YOUR EXCELLENCY, OFFICERS OF THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE FORCES, YOUR GRACE, YOUR LORDSHIPS, REVEREND FATHERS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
We are gathered today to honor the memory of one united with us under the banner of the Catholic faith and whose image, by the grace of God, may, in the not distant future, adorn the altars of our Catholic churches.
Justo Ukon Takayama was the son of Dario Takayama, a native of Kyoto, the ancient capitalofJapan. In 1565, when little Justo was eleven of age, his father was received into the Roman Catholic Church by the Jesuit Father Gaspar Vilela, and soon after Justo himself was baptized in the Catholic faith. Justo grew up to be a mighty captain. He became Lord (feudal governor) — [first, at age 21, as Daimyo of Takatsuki, r. 1573-1585; and later] of Akashi, the fortress town commanding the entrance into the Inland Sea.
Of him it can be truly said that he had everything—family, social position, wealth—yet all these he abandoned to walk in the path of the Lord. The spiritual regeneration of men both by example and by precept became his life task. For his Lord he gave up everything and led a humble existence doing good everywhere he went. No doubt by the very simplicity of his Christian life and the ardor of his devotion to his faith, he attracted many to a life of virtue and faith.
This was the man who headed a group of Japanese Catholics who sailed to Philippine shores in the beginning of the 17th century. Though it was not given him to continue his evangelical labors in this country, for the Lord called him to His bosom shortly after his arrival in the Islands, yet so strong was his influence that those whom he left behind emulated his example and led lives of real Christian culture and self-abnegation.
The beatification of Justo Ukon Takayama will redound to the glory not only of Japan but also of the Philippines, where his mortal remains rest, and will serve to bind closer these two countries already held together in the indissoluble bond of racial and geographical affinity. Long obscured by foreign influence, we have been brought by the Greater East Asia War to a realization of this affinity. For many years, before the outbreak of the war, we had been made to regard our fellow Orientals, the Japanese, with distrust and trepidation, Fear of Japan was widespread and prevalent. The war, fortunately, has dispelled all our unfounded doubts. For instead of wreaking vengeance on those who took part in the war, the Imperial Japanese Forces have acted with unparalleled magnanimity, benevolence and generosity. Unnecessary loss of life and property has been meticulously avoided. Social institutions have been respected and preserved. Individual liberties, especially freedom of worship, have been guaranteed. Not only has the religious life of the Filipino people been allowed to continue free and uninterrupted, but a movement towards spiritual and moral regeneration was immediately begun and undertaken.
In these days of supreme effort and toil, when the spirit of self-sacrifice and other virtues should be made to triumph over materialism and other human failings, when our thoughts and acts should be sanctified by the noblest and loftiest of motives, the spirit of self-abnegation and other virtues that constituted the moral greatness of Justo Ukon Takayama should serve as an urge and an inspirationfor the entire Filipino people.
In the great and urgent task of effecting in ourselves a spiritual regeneration, I deem the support and cooperation of the Church and of her ministers as important and necessary. Always in close contact with the people, with every sermon that they preach, every sacrament that they administer, every aid that they give, they hold the key to the hearts of the people and wield the power to revive and strengthen in their souls the spirit of self-sacrifice and self-discipline, the passion for honesty and for simple living, the love of God and of one’s fellowmen, and the other great virtues that have ever distinguished us as an oriental people.
On this solemn occasion, therefore, that we have consecrated to the memory of the famous Japanese leader whose life was devoted to the moral and spiritual improvement of his fellowmen, I appeal to the Church for the fullest support and cooperation in the sacred task of effecting the moral and spiritual regeneration of the Filipino people.#
►Speaking at the last day of the 120th Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) held in Manila on Jan. 25-27, 2020, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle — who is set to become Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (or simply, “Propaganda Fide”), commended the “Canonization Cause” of Blessed Takayama — the Philippine Church’s THIRD “Blessed” — the care of the Filipino bishops.
►Blessed Justus Ukon Takayama (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila; beatified 2017) is “Our Own Saint.” The celebrated Christian “Samurai of Christ” chose exile in Manila rather than abjure his Catholic Faith. But 44 days after his arrival with some 350 Christians deported by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Japan-born Manila Catholic died of “a tropical ailment.” It was the Manila Archdiocese that proposed Sainthood for Takayama at the Vatican — only 15 years after he died at the PLM/Jesuit Compound in Intramuros, Manila.
Takayama is part of the history of the evangelization of the Philippines – his life, labors and heroic virtues were comprehensively detailed in Colin/Pastrells’ “Labor Evangelica.”
BLESSED JUSTO UKON TAKAYAMA
►BACKGROUND: Don Justus Ukon Takayana has been called by the Jesuit-published “La CiviltàCattolica” as “the Greatest Japanese Missionary of the 16th Century.”
Ukon was born to a Samurai family who converted to Christianity at age 11, and became Daimyo (feudal governor), at age 21, of the strategic castle-town of Takatsuki, converting 18,800 of its 25,000 residents to Catholicism within 11 years. In an era with so few Jesuit priests, he relied on the Holy Rosary to hold his people together — until the next Jesuit could come to celebrate Mass.
Instead of supporting a 20,000-man standing army during The Warring States period (1467 to 1567), he kept a vanguard of only 1,000 samurai, and devoted his resources to building churches, seminaries, and oratorios.
He fought under the banner of the Cross, and openly practiced his Catholic faith. He chose exile to Manila rather than abjure his Catholic religion – so on November 8, 1614, Lord Takayama, his family and 350 other Catholics left for Manila with the Manila Jesuits preparing housing for the exiles in their encomienda at San Miguel. But 44 days after his arrival, Ukon died on Feb. 3, 1615 of a tropical ailment at the Jesuit guesthouse, Casa San Miguel, in Intramuros.
Lord Takayama was given a state funeral and his wake was held in all six churches in Intramuros. The eulogies extolled Ukon as a saint.
►PROPOSED FOR SAINTHOOD: On Oct. 5, 1630, only 15 years after Ukon died, the Manila Archdiocese proposed Takayama’s Cause for Beatification at the Vatican, the first such petition ever presented by the Philippine Church.
►DORMANT CAUSE: This cause was dormant till 1937, when Manila hosted the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress, Feb. 3-7, 1937. With the opening day occurring on the 322nd death anniversary of Takayama, the Japanese delegation introduced a resolution reviving the Cause of Beatification of Takayama. Japanese press reports say this was approved by the Eucharistic Congress.
►TAKAYAMA CAUSE ‘SECONDED’ TO JAPAN: At the sidelines of Vatican II (1962-1965) which was attended by bishops from around the world, the Japanese Bishops visited Manila Cardinal Rufino J. Santos, petitioning that the Takayama Cause be revived. They were surprised when Cardinal Santos readily “seconded” the cause to them. The Japanese Bishops’ Conference (CBCJ) established a Historical Committee which gathered supporting materials and sent the loose-leaf documents to the Jesuit General Postulator. Because some chapters were written in German, Portuguese and Japanese — which are not official Vatican languages — the Takayama papers could not be presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS).
►’ACCIDENTAL’ MANILA RE-INVOLVEMENT — A group of Filipino and Japanese history buffs, wanting to print some literature for Japanese pilgrims visiting the Takayama Memorial (est. 1977) at Plaza Dilao, wanted to ascertain whether Lord Takayama was indeed a Japanese historical figure, or merely a composite of several celebrated Christian samurai. They asked an ex-seminarian, Ernesto A. de Pedro, to take two weeks off to research at the Vatican. The Jesuit General Postulator was glad somebody was interested in Takayama; the papers had been dormant for eleven years. Fr. Paulo Molinari, SJ, said their office was short-handed; there were only two Jesuits in their office … they had to do the xeroxing themselves. In short, they gave the Filipino researcher the entire carton box of materials for translation.
►WHEN THE BOOK-BOUND “POSITIO” –“JustusTakayama Ukon, Servus Dei” (1994, 648p) – was submitted, the Jesuit Postulator General, Fr. Paulo Molinari, acknowledged: “Thanks to your much appreciated collaboration, all the essential materials for this important ‘Cause’ are by now available.”
►‘BLESSED TAKAYAMA OF MANILA’ – When the Vatican Information Service announced on Jan. 21, 2016 that Pope Francis had authorized the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to publish a Decree of Martyrdom declaring the Servant of God, Justus Ukon Takayama as a “layperson … from Japan [who] died from the hatred of the Faith on Feb. 3, 1615 in Manila,Philippines” — 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.”
But the change of the Cause from “Confessor” to “Martyr” necessitated the writing of a new “Positio” by the new Jesuit General Postulator, Fr. Toni Witwer, SJ – “Positio Super Martyrio … Servi Dei Justi Takayama Ukon” (2015).
►BEATIFICATION IN OSAKA: Ukon Takayama was beatified in Osaka on Feb. 7, 2017. The next day at the Vatican, Pope Francis delivered a homily on the singular importance of this martyr who died in exile in Manila.
►EVERY ‘BLESSED’ NEEDS A SUPPORT GROUP: No Beatus can become a saint without a prayer army keeping his memory alive. So the Takayama movement seeks to spread devotion through programs within their ready means: ● altar-statues, ● prayer-cards, ● seminary vocations, ● symposia, ● networking with Catholic mandated groups, ● focus forums, ● social media outreach, and ● ministry on campus – which are funded by project-specific gifts from devotees and benefactors.
►JAPANESE PILGRIMAGES TO MANILA – Japanese Catholics and Buddhists mount Takayama pilgrimages to mark the December 21 arrival of Takayama, or his February 3 death anniversary. Seven Bishops from Japan’s 16 dioceses have already traced the footsteps of Blessed Takayama — from the PLM University Chapel, Manila Cathedral, Paco Parish Church … to the Jesuit Cemetery at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, the putative resting place for Ukon’s bones. They also include a visit to the Santo Domingo Convent in Quezon City, where Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (tagged as “La Japona”) is enshrined — the same Marian statue that was brought back from Nagasaki by Lord Takayama in his exile boat.
►31 TAKAYAMA STATUES DISTRIBUTED, THUS FAR — Statues of Blessed Takayama have been distributed to 31 basilicas, cathedrals, churches and seminaries in six countries (◘ The Philippines, ◘ Japan, ◘ the United States, ◘ Italy, ◘ England, and ◘ the Vatican).
The Nagasaki Church Trust has invited the Prayer Warriors to send the 31st statue of Blessed Takayama to join the yearly Grand Nagasaki Procession of Martyrs on Feb. 2, 2020 – at which Laoag Bishop Renato P. Mayugba will lead a pilgrim group of 22 parishioners, among them 12 priests.
►BENEDICTION FROM POPE FRANCIS — In the run-up to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Japan, the Prayer Warriors presented to Pope Francis, a printout of the Apostolic Breve sent by Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-1590) to Lord Takayama in 1590 – exhorting the recently-dispossessed Daimyo “to hold fast to your Faith.”
Receiving the archival parchment from Manila, together with a Takayama statue from the “Via Lucis PilgrimageGroup 112011,” Pope Francis was so pleased he imparted his Apostolic Blessing on all the Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama on July 25, 2019.
THE ‘ARC OF HISTORY’ (1615-2020)
Cardinal Tagle delivered his first homily on the “Servant of God,” Justo Ukon Takayama at the 400th Takayama Anniversary Mass in Kobe, Feb. 3, 2015 – two years before Takayama was beatified. He said that a “bridge of faith and martyrdom” inextricably links Ukon Takayama, Japan’s most illustrious Christian, with San Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), Filipino protomartyr, who was martyred in Nagasaki in 1637. “Martyrdom is the deepest link between our two churches,” the Manila archbishop said.
On Feb. 7, 2017, Archbishop Tagle was the only Cardinal — (the Church of Japan, at that time, had no Cardinal) — invited to concelebrate Takayama’s Beatification Rites, presided by Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS). In a nod to Takayama’s Philippine connection, the 1,000- member choir sang the Filipino offertory hymn “Salamat sa Iyo” (Tanging Alay) with a full orchestra accompanying the voices.
Since then, Cardinal Tage has spoken about Blessed Takayama as “a singular promoter of God’s Kingdom, and an undaunted witness to the Catholic Faith” — broadcast through “TV Maria” (the national Catholic television channel broadcasting from Manila) and Veritas 846.ph (Radyo ng Simbahan, a faith-based radio station in the Philippines).
Blessed Takayama’s support army — the “Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama” — has brought the Takayama Movement to “far corners.”
►The Lord moves in wondrous ways. As Cardinal Tagle proceeds to Rome to be Cardinal Prefect of the super-dicastery with the task of directing and coordinating the work of evangelization and missionary cooperation all over the world – it is opportune to remember that in some corners of the world, the heroic virtues of Blessed Takayama will resonate – as 💥refugee and migrant, as 💥missionary disciple, and as💥 “an extraordinary witness of the Christian faith in difficult times of opposition and persecution.”
►The Holy Father would not have learned of the mission and commitment of the Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama — without the endorsement and support of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, now Cardinal Prefect of “PropagandaFide.”◘
Posted by Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro
Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama
►Justus Takayama Ukon, Japanese Feudal Lord Who Gave Up Every Privilege and Accepted Exile to Follow the Gospel
►►(By FEDERICO CENCI | FEBRUARY 8, 2017) — “Yesterday, in Osaka, Japan, Dom Justo Takayama Ukon, loyal Japanese layman, who was martyred in Manila in 1615 was beatified.”
Pope Francis remembered during his weekly General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall this morning, noting: “Rather than compromise, he 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,” Francis said.
Samurai of Christ
Justus Takayama Ukon, a samurai at the service of Christ, was persecuted for following the Gospel in 16th century Japan. Married and father of five children, he became a Christian at 11 years of age, when his father converted — taking the name Darius and giving his son the name Justus — thanks to the preaching of Jesuit missionaries.
There is a saying in Japan that recurs every year, on the remembrance of the dropping of the atomic bomb: “Hiroshima screams, Nagasaki prays – protests in the first city hit by U.S. aviation, composed liturgies in the second.”
Small Minority of Catholics in Japan
This is a fact that attests to the presence in the country of the Rising Sun of a “small” Christian “flock,” which for centuries was able to endure persecutions, offering a testimony dedicated to dignified silence.
This seraphic attitude is summarized in the expression of the statue at Osaka representing Ukon – a warrior with a proud look and with hair gathered behind his head and in his hands, a sword surmounted by a crucifix.
In order not to abjure his Christian faith, years later Ukon was willing to lose all the recognition he had obtained … and to die in exile. The Takayama Tomoteru family was powerful — lords of the Sawa castle and of the whole region of Takatsuki
They were individuals rich in money and warrior virtues. Ukon, like all his relatives, practiced bushido, the “life of the sword,” which combines military discipline and very rigid moral norms. He was also a daimyo of imperial appointment, hence he had the right to contract a private army.
The Japan in which he lived (about the year 1580) was led by the Chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known also as the “second unifier of the homeland.” The first Christian preachers also disembarked at that time, Jesuits led by Saint Francis Xavier.
They succeeded in bringing many people to Christ, primarily powerful samurai families, especially in the Nagasaki area. In 1587, however, Hideyoshi decided to limit what was described as the “religion of the West.”
Torture, extortions, abjurations and violence pushed the majority of the Christian neophytes to abandon the faith. Ukon and his father, however, resisted. Willing to face death and humiliation but not to renounce Christianity, they remitted terrains and military honors in the hands of the Chancellor.
They faced a life of hardship until 1614, when the Shogun decided to ban Christianity altogether. At that point, Ukon chose life in exile and, together with 350 other Christians, went to Manila. In the Philippines, he was supported by local Catholics, European Jesuits and Spain, the colonial power. He died at Manila just 44 days after his arrival, on February 4, 1615. His Catholic funeral was decorated with the highest military honors.
Legacy of Dom Justus Takayama
In Japan, his homeland, Ukon aleft 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 17th century, 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 enter into possession of the necessary documents for the canonical investigation…
Beatification Rites in Osaka
Finally yesterday, Justus’ beatification was able to become a reality. Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated the Mass at Osaka. AsiaNews reported that he described the new Blessed as “an extraordinary witness of the Christian faith in difficult times of opposition and persecution.”
Justus is the first individual to receive the honors of the altar in the history of Japanese Catholicism. Japan has in fact 42 Saints and 393 Blesseds, 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. A splendor that shines in the honor of Justus Takayama Ukon, “Christ’s samurai.”#
Retrieved by: Adelaida M. de Pedro
Auxiliary, Missionary Disciples for a New Evangelization (MDNE)
By Fr. Toni Witwer, SJ – Jesuit General Postulator of the Servant of God, Justus Takayama’s Beatification Cause
►Four hundred years have passed since the death of Justus Takayama Ukon (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila), remembered and revered in Japan not only as a martyr, but also as a great witness to the Christian faith, which he practiced in connection with the mission of the Society of Jesus.
He was the greatest Japanese missionary of the sixteenth century because of how he lived the Christian faith with the tenacity, rigor and loyalty that were typical of the Japanese people, promoting the inculturation of Christianity through the witness of his life, which eventually led to his dying while in exile. Already at the time of his death people were talking of him as though he were a saint.
The foundation: the faith proclaimed in Japan
To better understand the development of the faith of Ukon and what its characteristics were, it is good to remember how Christianity came to Japan and how it was perceived by the Japanese.
In April of 1549, Francis Xavier left India for Japan together with two confreres and three Japanese converts who had studied in the Jesuit college in Goa. After having learned the catechism, the latter asked for the right to be baptized, performed their Spiritual Exercises with great commitment and showed themselves to be eager to proclaim the Lord to others. With them, Francis Xavier began the work of the evangelization of Japan, where he stayed until Nov. 16, 1551.
Upon his arrival, which took place on Aug. 15, 1549, the Jesuit saw how eager the people were to know the Gospel and, by becoming familiar with local customs and practices, his esteem for the high moral and spiritual values of the Japanese increased even further – values that would soon play a decisive role in welcoming and living the Christian faith.
A fundamental characteristic of the Japanese people was the desire that every Japanese person needed to maintain their honor before others. This made the individual not only capable of renouncing and putting into perspective other values, but also disposed them more towards an ascetic and austere life. This ensured a good social order and mutual respect between people. Relationships among the Japanese were, in fact, stable and characterized by a very deep loyalty, rooted in awe.
At the time of Francis Xavier, deep respect for the nobles or landowners (the social class to which Ukon belonged) favored availability for service and unconditional loyalty to the so-called “lord.” To defend their honor, the Japanese readily demonstrated willingness to offer their lives, even to commit suicide. When they decided to open themselves to the Gospel and recognize Jesus Christ as their true Lord whom they would serve completely, without compromise, serious tension and misunderstanding were created in their relationships with these “lords” upon whom they depended in daily life.
It should be said in this context that there was another element in Japan that influenced the attitude of Christians in regards to persecution which could involve crucifixion. For Francis Xavier, the passion and the cross of the Lord held a very important place ever since he made the Spiritual Exercises in Paris under the guidance of St. Ignatius. But the experiences he lived in the mission brought even greater significance. Even if he did not suffer a violent death, he nevertheless suffered an interior martyrdom, seeing others exposed to injustice and abuse without having any power to intervene on their behalf; he always carried this pain with him like a deep wound.
Francis Xavier left India with the “desire for martyrdom,” as he wrote to his companions in Goa, and the same desire was also very much alive in Ukon. Firmly convinced of the importance of martyrs to proclaim the Gospel, he spoke enthusiastically of martyrdom as a way of following Jesus on the cross, emphasizing it in the letter to Simone Rodrigues on Feb. 2, 1549.
Therefore, the preaching of the first Jesuits, strongly shaped by the “Spiritual Exercises” and by a spirituality focused on following the crucified Christ, and the spirit with which the Japanese accepted the Gospel, contributed to the recognition of the passion of the Lord as the center of the Christian faith.
The extraordinary gift of the faith of Ukon
The attitude of Justus Takayama Ukon when confronted with persecution cannot be properly understood unless we take into consideration how he approached the faith and the values which guided his life. In 1563, Ukon, still a teenager, became a Christian through baptism, but was still very far from actually practicing as one. Without having received true teaching about the Christian faith, he lived following the example of his parents and remained conditioned by the mentality of the time, that of the warrior, founded upon the right of the strongest. With this spirit, in 1573 he fought a duel with Wada Aigiku Korenaga, who died a week later due to the injuries he sustained. This duel, in which Ukon also was injured, became the turning point in his life, leading him to reflect on the meaning of existence.
Ukon remained deeply fascinated with the courses on Christian doctrine that Fr. Francisco Cabral held in 1574 in Takatsuki, and through them he was able to welcome the Gospel message. He then had a deep conversion when he became aware of the sacrifice of the Lord for the salvation of all people. It was this first conversion that made a missionary of him, the announcer of Jesus Christ, and one of the greatest promoters of the evangelization of Japan.
His faith was put to the test when the feudal lord Araki Murashige provoked a revolt against another feudal lord, Oda Nobunaga. Ukon found himself in the dilemma of choosing to which of the two lords he should submit. To prove his loyalty to Araki, he gave lodging to his sister and oldest son. Oda, meanwhile, threatened to destroy the churches and crucify the missionary fathers if Ukon did not open the castle of Takatsuki. Before making a decision, Ukon retreated into prayer and then did something unthinkable for a warrior: instead of throwing himself into the battle, he tried to limit the losses as much as possible and to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner. He came unarmed to Oda, renounced defending himself and placed himself completely in the hands of God.
The awareness of the dilemma in which he found himself and the sense of helplessness he had experienced made his faith in God grow, making it easier for him to renounce his position, his honor and his very existence. They transformed him from a man accustomed to fighting like a hero, even unto death, into a man willing to offer himself for others, capable of loving according to the example of Jesus Christ.
Thanks to this second conversion, Justus Takayama Ukon became a missionary who was capable of convincing not only with his words and actions, but also with his way of life. This gave honor to the name, Justus, that he had been baptized with at the age of twelve. Because of this witness, the pagans called Christianity the “Law of Takayama.”
Persecution as the greatest proof of love
In July 1587, the persecution by the Shogun (an hereditary warlord who governed Japan) Hideyoshi suddenly began when, as night was falling, he decided to banish Ukon into exile. In these circumstances, Justus Takayama Ukon gave proof of great faith, while still remaining attached to his own will, his abilities and human strength, since on the inside he continued to feel like a warrior.
The manner in which he presented himself before the authorities after having received notice of being exiled demonstrated how sure he was of himself. Because of this stance, some friends were very worried for him and tried to convince him to give up showing too much determination in his response to Hideyoshi. Ukon told them that in the things of God one cannot be submissive.
The attachment Ukon demonstrated to the faith reaffirmed for Hideyoshi that he would never renounce being a Christian, that he felt on the inside a strength and a spiritual consolation to the point of being ready to die as a martyr for the love of Jesus Christ. He demonstrated his willingness to give his very life for the faith by cutting his hair, a gesture which, in that culture, was a sign of an inner feeling of sadness, and was used by the Japanese in times of grieving or deportation.
Ukon’s subjects, in turn, declared their readiness to make the same gesture and to share his fate, should he go into exile. This encouraged him to face his persecutors, particularly Hideyoshi, with great firmness. God prepared him for martyrdom, making the desire grow within him, helping to reduce the effect of his exile, the loss of social status and of his material wealth.
To understand the attitude of Ukon in the persecution of 1587, we must also bear in mind another element: Ukon’s gratitude for the love and solidarity shown to him. Certainly his gratitude was sincere, and it was the sign that he already felt the need for Christian communion, for its comfort and for its encouragement in the faith. However, he was not yet able to recognize or admit this need in a deep way. Instead, he continued to persevere in the attitude of not leaning on others, and rather putting confidence only in his own abilities. While being genuinely willing to help others, he still needed to learn to let himself be helped. Until he had the experience of helplessness and of his own needs, it would be difficult for true faith in God to grow in him.
Following Hideyoshi’s decree and his deportation, Ukon accepted both the loss of his social position and his assets, having been reduced to a poor and austere life, as well as having to hide on the island of Shodoshima. Even in such dramatic circumstances, he proved to be capable of comforting others and of encouraging them in their resolve to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.
The condemnation to exile and Ukon’s decision to leave the world even changed his relationship with others: he became a pilgrim, that is, a person who puts faith in God and asks for his help, and a companion for those who had once been his subjects. The experience of poverty made him understand how much he had received from God and from so many people, and made him grow in gratitude. What he had learned during the time of the first great persecution characterized his attitude even after his rehabilitation. He was able to accept help and to show that he was willing to accept offered gifts, and then to put them at the service of others.
The more intense relationship with the Jesuit missionary fathers and his collaboration with them in the work of conversion of many people to the Christian faith pushed him to a further deepening of both knowledge and experience of faith. In fact, when he learned the news that Hideyoshi had ordered the execution of the Jesuit priests, he welcomed it as a grace that God wanted to give him, as though he had already thought of provoking his own martyrdom.
At that time, Ukon still dreamed of an active martyrdom. He desired a heroic death, even death on a cross in imitation of that of Jesus Christ. Certainly he wanted to offer his very life, but at that time he could not imagine that he would have to deny himself even more firmly.
Martyrdom as a grace
The expulsion from his homeland in 1614 and the difficult path of exile to Manila were for Ukon a grace because he would progress in faith and further mature as a spiritual man and witness of the crucified Lord. Despite all the sufferings and difficulties, the final year of his life would be decisive for his transformation into a true martyr, as venerated by Japanese Christians and as defined by Fr. Johannes Laures.
In describing the process of the spiritual growth of Ukon, Fr. Pedro Morejon talks of a threefold test of faith that he faced. The firm decision to offer his very life for others was already present in the so-called “first test of faith,” when Araki rose up against Oda Nobunaga. Morejon affirms that Ukon then “came to die in the place of the innocents,” and reminds us that Nobunaga called him, and Ukon replied that he had not come to serve him, but to die or to be exiled with the Jesuit priests. Already, at that time, God wanted to put him to the test so as to make him progress in the willingness to offer his very life for others.
When Hideyoshi ordered banishment, Ukon accepted it with joy. This is the “second proof of faith.” To prepare himself for martyrdom, he looked to the Jesuit fathers making the Spiritual Exercises and a general confession, in preparing himself for martyrdom, and it was again the Lord who ensured that his testimony would become “the seed of the Gospel” during the 26 years in which he lived in exile in the Northern provinces.
The willingness to give one’s life for Jesus Christ was alive even in his fellow Christians, such as Joao Naito and his son Tome. Banishment and exile were a martyrdom, not only because it was a form of “prolonged martyrdom,” as Fr. Morejon affirmed, but also because they were involved more deeply in the powerlessness of the crucified Lord, who offered himself helplessly into the hands of his crucifiers. With banishment and exile, God granted the wish of Ukon to give his very life, but in a different way than he had imagined.
Through banishment and exile – and this is the “third proof of faith” – God’s formation of Ukon continued and was brought to completion: he became aware that neither life nor death was in his hands, but in the hands of God, and that he needed to rely on Him completely.
During the nine months prior to leaving for Manila, Ukon continued to nourish the hope for martyrdom in the form of a violent death. He was certain that he would be killed prior to leaving Japan and waited for death with great serenity. He was ready to serve the Emperor, but not to obey him in matters that concerned the Christian faith. The journey and exile to Manila were the time in which God made him understand the difference between an active desire for martyrdom and being passively exposed to the conditions which only slowly would lead to death. Ukon understood that God was asking him to offer his life, not in the form of instantaneous death, but rather that of the “prolonged martyrdom” of exile.
With his decision to accompany the Jesuit fathers to Manila instead of embarking for Macao, Ukon manifested not only the great respect he had for them, but above all the need he had for their spiritual direction. He often asked to do the Exercises and the meditations that the Society usually offered.
Ukon demonstrated his humility even as honors were bestowed upon them when he arrived in Manila. As a Christian, he was grateful to them for the expressions of reverence, but at the same time said that they felt like a heavy weight and a burden, since he was not worthy of them.
Humility led Ukon to perceive and recognize every event as a grace offered from God, and not as something he personally deserved. Until the end of his life he remained faithful to his desire to give his life for the love of God. He wanted to be a martyr for Christ, and he truly was.
Ukon ended his life invoking the name of Jesus and delivering, like the first martyr, Stephen, his spirit to the Lord, as noted by Fr. Valerio de Ledesma: “Invoking multiple times the Most Holy Name of Jesus and Mary with the mouth and with the heart, he gave his spirit to the Lord. He was 63 years old and it had been 50 years since he had become a Christian, which, for him, meant a change in the law to which he had at that time been committed. And if there were changes, they were from good to better, with increased daily growth in devotion and in the desire to offer his life for the love of God and for the confession of His Holy Law.”
Ukon as an example and intercessor for the Church and society today
Even if Ukon initially saw the Christian faith as a law, and therefore as something that could be in conflict with the Japanese culture and traditions, he soon realized that Christianity consists in lived love. Allowing oneself to be transformed through the love of God to become an instrument in the hands of God is the vocation of the Christian.
Ukon demonstrated that Christian faith, like love, is not opposed to any culture. On the contrary, it is able to enter the depth of every culture and bring it to its own fulfillment. Christianity calls into question a culture only if it tends towards absolutism or if an unholy authority intends to be a substitute for God. Ukon was convinced that he needed to be obedient to God as the supreme authority in all things, and in this way, while showing full loyalty toward his masters, he remained interiorly free.
The persecution of 1614 had a general nature and involved all Christians. The only possibility of escaping from it was abandoning the Christian faith. Because of his prominent role in the emerging Christian Church of Japan, Ukon was particularly targeted by his persecutors from as early as 1587. The firmness of faith that he showed constituted a challenge for them, and there were many attempts, ever more insistent, to make him disavow it.
Ukon’s death while in exile in Manila could at first glance look like a natural death, and this could put into question its being valued as martyrdom. The deeper assessment of what comes with exile, of the difficulties to which the Servant of God was exposed and the hardships that weakened him progressively, clearly show us instead that his death was caused by the suffering and the difficulties that were results of persecution. All the available documents, in fact, are in agreement in the affirmation that it was determined by the hardships suffered during his exile.
In addition to the ancient documents that speak of his exile and of his death, the fact remains that Ukon, from the beginning, had been venerated not only as a holy man, but also as a martyr who offered his very life for Jesus Christ, not having renounced in any way the Christian faith.
His witness of faith was, and is, convincing. Just as his life has led many to the Gospel, so can the blood of his martyrdom continue to be “the seed of Christians.”#
— By Fr. Toni Witwer, SJ, General Postulator of Jesuit Causes — who promoted the Cause of Beatification of the Servant of God, Justus Ukon Takayama (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila; beatified 2017) — as a Martyr.#
►In a Eucharistic Mass with Japanese Catholics in Kobe, Japan on Feb. 3, 2016, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said the Philippines, especially Manila, and Japan are linked through a “bridge of faith and martyrdom.”
Justo Ukon Takayama (1552-1615), Japan’s most illustrious Christian, died in Manila in 1615, while San Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), a Filipino, was martyred in Nagasaki in 1637.
“Martyrdom is the deepest link between our two churches.” (Photo shows Cardinal Tagle distributing Communion beside statue of Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama.)
Cardinal Tagle Concelebrates Takayama Mass in Osaka
On Feb. 7, 2017, Cardinal Tagle concelebrated the Mass during the Beatification Ceremonies at the Osaka-jō Hall, Kyōbashi, Osaka (Japan), which was presided by Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS), on Pope Francis’s behalf.◘
In front of the altar, a piece of fabric from Ukon’s vest was displayed as a sacred relic as Archbishop Takeo Okada of the Archdiocese of Tokyo made a formal plea for the beatification of Ukon.
Hundreds of nuns from various religious women’s congregations from around the world were also present, but the CBCJ Secretariat did not have the actual count. They were also representatives from the Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist Churches.
Fr. Albert Fuyuki Hirabayashi, SJ, secretary of the CBCJ Committee for the Promotion of Saints, confirms there were some Buddhist monks too.
Two descendants of Takayama Ukon from “near Kanazawa” also attended.
The special liturgy was comprised of prayers and songs in different languages including Latin, English, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese and Italian. They were chosen to express the richness of the faith in the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Japan – which has a pantheon of 42 canonized Saints.
In a nod to the estimated 460,465 Filipinos residing in Japan, of whom some 396,000 are Catholics, the Tagalog song “Salamat sa Iyo” (Tanging Alay) was chosen as the offertory hymn.
During the same week, the NHK (National Television of Japan) dedicated a lot of broadcast time in their evening news prime time. The Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation offered “Live Streaming” of the three-hour Beatification Ceremonies, which was shared with many requesting networks around the world. (The “Live Streaming” continues to be available in the Takayama Website’s Blog Section.)
With Cardinal Angelo Amato officiating at the celebrations, the Thanksgiving Mass in the Osaka Cathedral of Mother of God was celebrated on Wednesday (Feb. 8). Another Thanksgiving Mass was held on Thursday (Feb. 9) in Kanazawa (Carmelite Parish) where Blessed Justo spent his last 26 years in Japan before his exile in Manila. On Friday evening (Feb 10), the last large Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated at the St. Ignatius Church in Yotsuya, Tokyo.
At the sidelines of the Beatification Ceremonies, the British archbishop, Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States (the third highest position in the Vatican), met with the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe to celebrate the milestone event. ◘
Catholic Online reported: “Over 12,000 people crowded a Catholic Church in Osaka, Japan.” The venue of the Beatification Ceremonies was not a church – but the Osaka-jo Hall, a multi-purpose concert hall with seating for 10,000 persons, with ticketed entry for audience control.
By Dr. Ernie A. De Pedro, Managing Trustee Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation
At the University of Santo Tomas (UST), center of the Philippine participation in the Takayama Beatification Process, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo celebrated the Thanksgiving Mass for the Beatification of Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon on the same afternoon as the Beatification Rites in Osaka. It was concelebrated by Fr. Jose Antonio Aureada, OP, Regent of the UST Graduate School, which is the home of the Lord Takayama Professorial Chair for Philippine-Japanese Studies since 1989.