By Jorge Medeiros
Ever since I was a teenager, in the late 1940’s a few years after the end of the second World War, I have been a devout friend of St. Philomena. I was born in the city of Ponta Delgada, in the Azores and since I can remember, I had always attended the services with my family at St. Peter’s church. It was there that I was baptized, took my First Communion and also received my Confirmation. St. Peter’s church in Ponta Delgada, for the benefit of those who have never been there, was built centuries ago at the top of a small hill and from its courtyard one can enjoy a beautiful view over the immense seaport and the city itself. It was at this location that our dear friend, St. Philomena, played one of her little tricks on me, which I will gladly write about further down.
I remember that during my teenage years the priest in charge of St. Peter’s church at the time brought in a beautiful 3 foot tall statue of St. Philomena, which was placed on an altar for all the faithful to adore. Everyone fell in love with St. Philomena and I adored her until the day I came to America in the summer of 1960. Unfortunately, I don’t know any churches in New Bedford, or in this general area, that has a statue of St. Philomena so I may go and adore her. Throughout the years my faith and love for St. Philomena has never diminished and many times I find myself praying and invoking her sacred name. She is, indeed, very miraculous. She has helped countless numbers of people, myself included, for there are many documented miracles which can be attributed to the intercession of St. Philomena.
In the last ten years, since retirement and during my trips to Portugal, I have made a point to learn more and read all that has been written about the life of this faithful servant of God. Unfortunately, the two books that I have read so far about the life of St. Philomena are in Portugal and they belong to a friend of mine. I should have taken some notes, but I did not. I am very sorry. However, based on what I have read, please allow me to give you a brief description of what I can recollect about the life of this great Saint and of the church. I also ask my readers for their forgiveness for some possible, but not intended, misrepresentation of facts.
Saint Philomena was a Princess. Her parents were the King and Queen of a very small country, in the northern part of Greece (or Italy). This took place during the expansion of the Roman Empire, when the Romans were preparing to attack the small country. Knowing that, the King and Queen went to Rome and brought along their daughter, who was very attractive, yet only 14 years old at the time. They did this to try and negotiate a peace accord with the Roman Emperor. During their conversation the Emperor could not take his eyes off of Philomena. He proposed he would not attack the small country if the King and Queen allowed him to marry their daughter. They were both very honored. However, when Philomena’s parents told her about the Emperor’s request she immediately refused saying: “I am already married to Jesus Christ and my God”. To make the story short, Philomena was held captive by the Emperor, placed in a cell without food or water, beaten by the guards, and thrown to the river with a big anchor tied to her body. She was eventually saved by angels sent from God.
While laying wounded and exhausted on the river’s bank, Philomena was captured by the Emperor’s guards and brought back to him, where she again refused to marry. She was left in a cell to die, without food or water. During the night the angels came to treat and nourish her and the following morning she awoke feeling well and as beautiful as ever. The emperor, furious thinking that Philomena had supernatural powers, ordered she be beheaded.
Philomena was buried at the catacombs of Rome. Only several centuries later, around the year 1200, Philomena’s sarcophagus and remains were found and the process for her beautification/sainthood was initiated. The entire church and some Popes of that time wholeheartedly accepted and recognized St. Philomena as the “Most Blessed Virgin Martyr and Faithful Servant of God". Her remains were later taken by some clergymen to Mugnano, near Napoles, Italy, where a beautiful sanctuary was made in her honor. There is also a relic of St. Philomena at her sanctuary in Ars, France, initiated by the then Cure of Ars. Today it is known as St. John Vianney, who performed many miracles through the intercession of St. Philomena.
Now let's talk about that little trick St. Philomena played on me. After my retirement I started going back to the Azores more often. I always felt the desire to go back to St. Peter’s Church in Ponta Delgada to visit St. Philomena and pray before her beautiful statue. The problem was that every time I went during the week, the church was closed. This happened several times until one day, on a gorgeous spring morning, I approached the church’s courtyard by the rear and stopped to enjoy the view of the city’s port. As I looked to my right, about 50 feett from me, I saw this most beautiful girl also looking at the sea. In a fraction of two seconds, I looked at the sea again and back to this beautiful girl, but shenwas gone. The location from where I had seen her was a good 30 feet from the church’s main entrance or from any courtyard exit.. Dumbfounded, I ran and looked for this girl all around the area and then went inside the church, which was open at the time, and saw nothing; she had disappeared. I later found out that due to some church renovations, the statue of St. Philomena had been relocated to another church in the same parish which only opens, for an hour or so, one day a week.
Later on, while in Lisbon, I learned that the Church of Martyrs in downtown Lisbon, had a statue of St. Philomena. I went there to pray with my wife and to my amazement the statue of St. Philomena that we saw was there. The way she was dressed and even the style of her hair, looked just like that beautiful girl that I had seen at the church’s courtyard, back in the Azores. You figure it out. That is why I think that my beloved Saint Philomena played a little trick on me.