What history says about Pedro Calungsod

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Before he is declared a saint, Pedro Calungsod is first a historical figure. What is known about him based on 17th-century records?

YOUTH MODEL. Blessed Pedro Calungsod, seen in this artist's rendition, is considered a model for the youth.

MANILA, Philippines – Who is Pedro Calungsod, the historical figure?

The surest thing about Calungsod – a teenage missionary with the Jesuits in the Mariana Islands – is how and why he died. This is based on at least 13 historical documents that told and retold his death on April 2, 1672.

The Archdiocese of Cebu’s Msgr Ildebrando Leyson, who pushed for Calungsod’s sainthood, compiled these 17th-century documents which Rappler has pieced together. Kept in various archives in Rome, France, Mexico, and Spain, these documents paint an image of Calungsod’s final days.

It was close to Holy Week in 1672. A smear campaign hounded Calungsod and his fellow missionaries, especially his superior, Jesuit priest Diego Luis de San Vitores. This was after a Chinese merchant named Choco spread gossip against them, envious of their influence among the Chamorro natives.

Choco said their baptismal water was poisonous – an allegation that worked because, incidentally, the baptized Chamorro babies got sick and died. Driven by superstition, local healers and other men supported this claim.

Furious natives then aimed to kill the missionaries, said the earliest document on Calungsod’s death. Those killed were the Spaniards Diego Bazan, Manuel Rangel, and Manuel de Nava; a Tagalog native named Damian, and a Pampango named Nicolas de Figueroa, according to a letter by one of their Jesuit companions, Fr Francisco Solano, dated April 26, 1672.

Solano – who, 24 days after Calungsod’s death, wrote his superiors in the Philippines – described all the victims as “youths of very good disposition.”

‘Kill him’

The spate of killings reached its peak when it involved the Jesuit superior, San Vitores, and his lone companion then, Calungsod.

At around 7 am on the eve of Palm Sunday, San Vitores and Calungsod went to the village of Tumhon, according to documents compiled by Leyson. Locals told them a baby girl was born. Immediately, San Vitores wanted to baptize the child – whose father was Matapang, a converted Catholic who later rejected the faith after rumors against it spread.

“Are there any children to be baptized?” asked San Vitores, as quoted in Solano’s account. Matapang angrily responded: “There inside, I have a skull. Baptize it for me with that water of God.”

Hirao, another native, “tried to pacify” Matapang. But the latter insisted: “Let us kill him,” referring to San Vitores. Hirao initially refused to hurt the priest because of the latter’s good reputation, but got agitated when Matapang mocked him: “You are a coward.” So Hirao agreed: “Let us kill him.”

Matapang and Hirao then speared the missionaries, “beginning with the companion Pedro Calonsor.” (Spaniards reportedly had difficulties pronouncing Filipino words that end with “d,” like “Calungsod,” so they spelled the Visayan’s name as “Calongsor.”)

Matapang later hurled a spear at San Vitores, then Hirao struck him using a machete. The priest, who was eventually beatified or declared “blessed” by the Church in 1985, also died a martyr. San Vitores’ body, along with Calungsod’s, was thrown into the sea.

Priest’s protector

Other accounts provide a more detailed story of Calungsod’s death.

Citing various records, Leyson said San Vitores and Calungsod first gave Matapang some time “to cool down.” He said they gathered children and adults at the nearby shore, and began to chant Catholic teachings. They invited Matapang to join their group, but the latter “shouted back that he was angry with God and was already fed up with Christian teachings.”

Matapang then went away for a while, and urged Hirao to join him in killing the missionaries.

While Matapang was away, however, San Vitores was able to baptize the child, having gotten the consent of the baby’s Christian mother. Upon learning this, Matapang became “even more furious” and launched his attack.

In various documents, Jesuits said Calungsod had a big opportunity to escape. He was, after all, an able-bodied teenager, likely aged 16 to 17.

“And he could have saved his life if he had fled,” said the Account on the Events in the Mariana Islands in the years 1672 and 1673 by Jesuits Francisco Ezquerra, Gerard Bouwens, and Pierre Coemans.

“But as a good Catholic, he preferred to die side by side with his Father and not to abandon him. Without any doubt we think that he would have first done away with the two enemies and saved himself and the Father if he were armed, considering his energetic bravery. But the Venerable Father’s pious heart would not allow arms in his companions,” said the document written on April 6, 1673.

A book on San Vitores, written by Jesuit priest Francisco Garcia, likewise said Calungsod “did not want to forsake” San Vitores.

“Rather, he would die at his side as the good soldier of Christ. And so, after evading many throws of the spear, one hit him and Hirao rushed with the sword and finished the crown for him by wounding him in the head,” Garcia wrote in 1683.

“Fortunate youth, and well rewarded were the 4 years of faithful service to God in the mission, accompanying the minister of the Gospel, and dying for the faith in company with the first apostle of those islands; he was the herald of his martyrdom in heaven,” Garcia added.

‘Indio Bisaya’

Besides the accounts of his death, little is known about Calungsod.

Researchers haven’t found Calungsod’s baptismal record, which could have contained information like his birthplace and his parents’ names.

There is also no proof he came from Cebu, despite the claims of groups of Cebuanos. Leyson said documents by his fellow missionaries “simply identify him as an ‘indio Bisaya,’ that is, a Visayan native.” He also came from the Diocese of Cebu, which, in the 17th century, covered a larger area that includes what is now Guam.

Now, Leyson noted, Calungsod families live in Ginatilan, Cebu; Hinunagan and Hinundayan, Southern Leyte; and the Molo district of Iloilo City, Panay. The ones most assertive in claiming blood relations with Calungsod, come from Ginatilan, Cebu.

How did he become part of the Jesuit mission?

Leyson said 17th-century Jesuits trained young boys “as assistants or catechists to help them in their missions.” They did this through Jesuit-run boarding schools for boys, said Leyson.

“Pedro may have attended one of the Jesuit boarding schools for boys and thus was among those brought by the Jesuit priest Fr Diego Luis de San Vitores to start the Mission at the Ladrones Islands together with the other Jesuits,” Leyson explained.

He said Calungsod likely worked with San Vitores in the Marianas from June 15, 1668 until their death.

Fast-forward to October 21 this year, Calungsod’s life will mark a new historic chapter. The Visayan who was martyred on April 2, 1672 will be declared the second Filipino saint. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com