►John Andrew Sustaita — “The Art Guy” – from Grapevine, Texas, is not yet a Michaelangelo – but, for devotees of Blessed Justo Takayama — close!
Working for an art shop called “Real Catholic Art,” which creates artwork for subjects such as our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Patrick, St. Pope John Paul II, St. Charbel and the Children of Fatima, Sustaita wanted to paint a portrait of Blessed Takayama, but did not know how to tackle his subject. Sustaita proceeded to Japan for an immersion trip to learn and appreciate the culture of the samurai, and the singular relevance of Ukon Takayama who is a venerated exponent of the Martyr Church of Japan.
Relying on a network of friends and relatives, he imbibed the essence of Japanese civilization in the Osaka region — where Ukon Takayama became a “Daimyo” (feudal governor).
When he became lord of Takatsuki Castle (at age 21), Ukon, who was baptized at 12, considered it his obligation to spread his faith in Christianity, and proselytized to many Daimyo close to him, among them Kuroda Kanbei and Gamo Ujisato. The unwavering faith that Takayama Ukon fostered penetrated deep into people’s hearts.
But Japan’s Shinto/Buddhist rulers were wary of faith in a foreign religion. After Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s 1587 order to expel missionaries from Japan, Takayama Ukon was stripped of his fief in Akashi. He found refuge as a “guest general” (“Kyakusho”) under the Maeda family, who were lords of the Kanazawa Domain (金沢藩 Kanazawa han), covering most of Kaga Province. Etchū Provinces and all of Noto Province (modern-day Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures), in the Hokuriku region of Japan.
However, with the Tokugawa Shogunate’s 1614 general prohibition on Christianity, he was forced to leave Japan, with seven members of his family, and a majority of foreign and Japanese missionaries — finding refuge in Manila in the Philippines, where he died on Feb. 3, 1615.
Sustaita also visited Fushimi, Kyoto, which is not usually seen as a place connected with Takayama Ukon.
Fushimi was a center of politics from Hideyoshi’s era to that of the third Tokugawa shogun, considered to be a politically important site as a sort of “capital,” and the castle town of Fushimi was filled with mansions built by the lords of Japan to show their submission to the Shogun.
Ukon’s footprints are definitely imprinted on the soil of Fushimi as he was involved in the establishment of the Fushimi Jesuit Church (1604-1614). Gekkeikan Brewery, which acquired one of Sustaita’s Takayama portraits, now owns the land.
After completing the original which was to be presented to the Vatican, John Andrew Sustaita made four copies of the Blessed Justo Takayama painting, which have found homes at:
◘ The Takatsuki Museum in Osaka,
◘ The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Tamatsukuri Church) in Osaka,
◘ Gekkeikan Brewery (a brewery with ties to Ukon) and
◘ The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture.
Destination: The Vatican
From his Rome base at a convent of The Oblate Sisters of St. Joseph Oblates (where two of Sustaita’s cousins are nuns), Sustaita bided his time until he received an invitation to the Vatican.
Sustaita’s iconic portrait of Blessed Takayama has been presented to the Vatican.
Since the recognition of Justo Takayama as a “Servant of God” by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) in 1995, there has been a number of artwork about the “Samurai of Christ” Ukon Takayama submitted to the Vatican’s gallery of saints. Many of these can be seen at Google.com/images or at Pinterest.com. Sustaita’s portrait of Blessed Takayama is now part of the art collection at the Vatican — where other representations of Blessed Takayama will be added as devotion grows.#
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro