.

Reference or no reference, Filipinos are hyped about Calungsod’s canonization. We always pride ourselves in being a predominantly Catholic nation. It goes to show that our people carry the virtues which is one of the most celebrated in the faith: sacrifice.

Ruiz was tortured and killed by the Japanese for his missionary activities. It is said he had the option to be spared of this if he would renounce Christianity. He did not. According to accounts, Ruiz said that he was accepting death for the Lord and that if he had a thousand lives, he would give up those lives all over again.

Calungsod had the option of running. He was a teenager and quick on his feet,. He would have been able to defend himself from the blows of his attackers. But he stayed with Sanvitores.

Then again, the virtue of sacrifice could very easily be stretched and twisted. Being called a martyr these days is hardly a compliment. A martyr is stereotypically portrayed as an unassertive, long-suffering masochist who does not have the guts to assert his or her own interest.

So when is it ok to sacrifice, and when is it foolish?

I believe thus that the more outstanding virtue is the recognizing that some things are of a higher order than that which would give us present gratification.


A study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center – which describes itself as a non-partisan fact tank that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world —reveals that more Americans have become religiously unaffiliated over the years.

Twenty percent of the US public—and one-third of adults under 30—are said to join the ranks of the “nones”, or those who do not identify with any religious group. The number has risen from just 15 percent in 2007.

This group includes self-described atheists and agnostics (6 percent) and those who say they are affiliated with “nothing in particular” (14 percent).

The survey was conducted between June 28 and July 9 this year among 2,973 adult respondents. There were additional interviews with 958 religiously unaffiliated respondents.

It is tempting to jump to conclusions from these numbers alone. For example, it would be natural to say that America has become increasingly godless. Is this necessarily true – or good or bad?

The additional interviews shed light on the nature of those who do not identify themselves with groups. Of this number, 68 percent say they still believe in God. Fifty-eight percent say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth. More than one-third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” and 21 percent say they pray every day.

Other important notes in the survey are the following:

generational replacement has driven the change. This means that young adults today are more likely to be more unaffiliated than their parents and grandparents at a similar age.

Involvement in church activities has become more connected to actual affiliation. In the past, even those who did not identify with a group were still likely to participate in church activities.

Religious affiliation is declining both among college educated and non-college-educated Americans.

Eighty-eight percent of the unaffiliated say they are NOT looking for a religion that would be right for them.

Overwhelmingly, they think that “religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”

I have not been aware of any similar studies conducted in the Philippines. The Pew study nonetheless provokes thought—and imagination. It would be interesting to find out the nature—the depth and the quality of the religiosity we Filipinos take so much pride in. What lies beneath the nominal numbers and the hand-me-down affiliation?

What do we really mean when we say we believe?