Saint of the Day – 5 February – St Philip of Jesus (1572-1597) Martyr, Missionary, Discalced Friar of the Reformed Franciscans of the Province of St Didacus, founded in Mexico by St Peter Baptista, with whom he suffered martyrdom later. He was born Felipe de las Casas in Mexico and died on 5 February 1597 aged 24-25 in Nagasaki, Japan by being bound upon a cross and then pierced to death with spears. Patronage – Mexico City. He became the Protomartyr and Saint of Mexico. St Philip is also honoured on 6 February amongst the Holy Martyrs of Japan.
Philip de las Casas was born in the city of Mexico to businessman Alsonso de las Casas and his wife. Although he was brought up piously, Philip at first showed little care for the pious teaching of his parents but at last resolved to enter the Reformed Franciscan Convent of Santa Barbara at Pueblo.
But he was not yet weaned from the world and soon left the novitiate. Grieved at the inconstancy of his son, his father sent him to the Philippine Islands on a business errand. There, in vain Philip sought to satisfy his heart with pleasure. But of course, he was constantly unhappy and felt that God was calling him to a religious life. Gaining courage by prayer, he entered the Franciscan Convent of Our Lady of the Angels at Manila and persevered, taking his vows in 1594. The richest cargo that he could have sent to Mexico would not have gratified his pious father as much as the tidings that Philip was a professed friar.
His father, Alonso de las Casas obtained from the abbot of the Order, directions that Philip could be sent to Mexico. He embarked in July, 1596, with other religious. Storms drove the vessel to the coast of Japan and it was wrecked while endeavouring to enter a port. Amid the storm Philip saw over Japan a white cross, in the shape used in that country, which after a time became blood-red and remained so for some time. It was an omen of his coming victory.
The commander of the vessel sent our Saint and two other religious to the emperor to solicit permission to continue their voyage but they could not obtain an audience. He then proceeded to Macao, to a house of his Order, to seek the influence of the Fathers there but the pilot of the vessel by idle boasts had excited the emperor’s fears of the Christians and the heathen ruler resolved to exterminate the Catholic missionaries.
In December, officers seized a number of the Franciscan Fathers, three Jesuits and several of their young pupils. St Philip was one of those arrested and heard with holy joy that sentence of death had been passed on them all. His left ear was cut off and he offered this first-fruit of his blood to God for the salvation of that heathen land.
The martyrs were taken to Nagasaki, where crosses had been erected on a high hill. When St Philip was led to that on which he was to die, he knelt down and clasped it, exclaiming: “O happy ship! O happy galleon for Philip, lost for my gain! Loss—no loss for me but the greatest of all gain!” He was bound to the cross but the structure under him gave way, so that he was strangled by the cords. While repeating the holy name of Jesus, he was the first of the happy band to receive the death-stroke.
Miracles attested the power before God of these first martyrs of Japan. Pope Urban VIII Beatified him with his companions, on 14 September 1627 and granted permission to say an Office and Mass in their honour and Pope Pius IX formally Canonised them on 8 June 1862.
In 1949 a Mexican film Philip of Jesus portrayed his life and death.
There is a wonderful miracle related to St Philip’s Mother’s maid, Dominica – it is as follows:
Philip’s mother, when told of his misbehaviour, would exclaim, “God make thee a saint, Felipe “ and old Dominica’s usual answer was: ” Felipillo a saint! He will be one when the old fig-tree grows green again.” Now the fig-tree Dominica spoke of so often, was indeed far off from growing green, there it stood in a corner of the court, dry, dead for many years and for some reason allowed to remain in the corner it once shaded with its thick foliage. One morning Dominica, now an aged woman, went into the court, to her amazement she saw the old dead fig-tree covered with luxuriant green foliage. Scarcely able to believe her own eyes she called to her mistress, “Come, come, Felipillo is a saint; the fig-tree has again become green.” And, sure enough, months after this amazing event, news reached his native city that Felipe had received a martyr’s death in Japan in a mountain near Nagasaki city, “Mount of the Martyrs.”