C.S. Lewis, a famous British novelist and Christian apologist, once said that a Christian “does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Even in its beginnings, UST, Asia’s premiere Catholic education institution, was able to hone exemplary Christians who chose to leave the comforts of an ordinary life to spread the faith across nations despite many dangers.
The University has produced 11 saints and six martyrs — all members of the Dominican Order — three of them bishops. Among the saints are St. Antonio Gonzales, O.P., who became a UST rector, and Blessed Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P., a former Master General of the Order of Preachers.
Gallows and pit
From 1545, Japan was ruled by a military government headed by shoguns, who stayed in power for a century and tried to stop the spread of Christianity in the country through brutal means.
It was during this period when Christian missionaries were subjected to torture, including the infamous “gallows and pit” torture, in which, according to Witnesses of the Faith in the Orient: Dominican Martyrs of Japan, China and Vietnam (Provincial Secretariat of Missions, 1989), “the persons were hung upside down from gallows with the upper half of the body hanging into a fetid hole.” Among those whose lives were taken by this kind of torture were five Thomasians. They were beatified by the late Pope John Paul II with the first Filipino saint, St. Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila—a lay companion of the Dominican friars who went to Japan—on February 18, 1981. They were canonized on October 18, 1987.
Former UST professors Sts. Domingo Ibañez de Erquicia, O.P., Guillame Courtet, O.P., and Lucas del Espiritu Santo preached the Gospel and administered the sacraments in Japan amid strict prohibitions at the time. The Spanish saints Ibañez de Erquicia and Del Espiritu Santo and the French Courtet were arrested in different occasions and were hung to their deaths.
Philosophy major St. Thomas Hioji de Jacinto suffered the same fate. Following the footsteps of his martyr-parents, he did missionary work and chronicled the martyrdom of other Dominicans in Japan until authorities arrested him and ended his life.
Spanish St. Antonio Gonzalez, O.P. stuck to his faith until he died. A former UST rector, he asked to be sent to Japan as a missionary and was arrested while wearing his habit. He was brutally tortured to death on September 24, 1637.
Persecution of Christians in Vietnam
It was in 1627 when Christianity was first introduced in Vietnam. Dominican missionaries preached in the country where the predominant religions were Taoism and Buddhism. This sparked the outrage of the Empire of Vietnam that led to the first Edict of Persecution of Christians in 1711.
Among the Christian missionaries who were executed in Vietnam, six were Thomasians, and were canonized as saints by Pope John Paul II on June 19, 1988.
A professor of Humanities at UST, St. Domingo Henares, O.P., went to Vietnam where he became a bishop. Aside from preaching the Word of God, he also contributed to the knowledge of medicine, astronomy, and other fields of science in the country where he was greatly acknowledged. But being a Christian in Vietnam led to his arrest. He was beheaded on July 25, 1853. On May 27, 1900, he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.
A Vietnamese native, St. Vicente de la Paz, O.P. studied in Letran and thereafter was sent to UST, where he was ordained a priest. He went back to Vietnam after his petition to serve his people was approved. He continued with his missionary duties until he was arrested and beheaded on November 7, 1773.
St. Jose Maria Diaz Sanjurjo, O.P. taught as a theologian at the University while completing his studies. He later went to Vietnam where he was to become a bishop. Even though he was elevated to the episcopal rank, he was still treated lowly, being a Catholic preacher in a non-Christian country. He was arrested and a year later, beheaded. Along with another Thomasian martyr, St. Melchor Garcia Sampredro, he was beatified by Pope Pius XII on April 29, 1951.
Despite the persecution of Christians, St. Pedro Jose Almato Ribera Auras, O.P. still ventured to Vietnam after seeking permission from his superiors. After years of Christian evangelization, he was arrested and beheaded on his birthday. Pope Pius X beatified Auras, together with St. Jeronimo Hermosilla, who was a bishop, and De la Paz, on May 20, 1906.
Martyrs of Spain
It was on October 28, 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI beatified 498 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War in the largest beatification Mass in the history of the Catholic Church. Among these martyrs, 74 were Dominicans and six of them were Thomasians.
In the establishment of the Second Republic of Spain, major rifts were created between the communist Republican government and rebel forces of the Nacionalistas. The Catholic Church was considered an enemy of the Republicans, and this led to the persecution of priests. The execution of the religious, however, began three years before the civil war even began.
Born in Spain, Blessed Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P. traveled to the Philippines as part of his missionary assignment. He took Theology in UST as a requirement for his teaching load and taught at the UST Faculty of Civil Law, which was then in Intramuros. When his assignment ended, he went back to Spain despite his plea to remain in the Philippines. With the Civil War already brewing, he hid with other Dominicans but was eventually arrested and shot to death.
Among his noteworthy contributions to the University as Dominican provincial was the procurement of a lot in Sulucan Hills where the present UST campus stands.
When Blessed Jesus Villaverde Andres, O.P. came to the Philippines, he began teaching at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and then taught theology at the University where he obtained his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Faculty of Sacred Theology. After holding several positions in UST, he was appointed secretary general and eventually dean of the Faculty of Sacred Theology. After returning to his homeland in Spain, his convent was attacked by communists. He went into hiding in his brother’s house but was finally caught and executed.
Young Dominican missionaries Blessed Pedro Ibanez Alonzo, O.P., Blessed Manuel Moreno Martinez, O.P., Blessed Maximino Fernandez Marinas, O.P. and Blessed Jose Maria Lopez Carrillo, O.P. took up theological studies in UST after which they were ordained priests in Santo Domingo Church. After holding several assignments in the country, they went back to Spain, residing at the Holy Rosary Convent in Madrid. Unfortunately, their convent was attacked by Republicans, who had them arrested and tortured to death.
Richard Pazcoguin, assistant director of the Center for Campus Ministry, described the Thomasian martyrs as luminaries of faith who abandoned a superficial life to serve God.
“These are the martyrs who willingly left their place of origin to become missionaries in different countries. These are the Dominicans who became intellectual luminaries.”
Contrary to popular belief, martyrdom does not mean having to shed one’s blood in order to be canonized, but being a witness to one’s faith, he said.
“For one who enters the religious [life], martyrdom is to be able to witness to one’s faith to the point of sacrificing one’s life,” he said. “It is only now that we associate martyrdom with dying. But it doesn’t necessarily mean dying.”
Pazcoguin said the path of sanctity begins when we heed the call of God and follow what He requires us to do.
“The call to holiness is not easy, but not impossible. I doubt that these martyrs dreamt of becoming a saint. They just carried out their day to day life of serving God.”
Pazcoguin believes it’s still possible for the generation today to have a saint, especially one coming from the University. Thomasians keep the Catholic traditions and the chapel is always packed with students every Mass, he noted.
“UST is a bulwark of Catholic faith. When you talk about UST, it is the premier Catholic institution in Asia. [It is as if it is] part our destiny to produce saints and martyrs,” Pazcoguin said.
In a tribute to the 16 Thomasian saints and martyrs, the University has installed 16 bells in front of the UST Chapel, each bearing the name and seal of the saints and martyrs.
Santisimo Rosario Parish Priest Fr. Franklin Beltran, O.P. said the bells are a fitting honor to UST’s pride and glory.
“One of the purposes of the bells is that they will be played in synchronization, playing a song like Salve Regina,” Beltran said.
Aside from the 16 bells, there will be a bell with the Quadricentennial logo, bigger than the other bells.