In 1985, more than two hundred of the faithful on Guam went on a pilgrimage to Rome for a ceremony that very few people in all of Christendom have ever attended - the beatification of a person, the final step before sainthood.
Considering the brutal manner in which the native population of Guam was treated by Spanish colonialists in the early history of Guam, it is a wonder, indeed, that three hundred and some years later, the people of Guam would be leading the movement to have a priest, killed by their own Chamorro ancestors, elevated to sainthood. And, that a son of Guam, Archbishop Felixberto Camacho Flores, would be the one to provide the impetus for the movement which had remained dormant for over three centuries.
In the days of conquests of new lands to enrich their national treasuries, claiming new territories for one's country was accomplished by the planting of the cross and the sword by the Spanish conquistadores. In effect, on the one hand, the sword of the conqueror struck mightily to subjugate natives in the new world which was followed, on the other hand, by a priest promising salvation.
Despite the hostile atmosphere that prevailed during the early days of the Catholic mission, however, the missionaries succeeded in establishing a strong foundation for the Catholic Religion which was to influence markedly the culture of Guam up to the present day.
The superior of the mission that came to Guam in 1668, Father Diego Luis de San Vitores, was born in Burgos, Spain in 1627 and chose early in his life to become a Jesuit and to work in the new territories across the seas. He eventually succeeded in getting himself appointed to the mission in the Philippines through the help of his family and friends in Spain. After two years of very difficult travel via Mexico and Guam, he reached the Philippines.
He was astonished to learn during the stop-over on Guam that almost one hundred and fifty years after Magellan's landing on the island, there was still no mission in the Marianas. Once again, through pleas to his family and the crown, he was authorized to establish a mission on Guam after five years in the Philippines. He was immediately confronted with what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle when he learned that he literally had to have a ship built for the journey to Guam. Since there was no direct route from the Philippines to Guam at the time, he then had to sail first to Acapulco, Mexico, and then backtrack to Guam on the ship's return trip to the Philippines.
By the time Father San Vitores arrived on Guam, he had already established a remarkable reputation for devotion to his priestly duties. At every location in which he served, starting with his native Spain, however brief or lengthy the stay, he was requested not to leave by government and church officials, and, above all, by those he had introduced and converted to Catholicism. He always declined such requests and he continued to move on to other places for he had heard a call from somewhere and he would not rest until he answered that call.
In the Marianas, he endeared himself to the native Chamorros by learning and speaking their language and humbling himself before them by performing tasks of the commoners. He discarded the name, Islas de los Ladrones, and replaced it with Islas Marianas. He also named the various islands in the chain after saints with Guam being named Isla de San Juan. He established the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, the forerunner of the Royal College, for the training and education of promising young native Chamorros whom he placed under the supervision of his fellow Jesuits, renowned for their excellence in the field of education.
He traveled to neighboring islands under the most adverse conditions to bring the cross to the people. His success did not go unnoticed and he had his enemies among the local leaders.
His life ended at the age of 45 when he was killed by the Chamorro chief, Matapang, for baptizing his daughter without permission. By the time of his death, he was regarded so highly for his work as a Jesuit priest that the process for his beatification was started in Manila in 1677 and also in Toledo, Spain, in 1688.
When Father San Vitores realized that he was about to be killed by Matapang, he supposedly said these words, "Si Yuus Maase, Matapang," which literally means, "May God have mercy on you, Matapang." Significantly, the same expression, Si Yuus Maase, which still means, may God have mercy on you, is used widely today as our way of saying, thank you.
That Father San Vitores continues to enjoy the affection and loyalty of the preponderance of the native population of Guam tells us that our people have judged the Blessed San Vitores for his deeds and not by the misdeeds of others.
During our visit to Rome, we heard often the music we know so well on Guam as Atan Jesucristo. Everyone on Guam knows the tune to that song. I was startled when I heard it in Mexico, Central America, South America, and Baltimore. You see, the song that we know as Atan Jesucristo is known elsewhere in the world as Marcia Pontifica, the anthem of the Holy See. It is played wherever the Holy Father goes. Were you to ask how that musical score got to Guam, would you believe me if I told you that Father San Vitores probably brought it with him?