►When the celebrated “Samurai of Christ,” Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近, 1552-1615) was declared a “Servant of God” on June 5, 1994, the Pope then was Pope John Paul II (r. 1978-2005).
Alone among the Church of Japan’s candidates for sainthood, Dom Justo Takayama had been processed as a Confessor – a Catholic of heroic virtue. Which meant every aspect of his life from the day of his baptism had to be studied, requiring many years – perhaps even decades.
In 2008, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) thought Martyrdom was the faster way to proceed with the “Cause of Takayama.” So the CBCJ petitioned the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) to pursue the next canonical step to sainthood — as a Martyr. During the preparation for the beatification of “188 Japanese Martyrs (1603-1639)” in Nagasaki in November 2008, they proposed the reclassification.
But the CCS was not inclined at that time to declare a Manila Catholic, who died in bed with by his father-confessor at his bedside, and surrounded by family and friends — as a Martyr. The theology of martyrdom had not yet been reexamined to include such candidates.
In 2013, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan submitted a revised application for the beatification of Takayama – as a Martyr.
‘Build on the Legacy of Your Martyrs’
◘ On March 20, 2015 — Pope Francis, in his message to Japanese Bishops during their “ad Limina” visit to the Vatican, urged them to build on the legacy of their martyrs – numbering 42 Saints and 393 Blessed. Dom Justo Ukon Takayama, a pillar of the early Jesuit missions in Japan was, at this time, a “Servant of God” — the first rung in the ladder to sainthood.
Decree of Martyrdom
◘ On Jan 21, 2016 – Pope Francis issued a “Decree of Martyrdom,” paving the way for Takayama’s immediate beatification.
“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,” Fr. Anton Witwer, SJ, General Postulator of the Society of Jesus, explained. Takayama’s life exemplifies the Christian example of “a great fidelity to the Christian vocation, persevering despite all difficulties,” Father Witwer continued.
The Japanese Bishops quickly shared the information with Manila and acknowledged the help given by the Philippine Church to this four-centuries old campaign to elevate Takayama to the honors of the altar:“With your help, we have realized our hope. We are deeply thankful for your help.”
‘An Extraordinary Witness of the Christian Faith’
◘ On Feb. 8, 2017 (the day AFTER the beatification rites of Blessed Takayama in Osaka), Pope Francis reflected on Ukon during his weekly General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall:
“Yesterday, in Osaka, Japan, Justo Takayama Ukon, loyal Japanese layman, who was martyred in Manila in 1615, was beatified.”
The Holy Father said: “Rather than compromise, Ukon renounced honors and prosperity and accepted humiliation and exile. He remained faithful to Christ and to the Gospel; for this, he is a wonderful example of strength in the faith and dedication in charity.”
“Ukon succeeded in bringing many people to Christ, primarily powerful samurai families… In 1587, however, Hideyoshi decided to eliminate what was described as “the religion of the West.” Torture, abjurations and violence pushed the majority of the Christian neophytes to abandon the faith. Ukon, however, resisted. Willing to face death and humiliation but not to renounce Christianity, he surrendered his fief and military honors into the hands of the Kampaku [Imperial Regent].
“In Japan, his homeland, Ukon also left a trace that endures up to today. Before going into exile, he contributed to the foundation of several seminaries in the Nagasaki area, small communities that had the task to keep the Christian flame lighted in the course of the centuries. Nagasaki is, still today, the area in which the greatest number of followers of Christ is concentrated.
“The memory of Justus Takayama Ukon always remained alive in them. Already in the 17thcentury, thanks to the clergy of Manila, an attempt was made to beatify ‘Christ’s samurai.’ However, because of the isolationist policy of the Tokugawa shogunate, it was impossible to obtain the necessary documents for the canonical investigation.
“There was a second attempt in 1965 — frustrated, however, by some errors of form in the preparation of the cause.
“Finally yesterday, Justus’ beatification became a reality. Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated the Mass at Osaka.” AsiaNews reported that Cardinal Amato described the new Blessed as “an extraordinary witness of the Christian faith in difficult times of opposition and persecution.”
Blessed Justus is the first individually-processed candidate to receive the honors of the altar in the history of Japanese Catholicism. Japan has in fact 42 Saints and 393 Blessed, all martyrs of the Edo period (1603-1867) and all celebrated as a group. “These martyrs bless the Japanese Church with their splendid witness,” said Cardinal Amato.
‘Whenever I think of Japan, my thoughts turn to the witness of your many martyrs’
◘ On Sept. 14, 2017 – Pope Francis sent a message to Japanese Bishops through Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
>>>Pope Francis: “Whenever I think of the Church in Japan, my thoughts return to the witness of the many martyrs who have offered their lives for the faith. They always have a special place in my heart: I think of ● St. Paul Miki and his companions, who in 1597 were sacrificed, faithful to Christ and the Church; I think of the innumerable confessors of faith, ● Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon, who at the same time preferred poverty and the path of exile rather than recanting the name of Jesus.
“And what about the so-called ‘hidden Christians,’ who from 1600 to the mid-1800s lived underground, not to recant, but to preserve their faith, and of which we recently remembered the 150th anniversary of the discovery? The long line of martyrs and confessors of faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, shared a profound love with the Son of God, renouncing either his civil status or other aspects of his social condition, all “in order to earn Christ” (Phil 3: 8). Remembering that spiritual heritage, I turn to you dear brothers who have inherited it, and that with gentle solicitude continue in the task of evangelization, especially taking care of the weakest and favoring the integration into the communities of faithful from various backgrounds.
“I would like to thank you for this, as well as for the commitment to cultural promotion, interreligious dialogue and the care of creation. In particular, I would like to reflect with you on the missionary mission of the Church in Japan. ‘If the Church is born Catholic (that is, universal) it means that it was born ‘outgoing’ — that it was born missionary.’ (General Audience on 17 September 2014). In fact, ‘the love of Christ pushes us’ (2 Cor 5,14) to offer our life for the Gospel. Such dynamism dies if we lose our missionary enthusiasm. For this reason life is strengthened by giving it and it weakens itself in isolation and agitation. In fact, those who make the most of the chances of life are those who leave the safe shore and are passionate about the mission of communicating life to others.” (Evangelii gaudium, 10).
‘We commend you to Blessed Takayama’
◘ On Dec. 8, 2018 – Pope Francis appointed Osaka Cardinal Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda as his Papal Legate to the 50th Anniversary of the postwar reconstruction of the Manila Cathedral-Basilica:
>>>“You are to act in our name, therefore, on the 8th day of the coming month of December, more than four years since we have visited it, at the Cathedral in Manila — also titled as Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary — giving thanks to God for the beauty of this temple but most importantly for the lively faith of the pastors and of the Christian faithful, who always pray there every day, approaching Christ the Lord, the living stone who is chosen and precious before God, so that they who are also living stones be built up by God as a spiritual abode. (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5).
“Through prayer we will sustain the great task of your mission, while even now zealously we place you, our venerable brother, under the most loving protection of the Holy Mother of God, Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘For there is only one God, and only one mediator between God and men, the man who gave himself as ransom for all, Jesus Christ’ (1 Tim 2:5-6), in whose Mother ‘he had the most perfect degree of mediation possible… and deigned to preserve her from original sin” (Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio III d. 3. n. 2).
“And indeed desiring for you a heavenly companion in Manila, we also commend you to ● Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, who is recently raised to the glory of the altars in Osaka. We therefore abundantly pour upon you our Apostolic Blessing; and we generously share it with all of those to whom you will be sent: beloved pastors, seminarians, religious men and women, and lay Christian faithful, most especially the poor and the children.”
►Pope Francis has announced TWICE his intention to visit Japan “before the end of the year.” It will be a sentimental journey for, as a young Jesuit, he had aspired to serve in the missions of Japan. His plans did not materialize – for health issues. But we pray his journey would go through – as his visit comes at an important intersection of Japanese history.#
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro