In 1998, Fr. Joel Tabora and Fr. Catalino Arevalo, both of the Society of Jesus, commissioned five portraits for the nearly completed Loyola School of Theology. I met the good Fathers through my close friends Dr. Eric Nubla and Fr. Joe Quilongquilong, also an S.J. The paintings featured likenesses of the following luminaries: St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society; Fathers Horacio de la Costa and Pedro Arrupe, brilliant theologians of the Society; Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, General of the Society, and Jaime Cardinal Sin, patron and friend of the Jesuits.
I offered a gift of a sixth portrait - with a subject of their choice. A reply arrived only after the inaugural of the Loyola School of Theology.
My introduction to Pedro Calungsod came in the form of a question – from Fr. Tabora. Of course, I had never heard of this young man! He proceeded to relate the circumstances that led to Pedro’s martyrdom in Guam, explaining that the cause for Pedro’s Beatification was already in progress in the Holy See. This could be our second saint after Lorenzo Ruiz. Fr. Arevalo very kindly handed me some photographs of a young man whom he thought might serve as a model for Pedro, a basketball scholar.
In portraiture, the quest to capture that indefinable essence or “soul” may start with a fairly accurate rendering of the subject’s appearance. In this case, there being no record of Pedro Calungsod’s features, I felt the photographs of the model could only function as an aid in expressing an ideal. A vision of a youth, that to the viewer could be both inspirational and aspirational. I used familiar symbols: the palm for martyrdom, a white shirt for purity, the bleeding purples and oranges of the background for the raging fervor of his faith and unwavering love of God. While painting, I would occasionally talk to Pedro to ask for guidance.
Some months after submitting the painting, Fr. Arevalo called to congratulate and inform me that the Archdiocese of Cebu, the original champions of Pedro’s cause had chosen the painting as official portrait for the actual Beatification to be held in Rome.
I was elated and humbled by the news. The rest as they say is history.
Thank you, dear Pedro Calungsod, for allowing me to accompany you, even for only a short distance in your journey to sainthood.
Rafael del Casal
29 August 2012