I have become rather blasé from these constant comings and goings, but nothing prepared me for my most recent meeting with a Filipino, coming face-to-face with somebody who lived almost 400 years ago.
The scene of this encounter was the De Krijtberg (The Chalk Mountain) Catholic church in Amsterdam, where I regularly attend Sunday mass at 12:30 p.m. A neo-Gothic structure dating from 1881, the church is dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier and is under the administration of the Jesuit Order. It is conveniently located in the center of town, along the SIngel, one of the major canals of Amsterdam where the famous Flowermaket is also to be found. Many tourists, among them “kababayans” find their way to this atmospheric church, mingling with the local worshippers.
This diversity of churchgoers must have prompted the officiating priest during the early afternoon mass on the 4th of February this year to open his welcoming remarks in English. Quite unusual, since the scheduled mass was in the Dutch language. More startling was his follow-up question: "Did you know that we have a Filipino saint in this church?"
He explained further that during the extensive renovation of the church in 2004, the rehabilitation committee and the Jesuit administrators decided to include San Lorenzo Ruiz among the new saints to be painted on the church walls. This, in the spirit of inclusivity of the Catholic Church opening its arms to people of all races.
This was also in line with the tenets of the church's patron saint, who was the first Christian missionary to venture into Japan, Borneo, and the Maluku Islands. Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552), a Navarrese Basque by birth, is known as the “Apostle of the Indies” and the “Apostle of Japan.” He died in Sangchuan Island, China in 1552.
San Lorenzo Ruiz (ca. 1600-1637), the Philippines' first saint, also died in a foreign land. A Chinese-Filipino, he was born in Binondo, Manila and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987. He died as a protomartyr, refusing to renounce his faith and was executed in Japan in 1637.
I was surprised when the priest pointed to the congregation the location of the San Lorenzo Ruiz painting—atop the right-hand side of an arch framing the right-hand side altar (from the worshippers vantage point). Little did I know that our martyr-saint has been watching over me most of the time all these years; I have been seating on a pew perpendicularly across under his painting.
The Krijtberg is located at the Singel 448, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
September 29 is the feast day of San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Franklin M. Bobadilla is a retired ballet dancer and bibliographer residing in Amsterdam. He now has ample time to pursue some of his pleasures: picture books; Philippine prints; taking long, leisurely promenades.