►Ordained at San Jose Seminary (inaugurated 1601) at the PLM/Jesuit Compound in Intramuros, Manila, this “Josefino” martyr was beatified in Nagasaki on Nov. 24, 2008.
Blessed Diego Yuki Ryosetsu (1574-Feb. 16, 1636) arrived in Manila with Lord Justo Ukon Takayama’s exile group of 350 Japanese Christian deportees on Dec. 21, 1614. He completed his seminary studies at the San Jose Seminary (now relocated in Loyola Heights, Quezon City), where he was ordained. Knowing full well the risks of martyrdom, he returned to Japan to profess his ministry.
Yuki Was Nephew of the Last Ashikaga Shogun
Diego Yuki Ryosetsu was born of samurai stock in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku: his father was a younger brother of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki, who had preceded Oda Nobunaga as head of the realm. He enrolled in the Jesuit seminary upon reaching school age. In 1597, after ten years of study there, he was received into the Society of Jesus.
From 1601 to 1604 he did theological studies in Macao, but was not ordained a priest.
After his return to Japan, he was sent to evangelize in the central provinces of Japan, where he proved to be a very capable and successful missionary. He even traveled as far as Shikoku, where he had the pleasure of preaching to his Ashikaga relatives and even baptizing several of them. In 1612, he moved to Nagasaki to prepare for ordination, but Bishop P. Martinez who was to have ordained him fell ill and died.
Expulsion of All Missionaries and Principal Catholics
In 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first of the Tokugawa Shoguns, ordered all missionaries to leave Japan. At the same time he ordered the “Kirishitan Samurai” Justo Ukon Takayama to go into exile in Manila. Yuki decided to go with him to Manila, and one year later he was ordained a priest in the Philippines.
Yuki returned secretly to Japan in 1616, and was sent to minister to the Christians in central Japan. For 20 years he continued to do pastoral ministry all through the central provinces.
In the end, Shogun Hidetada’s persecution of the missionaries in central Japan was so effective that Yuki was the only priest remaining to minister to the Christians. (Everywhere he went he was accompanied by his faithful catechist Soan.)
Captured — After 20 Years on the Run
In 1636, Ryosetsu too was captured, in the mountains of Shikoku.
Sent to Osaka for interrogation, he was asked to give the names of those who had given him lodging. But his persistent answer was that no one had given him lodging, that he had lived in the hills and the fields, warding off starvation by eating only what nature provided him.
Seeing the weak and emaciated condition of the old man, his interrogators believed him. Thus, he alone was condemned to death; none of those who had helped him were made to share his fate.
Death ‘in the Pit’
On February 26, Yuki was condemned to die. He endured torture called “the pit.” Bound tightly with ropes, his body was hung upside down into a hole filled with excrement, until he died of suffocation.
He was 61 years old. His faithful catechist, Soan, who had been beside him all through his travels, was his companion to the end and died at his side.
At Yuki’s beatification, Tokyo Cardinal Seiichi Shirayanagi said: “The persecution in Japan lasted long and its cruelty is unparalleled… The martyrs make us think about fundamental issues, such as the meaning of life and its pains.”
In 2018, the Church of Japan has in fact 42 Saints and 394 Blessed — all martyrs. All lost their lives in Japan – with the lone exception of Blessed Justo Ukon Talayama, who was “martyred” in Manila on Feb. 3, 1615. “These martyrs bless the Japanese Church with their splendid witness,” said Cardinal Angelp Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) when he presided at the Beatification Ceremony of Blessed Takayama, Japan’s 436th vererated Martyr, on Feb. 7, 2017.#
Compiled by Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro