San Lorenzo Ruiz: First Filipino Martyr and Saint

Filipino Proto-Martyr

As the University of Santo Tomas hosts the  Philippine Conference On New Evangelization (PCNE 4) 2017 on July 28-30, 2017, it is fair to ask: How would a Filipino Catholic face the same test of faith that some 30,000 Japanese martyrs (42 of whom have been proclaimed Saints, while 394 have been beatified or declared “Blessed”) and several hundred Korean converts in Japan (108 of whom are Martyr-Saints) had willingly faced?

We have only one example – San Lorenzo Ruiz (c1600–1637) who tried to flee Manila on board a ship with three Dominican priests who were purposively going to Japan to proselyte, with Lorenzo Ruiz just trying to get away from Manila.

All were arrested upon landing, and after two years in prison, martyred in Nagasaki.

Little is known about San Lorenzo. He was born around the year 1600 in Binondo, Manila – the traditional district for Chinese Christians. He was the son of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother. Both were Christians and took care to raise Lorenzo as a Catholic. He served in his parish church as an altar boy and calligrapher. He was listed as a member of the Dominican Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary.

Lorenzo married a woman named Rosario. The couple had three children —  two sons and one daughter. By Dominican accounts, the family was ordinary and happy.

In 1636, Lorenzo was accused of murder. Allegedly he killed a Spaniard – and in Manila, justice would have been stacked against him, a Chinese mestizo. There are no details of this alleged crime other than a journal entry by two Dominican priests, that he joined their group bound for Japan to escape possible arrest.

The ship departed the Philippines on June 10, 1636, bound for Okinawa. Lorenzo and the Dominican missionaries were arrested by Japanese officials for the state crime of being Christians and ordered to recant their faith. When Lorenzo refused he was imprisoned for two years. On Sept. 27, 1637, Lorenzo and his companions were taken to Nagasaki to be tortured and killed if they would not recant their faith. Despite the painful torture, the men refused to abjure their Catholic religion.

Following this, Lorenzo was hanged upside down, with a rope around his ankles. This method of torture was known as tsurushi, or “gallows and pit.” The torture forces a person to be hanged upside down with a gash cut in their forehead to prevent too much blood from gathering in the head. The gash also causes the victim to bleed to death over an extended period of time. One hand is left free so the victim can offer an agreed symbol that will represent their desire to recant their faith. But Lorenzo refused to recant.

According to the record of 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 I shall offer. Do with me as you please.”

Lorenzo Ruiz  was in good company: St. Antonio Gonzalez, St. Guillermo Courtet, and St. Miguel de Aozaraza; a Japanese priest, St. Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz; and a lay leper, St. Lázaro of Kyoto.

Lorenzo was beatified by Pope John Paul II on February 18, 1981 in Manila – a first! The beatification ceremony was held in the Philippines making it the first beatification ceremony ever held outside the Vatican. It was the revered statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (known in Manila as “La Japona”), brought back by Lord Justo Takayama Ukon from Nagasaki in 1614 that “presided over the Beatification Ceremonies of ‘Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions’ in 1981.”

His canonization took place at the Vatican on October 18, 1987. His feast day is September 28. ◘

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, Managing Trustee
Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation

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