Photo by Evan Boudreau

Celebrating a saint not much different than the faces in the pews

  • November 19, 2012

TORONTO - Toronto's Filipino Catholics gathered Nov. 18 to honour one of their own who was last month elevated to sainthood.

About 1,300 people celebrated a Tagalog-language Mass at Our Lady of Assumption Church in honour of St. Pedro Calungsod of Cebu, a saint who shares many similarities with the people who sat in the pews thousands of kilometres from their homeland.

"We can identify with this young man because he came from a poor family and he became a migrant like all of us," said pastor Fr. Ben Ebcas. "The challenges during the time of St. Pedro are similar but different as well because the challenge is now in terms of the work opportunities, the job opportunities and the loneliness."

Ebcas continued by saying that financial stress, religious resistance in popular culture and Toronto's increasing diversity are challenges for the community.

"These are the challenges that sometimes rock our faith but if we have a person who we can draw inspiration from then we can say if (St. Pedro) was able to do it as a young man why not us because we were baptized in the same faith," he said. "It's very challenging to stand up for your faith in times of trials and tribulations and he's a great example for the young people."

Pope Benedict XVI canonized St. Pedro along with six others Oct. 21, including St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Born in the Philippines in 1654, St. Pedro was chosen at age 14 as an exemplary young catechist to accompany the Spanish Jesuits in their mission to the Ladrones Islands, Philippines, later renamed the Mariana Islands. Inconsistent deliveries of provisions, harsh terrain and devastating typhoons made missionary life on the islands difficult to say the least — not to mention the loneliness from an absence of family which the immigrant parishioners can relate to.

But nature was not the only thing working against St. Pedro and the other missionaries. Influenced by rumours that missionaries had been using poisoned holy water for baptisms, local islanders resisted the Catholic influence. When word spread that the missionaries had performed a baptism on a village chief's child, he rose up against the missionaries and killed Calungsod. He was but 17 years old when he was martyred.

On March 5, 2000 Pope John Paul II beatified Calungsod who became the patron of Filipino youth, overseas Filipino workers and the archdiocese of Cebu, Philippines.

"The values that are worth emulating in the live of St. Pedro, as well the other saints, are still important values of today," said Ebcas. "The virtue of faith and hope and charity, they go beyond the bounds of time constraints."

While Ebcas said St. Pedro is a role model for all Catholics, it is seeing the youth engage with the new saint which really has him excited. Zanaida Yu, secretary for the archdiocese of Toronto's Filipino Catholic Mission, feels likewise. Yu, who organized the post-Mass reception at the parish hall, said the presence of the youth choir, who were organized just for the Mass, really touched her.

"It's a great feeling and very uplifting to see the young boys and girls, the youth, rendering a hymn for St. Pedro. That is very, very inspiring and a gift of God," she said. "We have been praying so hard for his canonization over the last 10 years. Now that he is a saint we have to propagate the devotion especially among the youth."

The parish plans to hold more events to celebrate St. Pedro's canonization.

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