We English-speaking American Catholics often overlook (or are ignorant of) the accomplishments of our non-English-speaking Catholic forerunners on this continent. One such forerunner, who should be a household name to American Catholics, is St. Philip of Jesus. In 1597 — twenty-three years before the Puritan heretics landed on Plymouth Rock — this Mexican-born, Franciscan friar shed his blood for Jesus Christ. However, he is known not as a “Mexican Martyr,” but as one of the twenty-six “Nagasaki Martyrs.” That’s right: Japan!
While in his teens, Philip entered a reformed Franciscan convent in Pueblo, Mexico. He did not persevere, though, and left after only a year. With the support of his father he went to the Philippines to pursue a merchant’s career. But the call of a religious vocation had not been silenced in his soul, and, o n May 22, 1594, he entered the Franciscan Convent of Our Lady of the Angels in Manila. In 1596 he was sailing back to Mexico when the ship was blown off course and was wrecked on a reef off the coast of Japan. When it was discovered that the ship had soldiers, cannon, and ammunition on board, the traveling religious (including also a Dominican, two Augustinians, and another Franciscan) were arrested. They were accused to Emperor T yotomi Hideyoshi of being part of a military expedition to conquer Japan. The Emperor was enraged and ordered the arrest of all the friars of the monastery at Miako (now Kyoto). Soon the martyr-band increased to twenty-six: six Franciscans, seventeen Japanese Franciscan Tertiaries, the Jesuit, Paul Miki, and his two Japanese servants. On January 3, each had a piece of his left ear cut off, and they were paraded through the streets of Kyoto. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “On 21 January they were taken to Osaka, and thence to Nagasaki, which they reached on 5 February. They were taken to a mountain near the city, ‘Mount of the Martyrs,’ bound upon crosses, after which they were pierced with spears.”
Beatified by Urban VIII in 1627, and canonized with his companions by Pius IX in 1862, St. Philip is the patron saint of Mexico City. In the traditional Roman calendar, the feast day of the Nagasaki Martyrs is February 5.