Caceres to Celebrate the Feast of the Archdiocesan Patron

The Archdiocese of Caceres will celebrate the feast of the patron saint, St Peter Baptist on Sunday, February 9, 2020.

A great but little known saint, illustrious leader of 25 protomartyrs who were executed on the cross in Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597, Titular Patron of the Archdiocese of Caceres, St. Peter Baptist is one of three saints hailing from the diocese of Avila.

Pedro Bautista Blasquez y Villacastin was born on June 24, 1542 in San Esteban del Valle, Avila, Spain. Equipped with a solid and well-rounded scholastic foundation first received in his native town and in the City of Avila where he excelled in singing and playing the organ, he took up philosophy and theology in the renowned University of Salamanca. At twenty he joined the Franciscan Order in the convent of San Andres del Monte de las Villas de Arenas. Here he began a life of total dedication to Christ for whom he would lay down one moment of his life.

A director of liturgical music and ceremonies, he had gained fame as a preacher in the cathedral of Toledo, Spain, and taught philosophy in Merida and had become a much sought professor in theology before he volunteered for an expedition to Mexico in 1581.

After three years of active missionary work in Mexico, Fray Pedro Bautista was sent to the Philippines as Commissary Visitor for the Franciscans in the Island, clothed with powers and task of presiding over the Chapter (a meeting of the Islands’ Franciscan fathers), and of inspecting, supervision and settling the functioning of their apostolate. Arriving in the Philippines with the fourth group of Franciscan missionaries in 1584, he found that the Chapter of the Custody he was to have presided was already finished. Tactfully evaluating the situation, he checked on the proceedings, the decisions taken and, finding them right, approved the same, and was quiet about his own extraordinary powers, inclined merely to enter the ordinary life of a friar.

He was assigned to Namayan, now the center district of Sta. Ana, Manila. While there, he brought together the people, children and adults and formed them into Christian communities and he organized the first choirs and musical groups for the Churches in the neighborhood. He was in fact the first religious music teacher for the Tagalogs.

Living up to the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, he studied and learned the language of the natives, travelled hundreds of kilometers from Palanan (now Isabela) to the San Bernardino Straits, making regular visit to the newly created doctrineas or communities. He was the moving spirit behind the formation of many towns in our region: San Bartolome de Bao (Baao), Buhi and Libmanan in Camarines Sur, Cagsawa, Oas and Ligao in Albay.

It bears mentioning that the Colegio de Santa Potenciana, a Manila college for girls, the first and one of the few institutes of secondary education conducted by the Franciscans was founded during the administration of Fr. Pedro Bautista in 1591.

At the succeeding Chapter of September 23, 1586, he was elected Custos or Superior of all Franciscans in the Philippines and in this capacity became the most influential personality in the ministry of the Order’s mission.

Reacting to a threat of the Japanese Emperor that he would invade Luzon unless an ambassador is sent over as a sign of friendship, Governor Gomez Perez Dasmarinas first dispatched Fr. Juan Cobo, a skilled Dominican sinologist, as his emissary to ward off the threatened invasion. Since the result of this mission was uncertain because the ship which Fr. Cobo took on his return voyage to Manila was lost in Formosa, the Governor decided to send another ambassador to Japan, this time choosing Fray Pedro Bautista to negotiate a treaty of friendship, after which he was to stay on as the permanent representative of the Governor of Manila and work for the conversion of the Japanese. On May 30, 1593, Fray Bautista left for Japan with three others, never to return.

Tactful, sagacious and gentle of manners, Fr. Bautista succeeded not only in forging a treaty of friendship and alliance with Japan but, more importantly, obtained permission for the friars to again teach their religion, build their churches and establish themselves comfortably.

For three years, the friars labored zealously spreading the faith with mush success. But they soon aroused the envy of the Bonzos - the local priests - who started poisoning the minds of the government officials and influential palace informers against the Christians. Eventually, Fr. Bautista and other missionaries (6 Franciscans, 3 Jesuits and 167 laymen) were sentenced to die on the cross.

They were crucified on a hill called Tateyama, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki on February 5, 1597. Being the leader of the group and the last to be executed, Fray Bautista suffered not only one martyrdom but many martyrdoms because he died in spirit twenty-five times as he witnessed each of the deaths of his beloved companions.

In 1627, these martyrs were beatified, and on June 8, 1862, a few years after Japan was reopened to foreigners, Pope Pius IX solemnly canonized St. Peter Baptist.

Writing in 1600, Fray Marcelo de Ribadeneira states that one year before his martyrdom, Fray Pedro Bautista was chosen Bishop of Camarines, but that the Royal Cedula arrived in the Philippines only after his death. Much later, another Franciscan, Fray Felix Huerta likewise wrote that ‘’after his glorious martyrdom, there arrived in the Philippines a royal decree of His Majesty appointing him bishop of Nueva Caceres.’’ Dr. Domingo Abella, however, in his Bicol Annals, questions this claim because, according to him, he has not found any document in the Spanish archives to substantiate it.

Be that as it may, here is a man who, because of his total dedication to the service of God, set ‘’foot on roads that spanned the distances between civilizations, between old worlds and new, between love and the absence of love’’ and who, raised to the altars and venerated as a saint of the Church would even now touch gently all those who have come to know him. (By A. A. Pardalis)