by ROMY UDANGA
AUCKLAND — Close to 400 Catholic Filipinos celebrated the feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila and his companions at the Star of the Sea Parish in Howick on September 26.
Described by Pope John Paul II as the “most improbable of saints” during his canonisation ceremony on October 28, 1987, San Lorenzo Ruiz holds the honour of being the first Filipino saint and the distinction of being the first person beatified outside the Vatican — in Manila.
The Coadjustor Bishop of Palmerston North, Charles Drennan, presided over the Mass with concelebrants Star of the Sea Parish Priest Fr Terry Montgomery; Auckland Catholic Filipino Chaplain Fr Ruben Elago, MSP; Fr Gilbert Ramos; Fr Mario Dorado, OFM; Fr Larry Rustia; Fr Carlo Carmelo Cruz and Fr Maliu Tofu.
During his sermon, Bishop Drennan said the feast brings to our attention the importance of our faith in times of great adversity and challenges in life.
San Lorenzo and his companions were persecuted in feudal Japan in the 1630s. At that time, missionaries in particular were hounded and tortured cruelly.
Bishop Drennan praised the saint’s witness to faith in the face of torture.
On September 29, 1637, San Lorenzo professed his faith by martyrdom. Before he died from torture, he proclaimed in Tagalog: “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly accept death for the Lord; if I have a thousand lives, all of them I will offer to him.”
Bishop Drennan said it is unlikely that any one in the congregation will be called by God to martyrdom, “but each one of us is called to bear witness to our faith”.
In a secular society like ours, where God and faith are so often put on the sideline, or indeed ignored or even mocked, he said it is vital that young people exercise their conscience actively and consciously because “saints are not just for the past. They are in the making today.”
At the culmination of the Mass, the congregation sang “Sanlibong Buhay” (A Thousand Lives), about the martyrdom of San Lorenzo.
Filipino community Chaplain Fr Elago said the song always brings him to tears.
After the Mass in his parish, Fr Montgomery said the event was a “wonderful celebration of faith”.
“All these Filipinos coming from everywhere and celebrating the feast of their first saint is an inspiration to all of us. The way these people worked together and came together and celebrated together, it is a privilege to have them all here,” he said.