Catholic march honors saint in Wendell

Catholic church in Wendell celebrates Filipino St. Ruiz

tgrubb@newsobserver.comSeptember 23, 2012 

  • A saint’s journey to martyrdom St. Lorenzo Ruiz was born in 1600 in Manila to a Chinese Catholic father and a Filipino Catholic mother. After serving as an altar boy and being educated by Dominican friars, Ruiz became their calligrapher. He married and had two sons and a daughter. But in 1636, he was accused of murder, and the Dominicans gave him asylum by sending him to Nagasaki, Japan, with three Dominican priests – St. Antonio Gonzales, St. Guillermo Courtet and St. Miguel de Aozaraza – a Japanese priest, St. Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz, and a leper who also was a layman, or nonclerical evangelist, St. Lazaro of Kyoto. Christians were being persecuted in those days in feudal Japan, and the companions were arrested shortly after arrival and thrown into prison. They were repeatedly tortured but did not renounce their Christian faith. On Sept. 27, 1637, they were hung upside down over a pit, with one hand left free to allow them to recant. Their heads were cut to make them bleed to death. Ruiz hung there for two days, refusing to renounce his faith. He died from blood loss and suffocation, and he and his companions were cremated. Their ashes were thrown into the sea. In February 1981, Pope John Paul II beatified St. Ruiz during a visit to the Philippines – the first step toward sainthood. He was canonized as a saint on Oct. 18, 1987, in Vatican City. He was the first Filipino to achieve sainthood.

— Backed by guitars and singing songs in their native language Tagalog, more than 200 parishioners on Sunday celebrated the life, faith and death of St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila.

Shielding white candles from the strong breeze, they walked a “journey of faith” around the parking lot and into St. Eugene Catholic Church. There, women in festive dresses with roses in their hair joined girls clad in pink and yellow to sway and swirl toward the altar. Behind them, children carried the cross, incense and altar candles, and four men bore a statue of the 17th-century saint, draped in white flowers and rosary beads.

The congregation heard that to follow in the footsteps of a saint requires an investment in love and service to God.

Monsignor David Brockman, the vicar general of the Diocese of Raleigh, said the processional represented the journey of faith that St. Ruiz took to his torture and death at the hands of feudal forces in Japan. The congregants also asked for the saint’s prayers to God for blessings and relief from adversity and sickness.

This is the Raleigh diocese’s third year celebrating the life and faith of St. Ruiz. Previous celebrations were held in Cary and Durham.

Organizer Maria Romp said the celebration is a way to evangelize and is a “priceless” occasion for Filipino Catholics because they are celebrating the first Filipino saint.

“It is a great blessing to have a celebration like this,” Brockman said, praising the Filipino people’s hope and joy in their faith.

There are about 7,000 Filipinos among the half-million Catholics in the Eastern Diocese of North Carolina, which includes 96 parishes and missions in 54 counties from Burlington to the coast, he said.

Heritage of the Phillipines

The Philippines have the fifth-largest Christian population in the world, about 87 million people – of which roughly 90 percent are Catholic. About 6 percent of Filipinos are Muslim.

Parishioner Casto Changho, who immigrated to the United States in 1967, said his home nation contains a “boiling pot of civilizations.” Until its independence in 1946, the Philippines were at times in history occupied by the Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Americans who made their own traditions part of the native culture.

That mixed heritage was reflected in Sunday’s service – a blend of English and Filipino languages – and a post-ceremony potluck of food and culture.

Roman Catholicism came to the Philippines with the Spanish conquests in the 16th and 17th centuries. St. Ruiz lived around that time, and his martyrdom in 1637 in Nagasaki, Japan, was most likely recorded by Portuguese traders, who sent the stories to Rome, Changho said. The story was unearthed centuries later, and Pope John Paul II beatified St. Ruiz in 1981 – one of the steps to becoming a saint. He was canonized in October 1987.

St. Ruiz’s most famous saying, made on the eve of his death, is that if he had a thousand lives to live, he would dedicate them to God, Brockman said.

“What great dedication that is, but we are called to be faithful every day to him,” he said. “And we have multiple opportunities to turn away from him.”

Brockman: Be witnesses

While the congregants were encouraged to cultivate their own life in God’s spirit and to remain humble in their faith, Brockman also reminded them that they are called to be witnesses for God. A collection was taken up for the Raleigh diocese’s planned Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.

The $75 million to $90 million Cathedral campus is planned for 39 acres adjacent to Western Boulevard and Centennial Parkway. The land is the last remaining part of 400 acres that the Rev. Thomas Price bought in 1897. Price, North Carolina’s first native-born priest, also is under consideration for beatification and canonization as a saint.

Grubbs: 919-932-8746

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