One of the main focal points at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., the largest Catholic Church in the United States, is the Trinity Dome Mosaic.
In this mosaic are the monumental figures of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Spirit; on the opposite side is the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception with her arms extended towards a procession of Saints and holy people on both sides forming a circle.
These figures include Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, San Juan Diego from Mexico, Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be recognized as a Saint, Josephine Bakhita from Sudan, the first American-born Saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Lorenzo Ruiz from the Philippines. It is a dramatic scene that reflects the diversity of ethnicities and cultures represented throughout the Catholic faith and the United States.
As a Filipino living in America, looking up and seeing a kababayan, San Lorenzo Ruiz, alongside other prominent figures of the Church, I had a mixed feeling of excitement, surprise, acceptance, honor, and pride. Filipino Catholics don’t often seek recognition and accolades because, to them, they are simply practicing their faith. There is a profound sense of humility mixed with pride to see one of ours represented up there and recognized as an important part of the Church.
San Lorenzo Ruiz is near and dear to the hearts of many Filipinos in America. Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987, he is the first of only two canonized saints (the other is San Pedro Calungsod) from one of the most Christian nations in the world, the Philippines. He’s the patron saint of Filipinos, particularly of those working and living overseas because he, himself, served as a missionary in a foreign country. He was a missionary who, somewhat rather accidentally, ended up in Japan, leaving his wife and three children. The time was 1600s, when Christians in Japan suffered horrendous persecution. Watch Martin Scorsese’s 2016 drama film, “Silence,” starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson as Portuguese Catholic missionary priests, for a compelling cinematographic feel for what it was like during that historical period in Japan.
It was on September 27, 1637 when Lorenzo Ruiz and his companions were taken up to Nishizaka Hill, tortured, and told to recant and renounce their Christian faith. Some of his fellow missionaries were forced to recant, which eventually led to their release. Lorenzo Ruiz refused to recant, which ultimately led to his death. His last words were: “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for God. Had I a thousand lives, all these to Him shall I offer.”
His religious conviction resonates with many Filipinos today, particularly those in foreign lands. In America, such conviction and fervor are evident in Filipinos’ enthusiasm and desire to share their faith and traditions. And because of their deep faith and the vibrant ways they carry it with them, plus their sheer number, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are considered the modern-day missionaries of the world. Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle once said that, “Our overseas Filipino migrant workers have become the big missionary presence.” They bring their faith, their practices, and their fervor with them wherever they are in the diaspora.
Besides the other well-known and well-established Filipino celebrations in America such as Simbang Gabi and Santacruzan, parishes with a vibrant Filipino population are now beginning to add yet another reason to celebrate their faith and heritage. Just like the Filipino Catholics in the homeland, Filipino Catholics in America are keeping busy year-round with all these fiestas. The feast day of San Lorenzo Ruiz and that of San Pedro Calungsod in late September add to the Filipino calendar of festivities. In many parishes, the combined celebration in September is called the Feast of the Filipino Saints.
The Filipino community at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bothell, Washington, called the “Simbang Gabi Ministry,” has been faithfully and enthusiastically celebrating this Feast of Filipino Saints every year since 2006. Gerry Apin, president of the Filipino ministry said: “The celebration is an opportunity for the Filipino community of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to share our religious and cultural traditions with our faith family while honoring the lives and faith of the Filipino missionary disciples San Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod.” Filipinos like sharing their faith, along with festivities and food, with others around them. And they do so with great joy, pride, and enthusiasm.
Gerry Apin adds: “The two saints were called to be evangelizers of our faith — to bring the Word of God to the peoples of the world. Their lives show the love and true unyielding belief and faith in God.”
Filipinos are known to be people of deep faith; they live it and they share it. In a world where Christians are facing hostility, ridicule, and disdain, it is so much more convenient to just renounce the faith. But in San Lorenzo Ruiz, Filipinos have a heroic and saintly model that they can all look to for inspiration with a sense of honor and pride. Just like San Lorenzo Ruiz, they also refuse to recant and renounce their faith. Instead, they continue to give witness to their faith with fervor, sharing not only their cultural heritage, but also the gift and inspiration of their very own, San Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod.
This article first appeared in Positively Filipino Magazine: http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/san-lorenzo-ruiz-in-america
BJ Gonzalvo, PhD, is a psychologist and an immigrant from the Philippines (now living in Washington) whose research focuses on retracing the indigenous roots of his core value of kapwa to help reframe and rediscover the sacredness of our interconnectedness. His writing, where he often integrates culture, psychology, and spirituality, has appeared in Northwest Catholic, Busted Halo, FilCatholic, and Mind & Spirit. He is the author of Lead Like the Saints (Paulines, 2019) and an upcoming book, Gift of Kapwa (2021).