Justus Takayama Ukon: ‘The Christian Samurai, Tireless Promoter of the Evangelization of Japan’

Exiled to Manila, with 350 other Christians

►Justus Takayama Ukon was born around 1552 in Takayama Castle, near Nara. His father, Takayama Zusho, belonged to the military nobility who at the time was often involved in various wars between daimyō or feudal lords: in fact, from 1538 onwards, he served as a samurai in the service of the noble Matsunaga Hisashide and became commander of the castle of Sawa.

Educated in honor and loyalty, he developed a loyalty to the Lord Jesus so strongly rooted as to comfort him in persecution, exile, abandonment. In fact, the loss of his position of privilege and the reduction to a poor and hidden life did not sadden him, but made him serene and even joyful, because he kept faithful to the promises of baptism.

He was therefore a prince of the highest rank, belonging to the noblest class of Japan, who at the dawn of the evangelization of his country decides to embrace with enthusiasm the new faith brought by the Jesuit missionaries. Indeed, with the intention of spreading Christianity, he founded seminaries for the formation of autochthonous catechists, among whom many suffered martyrdom, such as St. Paul Miki.

But when the expulsion of the missionaries was ordered, thus interrupting their fruitful evangelizing activity, Justus, rather than abandoning the faith, chose exile.

Rehabilitated in 1592, unfortunately in 1614 it underwent the enactment of a new edict which ordered to abandon Christianity. The refusal cost Justus a painful period of deprivation and loneliness. First deported to Nagasaki, he was then sentenced to exile in the Philippines.

Together with 350 Christians, he reached Manila after a long and troubled voyage lasting 43 days. Weakened by illnesses contracted during the deportation, he died in the Philippine capital 44 days after his arrival. He was 63 years old, most of whom passed as an extraordinary witness to the Christian faith in difficult times of conflict and persecution.#

~Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB
Prefect, Congregation for the Causes of Saints (2008-2018)

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