A Brief History of His 402-Year Journey to Beatification as a Martyr in 2017
►Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon (高山右近) was the most celebrated “Kirishitan Samurai” during Japan’s so-called Christian Century (1549-1650). His life intersected the rule of Japan’s three hegemons – Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長) — (1534-1582); Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) – (1537-1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康) – (1543-1616) — acknowledged as the “Unifiers of Japan” who ended a century of fractious civil war.
No other Japanese Christian convert has been as thoroughly written about by Jesuit missionaries as Takayama Ukon — from the time he was baptized Justo – with as many as six Jesuit missionaries writing about him in one particular year — until his death in Manila in 1615. He was celebrated for his governance of Takatsuki (in Settsu Province) where he introduced a form of Catholic charities. During the 13 years he ruled there, some 18,000 of its 25,000 population converted to Christianity – an example unmatched anywhere else in Japan, except in Nagasaki.
Japan Turns Hostile to Christianity
When Japan’s government turned hostile to Christianity — the “religion of the West” — all daimyo (feudal noblemen) were ordered to recant their Christian faith, and return to Shinto or Buddhism. Wholesale martyrdoms cast a grim toll on the faithful.
But Takayama Ukon chose to stand fast, preferring to be stripped of his fief in Akashi (in Harima Province) rather than abjure his religion. Ukon told Hideyoshi’s messenger he would visit Hideyoshi unarmed and convey his thoughts, adding that if he should be killed, he would accept his fate willingly. Takayama’s reputation as an outstanding defender of the faith was so widespread in Europe (where all foreign missionaries in Japan came from) that Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-1590), was moved to send him a Breve (papal letter) dated April 24, 1590 exhorting Takayama to remain strong in his faith.
From Daimyo to Retainer
For the last 26 years of his life, Takayama lived in domestic exile as a ronin, first seeking safe haven in the island of Awaji (in the Inland Sea) where his fellow Catholic, Gen. Konishi Agostinho Yukinaga (1555-1600) – overall commander of Hifeyoshi’s invasion of Korea — received him. Later, in 1588, he went to Kaga as a retainer of the Maeda clan who ruled the Kanazawa Domain, which covered the provinces of Kaga, Noto and Etchū in modern-day Ishikawa Prefecture.
While the Maeda themselves were not Christian converts – though some family members were! – their territories offered safe asylum, and in these scattered districts the work of Christianity proceeded secretly while openly interdicted. Despite the general persecution, Ukon continued to involve himself in Church and missionary activities. His life led many to the Gospel, as he remained active in converting fellow Japanese, building churches, and continuing to support Jesuit underground missions — until the final prohibition edict of January 27, 1614 was rigorously enforced.
Exiled for His Faith
Takayama Ukon and his family — (his wife, Dona Justa, a married daughter Lucia Yokoyama, and five grandsons) — were exiled to Manila with 350 other Christians, among them Lord Juan Tocuan Naito (Hideyoshi’s ambassador to the Ming Court in China during the truce, 1594-1596, between two Korean Wars); the Japanese and Korean nuns of the Jesuit-chaplained Beatas de Miyako [Kyoto], and the sons and daughters of other Christian nobles.
(Takayama also brought on the exile ship the statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary — [more popularly known as “La Japona”] — from the Dominican Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Nagasaki. This Marian image had accompanied the first Dominican mission that left for Satsuma, Japan on June 1, 1602. Since its return in 1614, the image has been enshrined at the Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros; during WW2, at U.S.T., and by 1954, in Quezon City.)
After 43 days at sea (during which howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas snapped the exile junk’s main mast just off the coast of Bataan), then 44 days on land in Manila, Takayama died on Feb. 3, 1615 of “a tropical ailment” which the doctors of the Spanish Governor-General, Don Juan de Silva, were unable to deal with.
Accorded State Honors in Manila
Amid great public lamentations, the “Samurai of Christ,” Lord Takayama Ukon was accorded a state funeral with nine days of Requiem Masses at the churches of Intramuros.
Son of Manila
In 1630, the Manila archdiocese, considering Takayama as a true “Son of Manila,” under the doctrine that “where one dies is where one is born to Heaven,” petitioned the Vatican to elevate him to sainthood — making a Japanese Catholic the first candidate of the Philippine Church for saint. But in 1963, with no native-born Filipino candidate being proposed as the first saint of the Philippine Church, and with its own Archdiocesan Archives devastated during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines (1942-1945), the Manila Archdiocese seconded the Takayama Cause to the Church of Japan.
Church Historians Accumulate Supporting Documents
As the “Cause” had been dormant for 333 years, Japanese historians set about assembling the supporting papers for the “Causa Historica” of Takayama Ukon as a “Confessor of Christ” – not as a Martyr. The historical team was headed by Sophia University’s Fr. Hubert Cieslik, SJ (1914-1988) who wrote in German, English and Japanese, but chose to write the Takayama study wholly in German. Other historical documents were written in six other Western languages, plus Japanese too. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints needed the documents translated to an official Vatican language – such as Latin, Italian, Spanish or English — before the Cardinals could evaluate them.
Takayama’s Cause and U.S.T.
Takamatsu Bishop Francis Xavier Osamu Mizobe, SDB (1935-2016), chairman of the Japanese Bishops’ Special Committee for Canonization and Beatification, wrote about the undue delay in the processing of the “Positio”: “It had taken quite a long time — [the papers at the Vatican were dormant for 11 years!] — to find a suitable translator. Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, professor of Santo Tomas University (U.S.T.) in Manila, agreed to undertake the task of translation. He finished his work in 1994, so from that time on, the Congregation could move on.” The Jesuit Postulator General, Fr. Paulo Molinari, SJ (1924-2014) acknowledged: “Thanks to your much appreciated collaboration, all the essential materials for this important ‘Cause’ are by now available.”
The official “Positio” – “Justus Takayama Ukon, Servus Dei” (1994, 648p) — was then presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints which gave its “Nihil Obstat” on June 8, 1994. Now — 364 years after Manila initiated the process in 1630 — Takayama Ukon had at last reached the first step to sainthood: “Servant of God.”
Takayama Ukon – A Martyr
When a beatification ceremony for 188 Japanese martyrs was held in Nagasaki on Nov. 24, 2008 – the fourth batch of Japan’s group martyrs — the Japanese Bishops sought to include the Servant of God, Takayama Ukon, among the martyrs to be beatified. However, the Vatican did not, at that time, recognize Takayama Ukon as a martyr. But with the evolution of the theology of martyrdom, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has indicated a willingness to accept Takayama as a Martyr.
In 2010, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) re-initiated the process of beatification on the basis of Martyrdom. Bishop Mizobe pointed out that the then Archbishop of Manila [Msgr. Miguel Garcia Serrano, OESA] recognized that the cause of Ukon’s death was “exhaustion and the fatigues of the exile” and that “Justus had died as a consequence of the exile, and therefore, in the proper sense of the word, was to be regarded as Martyr for the sake of the Faith.” St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, CSsR (1696-1787) — who was himself canonized in 1839 – came across the Takayama papers at the Vatican during Japan’s closed years, likewise concluded, in “Victories of the Martyrs” (1775, 1887, 1954), that, despite dying in bed surrounded by his family, Takayama Ukon was indeed a Martyr.
In August 2013, the Japanese Bishops presented to the Vatican a petition for the beatification of Takayama Ukon — as a Martyr. Pope Francis on January 21, 2016 authorized the change from “Confessor” to “Martyr” through the promulgation of a decree on the martyrdom of the Servant of God Justo Takayama Ukon — a “layperson … from Japan [who] died from the hatred of the Faith on Feb. 3, 1615 in Manila, Philippines.” Fr. Anton Witwer, SJ, Postulator General of the Society of Jesus, explained the Pope’s decree of martyrdom: “Since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland, the process for beatification … is that of a Martyr.”
Beatified in Osaka on Feb. 7, 2017
Skipping the prescribed second step – “Venerable” — the Servant of God, Justus Takayama Ukon, was directly beatified as a Martyr on Feb. 7, 2017, in Osaka, Japan, by Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Making of Saints, on behalf of Pope Francis, making Ukon the 394th in Japan’s galaxy of 42 Saints and 394 Blessed. ◘
By Dr. Ernie A. de Pedro
Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation