In 1937, Manila Hosted the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress – the First Held in Asia

►Held from February 3-7, 1937, the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress attracted Catholic pilgrims from around the world. It marked the first time a Catholic Cardinal set foot on the Philippines – Philadelphia Cardinal Dennis Joseph Cardinal Dougherty (1865-1951), who formerly served as Bishop of Nueva Segovia (1903–1908) and Jaro (1908–1915).

Easily the most colorful delegation was from Japan, attending its first pilgrimage outside Japan since freedom of religion in was guaranteed by the Meiji Constitution (明治憲法) which was proclaimed on Feb. 11, 1889.

The Japanese delegation made a point of wearing regional costumes of various territories in the Empire of Japan: ●Kuril Islands, ●Taiwan (臺灣), ●Karafuto (樺太庁, South Sakhalin), ●Kwantung Leased Territory, ●Korea (朝鮮), ●Shandong, ●South Seas Mandate and ●Manchuria.

Provindentially, the 5-day Congress started on Wednesday, Feb. 3, the 322nd anniversary of the deathday of Dom Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近, 1552 Osaka-1615 Manila) – identified by Fr. Repetti as “Justo Ukón-dono Tacayawa.”

Malate Church, Manila
Japanese delegates to the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress held in Manila Feb. 3-7, 1937 were assigned the Malate Church for the observance of the Holy Hour

Fr. Repetti shares his account of the last day of the Congress:

►On the last morning of the Eucharistic Congress, a little ceremony took place which was interesting but attracted scarcely any notice.

It commenced at the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius (San Ignacio Church-II) in the Walled City [Intramuros] and ended at St. Theresa College on San Marcelino St., Ermita (now the site of Adamson University).

To understand its significance, it is necessary to give the historical background.

It is well known that the Church of Japan suffered one of its fiercest persecutions in the 17th century — a persecution which wiped out all external evidence of the faith. In 1614, a large group of Japanese Catholics chose exile from their native land rather than deny their faith and they found refuge in Manila. Accompanying this band of confessors there were eight Jesuit priests and 15 lay Brothers, four Franciscan friars, and two Dominican friars.

The Governor-General of the Philippines, Don Juan de Silva (in office: April 1609 – April 19, 1616), and the Archbishop of Manila, Don Diego Vázquez de Mercado (r. May 28, 1608 – June 12, 1616), gave the party a royal welcome, and they established their homes in a suburb of Manila known as San Miguel. It was located on the southside of the Pasig river whereas San Miguel of the present time is on the north bank. The Jesuits had a church in San Miguel and ministered to the spiritual needs of the exiles.

By far the most prominent layman among the exiles was Justo Ukon-dono Tacayawa (sic) [Takayama]. He was born in 1552 and was baptized in 1563 by the first Japanese Jesuit. Brother Lorenzo, who had been baptized by St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) and received the name Justo. His father and mother were received into the Church the same year.

He became a military leader and then lord (daimyo) of Takatsuki, and later on, of Akashi. His greatest distinction rests on his strong faith and ardent zeal. He converted all those around him and all those who came into contact with him. Fr. Luis Fróis, SJ (1532 – 1597) said that “among our proselytizers, he had the greatest success in gathering sheep into the Holy Flock.”

Forty-four days after arriving in Manila, he contracted a fever and died on Feb. 3, 1615 at the age of 63. His obsequies took place in the Jesuit Church in Manila (i.e., Santa Ana Church in the present-day PLM /Jesuit Campus) and all possible honor was shown to him on this occasion. He was interred in the place reserved for the Jesuit provincials of the Province of the Philippines. Twenty years later, his bones were placed in an urn and transferred to the Chapel of the St. Ignatius University which adjoined the Jesuit church. In the course of time, the Church, the University, and all Jesuit property disappeared or were scattered. What became of Don Justo’s remains is not known.

Ukon-dono brought his wife Justa and five grandsons into exile, and he was also accompanied by an intimate friend and great Christian, Juan Tocuan Naito (1544-1626). He died in 1626 and was buried with honors in our church in Manila. His sister, Mother Julia Naito, shared her brother’s exile and erected a convent in San Miguel in which she passed a strict religious life as superioress of 13 Japanese women. She died on March 28, 1627.

The Japanese Catholics have always cherished the memory of these sufferers for the faith and have desired to show honor to them. A fitting opportunity of fulfilling their desires seemed to offer itself on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress in Manila. When the Japanese delegation left Nagasaki, Bishop Hayakawa bestowed his blessing and urged them to find the burial place of the famous exiles and mark them to show in an appropriate manner.

Peter Yakichi Kataoka of the Franciscan Seminary in Nagasaki undertook the task of ascertaining the locations of such special interest to the Japanese. He came to the Manila Observatory, and the writer [Fr. W. C. Repetti] was able to give him sufficient information to justify the placing of historical markers.

The site occupied by the Jesuit Church and University in the 17th century is now occupied by the United States Army and the erection of any monument or marker in that place would involve considerable negotiations and would have been immediately impossible in the short time available.

The pilgrims wished to do something in honor of their heroes during their visit to Manila.

Since they wished the commemoration to have some connection with the Society of Jesus, it was suggested that St. Ignatius Church-II, only a short distance from the old site, be selected as the place to do honor to the memory of Ukon-dono. The suggestion was satisfactory to the pilgrims, and Fr. John F. Hurley, the Jesuit superior, readily gave his approval.

On Sunday morning, February 7, a group of about 20 pilgrims gathered in front of the  St. Ignatius Church and grouped themselves around the memorial column where some pictures were taken. Rev. (later Cardinal) Paul Yoshigoro Taguchi, co-leader of the Eucharistic pilgrims, was present, as also was Fr. Washida from Nagasaki. The Japanese Vice-Consul and his wife lent an official tone to the assembly. Fr. Hurley, SJ, Fr. Emmet Creahan, and Fr. W. C. Repetti, SJ, were invited to join the group.

The memorial took the form of a wooden column about six inches square and eight feet long. This was the only thing possible in the short time available. The Japanese inscription was painted on one side and a brief English translation was painted on another side, as follows: “Memorial to Justo Ukon-dono, Catholic Japanese exile. Died Feb. 3, 1615.” The wooden monument is to be attached to the wall of the San Ignacio Church-II and the Japanese hope to raise funds in Japan to substitute a more enduring memorial.

The pilgrims then went to the old site of the Jesuit church and University where Ukon-dono and Naito had been buried. Thence they went to the Franciscan Church and erected another column in the patio of the convent in honor of the Japanese who  found hospitality there in 1620.

From there the pilgrims proceeded to St. Theresa College and erected a column in one of its patios to the memory of Mother Julia Naito and her nuns.

Father Washida remarked: “Now we can go home contented.”

~ Fr. W. C. Repetti, SJ, in “A Tercentennial Commemoration in Manila during the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress,” Feb. 3-7, 1937 | Woodstock Letters, Volume LXVI, No. 2, June 1, 1937

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