MANILA – Millions of Catholics in the Philippines are gearing up to celebrate the canonization of the country's second saint, a missionary killed 340 years ago who is being promoted as a youth hero.
The nation's major television networks will broadcast live Sunday's ceremony at the Vatican during which Pedro Calungsod, who was hacked to death while trying to convert locals on the Pacific island of Guam, will be made a saint.
About 5,000 Filipino pilgrims are expected to accompany the Philippines' Roman Catholic Church leaders to the Vatican for the ceremony.
At home, devotees have begun flocking to a small farming town that claims Calungsod as its own, while saint souvenirs have become popular items across the nation of nearly 100 million people.
"There is something about him that touches the heart of the Filipino Catholics," Father Francis Lucas, a media officer with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, told AFP.
Calungsod will be made a patron saint for young people, partly in recognition of his age -- believed to be just 17 -- when killed in 1672.
According to the official account of the end of his short life, hostile tribesmen hacked Calungsod and a priest he was assisting to death in Guam, where they were trying to convert locals to the Catholic faith.
He qualified for sainthood last year after the Vatican officially recognized a 2003 "miracle" in which a Filipina woman already declared dead from a heart attack was revived after a doctor prayed to Calungsod for help.
The Philippines is regarded as Asia's Catholic bastion, with 80 percent of the population adherents to the faith thanks to more than three centuries of Spanish rule that began in the 1500s.
Calungsod will become only the second Filipino to be canonized after Lorenzo Ruiz, another missionary, who was killed in Japan in 1637 and made a saint in 1987.
This alone would have been cause for major celebrations in the Philippines.
However, Lucas said Calungsod's youthfulness and the fact he had travelled to a foreign land held special resonance in the Philippines, where the average age is 24 and 10 percent of the population have gone abroad to work.
In today's Philippines, the Filipinos who have gone overseas to secure higher-paying jobs are regarded as heroes for toiling in often tough conditions and sending money back to their largely impoverished homeland.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who will represent the Philippines at the canonisation, has also called for Calungsod to be made patron saint of the country's "overseas Filipino workers".
The church has sought to maximize Calungsod's appeal to young people with an Internet campaign that includes a website showcasing his life, as well as a social media drive.
One Facebook site on Calungsod has more than 8,000 "likes" and streams of positive comments, as well as appeals for his help.
"Dear Saint Pedro, please take care of my good friend Julie who is fighting cancer," one comment on the page said.
Calungsod's canonization has been especially welcomed in the town of Ginatilan on the central island of Cebu, where its 15,000 residents have claimed him as a native son.
Although Calungsod's birthplace is unknown, he is listed as coming from the central Philippines and Ginatilan residents point to the many people surnamed "Calungsod" who have lived in the town over the centuries.
As his sainthood approached, pilgrims flocked to Ginatilan, filling up its hotels and small restaurants and snapping up souvenirs, town mayor Antonio Singco told AFP.
Calungsod posters stand in front of each house in town and residents have decorated a huge float carrying his image to be paraded during Sunday's celebration.
Parish worker Salvi Cadungo, 56, said the link to Calungsod was a major source of pride and hope to residents who largely made their living growing coconuts, bananas and corn.
"We are a small town in a corner of the Philippines, but now everyone knows we produced a saint," she said.
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