In ‘Arc of Grace,’ the First Eucharistic Mass Reaches Ukon’s 1552 Birthplace

►The town of Toyono-cho spent months preparing for this historic celebrAtion that honors their most illustrious townmate who has made a reputation as a Christian  of heroic virtue — worthy for other people to emulate.

The Christian Samurai, Justo Ukon Takayama — born in Toyono-cho, Osaka Prefecture ~ Painting by Shinrin Sam Bros (2019)

►Osaka Archshop Thomas Aquinas Maeda Manyo Cardinal Maeda — who was entrusted by Pope Francis to the patronage of Blessed Justo Takayama when he served as Papal Legate to Manila during the 60th Jubilee Celebration of the Postwar Reconstruction of the Manila Cathedral (Dec. 8, 2018) – is celebrating the historic Mass.

Could the Shinto-Buddhist townmates of Ukon really appreciate the Catholic ceremony?

Fortunately for them — for two years running — Toyono-cho representatives have visited Manila to touch base with Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada, and the Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle – as they trace the footsteps of their illustrious son, Ukon Takayama – ● once in July 2017 to attend the Philippine Conference of New Evangelization (PCNE-4) and ● another Takayama Pilgrimage led by then-Archbishop Maeda in April 2018.

Whenever they attended Masses – at the Manila Cathedral and at the Santísimo Rosario Parish (UST Chapel) – they prayed with profound reverence. They watched the wafting of incense — that’s universal sign of worship in every religion.

Preserving Ukon’s Memory

Toyono-cho has erected two giant granite statues of Justo Ukon Takayaa and his wife, Justa Kuroda Takayama.

It has built a museum.

Yearly, they reenact Ukon’s wedding.

Grave of Maria Takayama is Part of Toyono-cho Heritage

►The grave of Ukon’s mother — Maria Takayama — wife of Tomoteru Takayama (高山友照), later known as Darius Zusho Takayama (1531–1596), is located in Toyono-cho, where it is a tourist attraction to this day.

The gravesite of Maria Takayama (d. 1596), mother of Blessed Justo Takayama, still draws domestic tourists today to the ancestral Takayama Village in Toyono-cho, Osaka Prefecture. (@YUI YAMADA, Philippine Department of Tourism-Osaka).

Maria Takayama was the mother of three Takayama sons, the eldest being Justus (and thus heir), and three daughters. When Ukoijn was dispessesed of his feudal doimain is Akashi (1587), Maria joined Ukon during his 27-year domestic exile in Kanazawa — but when she died in 1596, the Takayama family chose to bury her in the ancestral village of Takayama in Toyono-cho, Osaka Prefecture. (That’s an acknowledgement by the Takayama family themselves that Toyono-cho, Osaka Prefecture was their hometown.)

Cardinal Maeda Visits Toyono-cho Feb. 16, 2019

►Mass Commemorating the Birthplace and the Beatification of Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama to be officiated by Thomas Aquinas Manyo Cardinal Maeda

Date: February 16, 2019, Saturday

Venue: Ukon-no-Sato (Takayama community center in Takayama Village), Toyono Town, Osaka Prefecture.

◘ 1:20 PM – Opening Ceremony and Presentation of Appreciation & Opening Remarks by Toyono Town Mayor Hon. Isao Ikeda

◘ 2:20 PM – Mass Commemorating the Birthplace and the Beatification of Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama to be officiated by Thomas Aquinas Manyo Cardinal Maeda

◘ 3:20 PM – Handbell performance by the students of the Assumption School.

The program is hosted by: “Honor-Ukon-Takayama-Couples-Gathering” — in collaboration with “Ukon Takayama Canonization Promotion Committee.”

Cardinal Maeda

Cardinal Maeda himself is descended from a family of “Hidden Christians” (Kakure Kirishitans) who survived underground as they continued to practice Christianity in secret.

They worshipped in secret rooms in private homes. As time went on, the figures of the saints and the Virgin Mary were transformed into figurines that looked like the traditional statues of the Buddha and “bodhisattvas”; depictions of Mary modeled on the Buddhist deity Kannon, goddess of mercy, became common, and were known as “Maria Kannon.” The prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist chant, yet retained many untranslated words from LatinPortuguese, and Spanish. The Bible and other parts of the liturgy were passed down orally, because printed works could be confiscated by authorities.

Because of the official expulsion of the Catholic clergy in the 17th century, the Kakure Christian community relied on lay leaders to lead the services. In some cases, the communities drifted away from Christian teachings. They lost the meaning of the prayers and their religion became a version of the cult of ancestors, in which the ancestors happened to be their Christian martyrs.

Recognizing that the places of “hidden” Christianity in Japan are the heritage of humanity, the UNESCO has included 12 sites in Nagasaki and in the Amakusa region on its World listing. The places are symbols of the persecution perpetrated against Christians during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868).

Pope Pius IX has considered the discovery of “Hidden Christians” a “miracle of the East”: after the inauguration of the Oura Churdh in Nagasaki, a group of people from the village of Urakami asked Fr. ccc Petitjean — one of the two missionaries who built it — to be able to enter the church to “greet Mary.” They were “Kakure Kirishitans,” descendants of the first Japanese Christians forced into anonymity, and were followed by tens of thousands of underground Christians who came to the cathedral and resumed Christian practice.

The remains of the castle of Hara was also included in the UNESCO list.  It was one of the scenes of the Catholics revolt “Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion” (1637), as a result of which the persecution became harsher — and the village Sakitsu, in the prefecture of Kumamoto (Amakusa), where Christians continued to practice their faith in secret.

Cardinal Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda told the “Japan Times” that the recognition will allow people to discover the history of Christianity in Japan, “summarized” in forgiveness and understanding: “The [UNESCO] registration brings with it something profound and meaningful, in which a true peace for peoples comes when there is respect for each other.”

Archbishop of Nagasaki, Msgr Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, expresses the same satisfaction to AsiaNews: “For 250 years, Christianity has been persecuted in Japan. Now, it is recognized in its history, and many more Japanese are beginning to take an interest in Christianity.

Toyono-cho is part of the Osaka Arcdiocese – as well as the birthplace of Ukon Takayama, Japan’s most celebrated Christian samurai. It is less an opportunity to evangelize – but more to reflect on why the Takayama family, then living at Sawa fortress in Haibara-cho, Nara Prefecture — a stronghold held by Ukon’s father, Takayama Tomoteru (1531–1596), a samurai in the service of the Daimyo Matsunaga Hisahide (松永 久秀), 1508–1577, in Yamato Province (today in Haibara-cho, Nara Prefecture) — were moved to convert from Buddhism (as in Toyono-cho today) enmasse in 1564.

The rediscovery of the Japanese Christian history must also involve the faithful themselves, called to study “the history of their ancestors”: for this, on April 1 the diocese of Nagasaki inaugurated a museum on the history of Japanese Christianity, within the old residence of the bishop. “We need to remember history because it’s not the buildings that are important — concludes Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami — but the story behind them. It is this history of faith that has universal value.”

Cardinal  Maeda is working for the beatification of “hidden Christians” who had been exiled to Tsuwano in present-day Shimane prefecture, part of Hiroshima Diocese. In the final outbreak of anti-Christian persecution in Japan 150 years ago, some 3,400 Christians from Nagasaki were exiled to various places throughout the country.#

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro
Takayama Trustee

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