Early 1981, coming from Tagaytay City where I was priest in charge of a seminary, I happened to pass by a religious bookstore. Everyone was excited about the impending visit of Pope St. John Paul II. Preparation was at a high pitch for the beatification of the first Filipino candidate for canonization.
A religious sister, with a sense not only of surprise but quite a bit of disdain, asked, “Father, who is this Lorenzo Ruiz, whom the Pope will beatify soon? I have never heard of him. Nobody ever talked about him before.”
The answer I gave amazed me, too. I blurted out, “Sister, you and I do not know him. But already for a long time, God has known him.” I keep recalling what with astonishment I said four decades ago.
This Filipino-Chinese is an example of one who emerged from obscurity into the limelight. This first (later) canonized Filipino, together with the second one, the 18-year-old, catechist martyred in Guam, St. Pedro Calungsod, is an example of one considered a nobody but, following the footsteps of Christ, became a shining light, a picture of Filipinos the world over, called to play an important role in the evangelical mission of the Church.
St. Lorenzo Ruiz was a simple Juan de la Cruz. A married man with children, he did not deserve to live “intra muros” (within the walls), an area reserved for the elite, the fair-skinned. “Extra muros” (outside the walls), the Parian area for those who were Chinese-looking and Indios was where he piously did his Christian duty, known by, very respectful of and helpful to the Spanish friars. Forcedly accused of a crime, he was saved probably from imprisonment by priests who took him with them on missionary work in Japan. Persecuted by Japanese authorities, he endured a martyr’s death together with several others, his priests-saviors included, whom he encouraged to suffer and die for the faith.
In presenting St. Lorenzo Ruiz as a shining example, God, through the Church under Pope St. John Paul II’s leadership, was proclaiming a Third Millennium message to the world, namely that the simple, hidden, silent, unassuming, humble, suffering testimony of this Filipino lay faithful is the effective evangelical instrument for the Third Millennium. Juan de la Cruz, who is found in almost all nations of this planet, is the salt of the earth, the light of the world in this stage of Church history.
Indeed, following the path of Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod, Filipinos everywhere revive the faith in countries losing their Christian identity and planting the seed of Catholic faith in places where nothing or so little is known about the Good News. No wonder Filipinos are known as “Pueblo Amante de Maria,” a people in love with Mary, bayang sumisinta kay Maria. The Woman, Who gave birth to the Son (Word) of God became man, is the Star of Third Millennium Evangelization (words of John Paul II), and has a special love for and expectation of the missionaries of the Third Millennium, the people of the most predominantly Catholic nation of Asia.
The Philippines, celebrating the 500th year of Christianity’s arrival, listens to Christ, saying: Luceat lux vestra! Let your light shine!
It is high time for Filipino Christians to serve as the shining light of the Gospel to all Asia and the whole world. Pope Francis said so strongly as the super typhoon that occasioned his visit to the Philippines: “You are the bearers of the joy of the Good News to Asia and probably the whole world!” A very timely and serious challenge that must not be ignored.
St. Lorenzo Ruiz, pray for all Filipinos. St. Pedro Calungsod, help us be effective witnesses to the Gospel.