Saints and Heroes
April 27 is an exceptionally event-filled Sunday in the calendar! There is the exciting football match between the Philippine Azkals and their Southeast Asian rival Malaysia Tigers at the Cebu City Sports Center. After playing to a scoreless draw in Malaysia under new American coach Thomas Dooley, this will be their second friendly in preparation for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup next month. The match is not just another milestone; its very crucial. Moreover, the action happens right on home soil!
Lapu-Lapu City will burst with life for this year’s 493rd Kadaugan sa Mactan. A bigger crowd is expected to watch the reenactment of the historic battle between Datu Lapu-Lapu and Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on the shores of Mactan. The battle took place on April 27, 1521. His death may have cut short his legendary life, yet history credits him to have implanted Christianity on the Philippine soil. Arriving in Cebu on 7 April, he convinced Rajah Humabon and Hara Amihan to receive baptism. His baptismal gift to them, the Senyor Sto. Niño, is now honored with the grandest festivity as the oldest religious icon in the country.
On a religious note, this is also commemorated as Divine Mercy Sunday. This devotion is based on the visions of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy. In her diary, later published as the book “The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul,”she reported having conversations with Jesus who told her: “Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy”. The devotion was actively promoted by Pope John Paul II who canonized her on 30 April 2000 and officially designated the second Sunday of Easter as the Sunday of the Divine Mercy.
But the more highlighted event is the dual canonization of two modern-day spiritual heroes, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Though much focus will be given to the globe-trotting JPII who had a 26-year papacy and sprinted his way to the sainthood, John XXIII is no less awesome. His candid, humble and humorous ways revolutionize the Church and endeared him to his flock as a father and pastor. In describing Pope John’s qualities, Pope Francis reveals: “He was courageous. A good country priest, with a great sense of humor and great holiness.”
Though elected when he was 76 years old in 1958 with a great majority feeling that he would simply be a “transitional pope,” he surprised the world by convoking the 2nd Vatican Council for the purpose of “aggiornamento,” an Italian word literally meaning “bringing up to date.” He said it was time “to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air.” He called it a “new Pentecost” in the life of the Church to adapt its organization and teaching to the needs of the modern world, and to have as its more far-reaching goal the unity of all Christians. John XXIII can be credited for this vision of “revival” in the Church.
Moreover, his pontificate was characterized by his unique personality. He never lost the simplicity and humility of his peasant upbringing doing away with meaningless formalities. Vatican officials and the Italian government would be horrified by his unannounced and un-escorted visits to hospitals, prisons or through the streets of Rome. He was a sharp diplomat who handled some of the church’s toughest assignments before becoming Pope; a cunning leader who launched the process that defined the 20th-century Catholic Church. These are the same qualities embodied by the current Pope, Francis.
John Paul II is a known figure. He is a great Youth Minister, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, writer, philosopher, theologian, now saint! He is the only Pope in history to have visited Cebu on February 19-20, 1981.Narrating about his Cebu trip, Antonio Java (Cebu Daily News, 04/15/2008), recounts that JPII was even stuck in the Banilad traffic at that time! When cars were not moving, he disembarked from his vehicle to the surprise of his escorts to visit a chapel dedicated to the Sto. Niño. There he knelt in prayer to the surprise of nearby residents. Imagine this great leader showing us of the importance of prayer and patience!
Today, the challenge is on us. We make them our inspiration, not just “museum pieces.” In their lifetime, these pontiffs encourage active participation of the laity and taught that holiness is not exclusive for a few. John Paul II wrote: “Holiness is the high standard of ordinary Christian living.” We too can be like them if we put Jesus the center of our lives. Then holiness can also happen right here on home soil!