Dom Justo Takayama: Christian Samurai, Tireless Promoter of the Evangelization of Japan

Lord Justus Ukon Takayama led some 350 Christians to exile in Manila

By Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB

►Dom Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近,1552 Osaka-1615 Manila) was born around 1552 in Takayama Village, Toyono-chō (豊能町) in Osaka Prefecture. His father, Takayama Zusho, belonged to the military nobility who ajt the time was often involved in the 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 Sawa castle.

Educated in honor and loyalty, he developed a fidelity to the Lord Jesus so strongly rooted as to comfort him in persecution, exile and abandonment. Indeed, the loss of his privileged position and his reduction to a life of poverty and hiding did not sadden him, but made him serene and even joyful, because he kept faithful to the promises of his 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 decided to enthusiastically embrace the new faith brought by the Jesuit missionaries. Indeed, with the intention of spreading Christianity, he founded seminaries for the formation of “autochthonous” catechists, many of whom suffered martyrdom, such as Saint Paul Miki.

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

Rehabilitated in 1592, unfortunately in 1614 he underwent the issuing of a new edict enjoining the abandonment of Christianity. The refusal cost Justus a painful period of deprivation and solitude. First deported to Nagasaki, he was later sentenced to exile in the Philippines.

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

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