September 27, 2017

St. Lawrence Ruiz, Filipino Martyr, and Companions

St. Lorenzo Ruiz
On September 28th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions. Ruiz was born in Manila, around the year 1600, the son of a Chinese father and a Tagala mother, both devout Catholics. His spiritual formation included serving as an altar boy and sacristan in the Dominican run parish church of Saint Gabriel in Binondo.

Educated by Dominican friars, Ruiz earned the title of escribano (calligrapher) due to his expert penmanship. He spoke Chinese, Tagalog and Spanish [the latter he learned from the Dominicans]. He married Rosario, a native, and they had two sons and a daughter. Ruiz was a member of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary. He is the first Filipino saint.

In 1636, his life was altered abruptly when he was falsely accused of killing a Spaniard while working as a clerk. Little else is known about the charge except the testimony of two Dominican priests that "he was sought by the authorities on account of a homicide to which he was present or which was attributed to him." If captured, as a Catholic felon, Ruiz faced brutal torture and certain death.

He sought asylum on a ship carrying three Dominican priests, Antonio Gonzalez, Guillermo Courtet, and Miguel de Aozaraza, a Japanese priest, Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz, and a layman named Lazaro, a leper. Only at sea did they learn they were going to Japan where Catholics at the time were systematically persecuted.

They landed at Okinawa, were questioned, arrested, and then taken to Nagasaki. There they were subjected to a series of unspeakable tortures: After the forced consumption of huge amounts of water, they were made to lie down. Long boards were placed on their stomachs which guards then stepped, on causing water to shoot violently from their mouth, nose and ears. Bamboo needles were inserted under their fingernails and pounded into the quick. Most of the martyrs succumbed to these torments. Those who remained, including Ruiz, were put to death by being hung upside down over a pit. This was extremely painful: though the victim could recant and gain release. Ruiz refused to do so, and died from blood loss and suffocation. His remains were cremated and thrown into the sea.

There were nine priests, two religious, two sisters, and three laymen, (among the latter, Lawrence Ruiz) who received the crown of martyrdom. St. John Paul II’s homily for the Beatification of Lorenzo Ruiz extols Ruiz’s heroic witness: "The example of Lorenzo Ruiz, the son of a Chinese father and Tagala mother, reminds us that everyone's life and the whole of one's life must be at Christ's disposal. Christianity means daily giving, in response to the gift of Christ who came into the world so that all might have life and have it to the full. ...To die for the faith is a gift to some; to live the faith is a call for all." Grant us, we pray, Lord God, the same perseverance shown by your holy Martyrs Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and his companions in serving you and their neighbor, since those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are forever blessed in your heavenly Kingdom.

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