Fr. Paul Glynn, S.M.,author of “A Song for Nagasaki” (1988), shares some history from Blessed Takayama’s amazing life.
►St. Francis Xavier strode manfully from a small boat into feudal Japan on the feast of Mary’s Assumption, August 15, 1549, the day he had taken his vows as a Jesuit.
There was no semblance of a dictionary that translated Japanese words and ideographs into Roman letters.
Trying to get Japanese words to express Christian concepts was a huge task, but Xavier’s sheer holiness won him some very important Japanese converts.
One was a physically handicapped musician who had been making a living by travelling around towns playing his lute and reciting old folk stories.
This eloquent wandering minstrel was baptized by Fr. Xavier and eventually became the able catechist Jesuit Brother Rorenzo.
On one occasion Bro. Rorenzo spent several whole, uninterrupted days arguing, counter arguing, evangelizing and finally converting a “Daimyo” – the Japanese title for a feudal lord. This castellan Takayama Tomutero (later baptized as Dom Dario Takayama) lived in a small castle in Nara Prefecture.
In 1563, Bro. Rorenzo had the joy of accompanying Fr. Gaspar Vilela, SJ, to the castle for the baptism of the whole Takayama family, including eldest son Takayama Ukon, then 11 years old.
It was 1563; Takayama Ukon would become a great and famous Daimyo early in his adult life, and would end up living in grand stone castles commanding extensive holdings in what is today Kobe City.
He would lead many to baptism – aristocrats, samurai, farming folk and town dwellers.
The Jesuits wrote enthusiastic letters back to Europe about this Takayama Ukon, letters also expressing great hopes for the future of the small but quickly spreading communities of Japanese Christians.
Fr Xavier had earlier written to Jesuit headquarters in Rome describing the Japanese as a highly cultured people, predicting they would become great Christians.
But then disaster struck, initiated by the lies and boasts of the Spanish captain of the ship “San Felipe.”
On its voyage from the Philippines to Mexico, it ran into a roaring cyclone that tore off the masts and sails and dumped it on the Japanese coast – with most of the cargo and crew intact. By Japanese custom, the local Daimyo looked after the crew, but the cargo was his.
When the ship’s captain was told this, he responded with a lie and a threat.
“You’ve seen the Spanish missionaries in Japan. Well they are the forerunners of the Spanish Army who will soon come and make Japan a colony. You will be in big trouble then if you have stolen my cargo.”
This threat was relayed to Kampaku (Chancellor) Hideyoshi, the generalissimo and real ruler of Japan – the Emperor was a powerful symbol, eking out cultured boredom in a gilded cage in Kyoto.
The Kampaku looked apprehensively at the Philippines and Mexico, and the seemingly unstoppable armies from Europe.
This set the scene for the persecution of Christians in Japan.
FIRST BLOW IN 1597
Hideyoshi, now Taiko (Retired Regent) since 1592 waited because he wanted to continue trade with Europeans via their ships.
But early in 1597 he struck a fierce blow – a total ban on Japanese Christian and western missionaries.
He had risen to prominence from humble beginnings by ruthless violence.
He now decided to terrorize every Japanese Christian and foreign missionary by public and gruesome executions in Nagasaki, where Christians were numerous.
Famous Christian Samurai Takayama would head the list of about 20 missionaries and Japanese Christians to be executed.
These “criminals” would have ears sliced off, loaded into open carts and paraded around the capital city Kyoto.
Then guarded by unmerciful samurai, they would be forced to march to Nagasaki, 30 days away, during the coldest time of the year.
There they would be fastened to crosses in mockery of this foreign Christian religion.
The local governor was ordered to make as many citizens as possible attend.
Everything was to be unhurried and drawn out, to heighten the terror for both the crucified and the onlookers.
Finally the two samurai, who had been standing right under each of the crucified, with the steel tip of a lance very visible, would thrust the lance deep and up under the rib cage of the crucified.
The last punishment was the refusal of burial for their corpse that would remain on the crosses until they rotted away.
The Taiko’s advisors did not oppose the gory executions but they advised the Taiko that Daimyo Takayama was too highly respected, famous throughout Japan as a man of great courage and ability, and a lover of the highest expressions of Japanese culture – the Way of the classical Tea Ceremony, Haiku poetry, fine calligraphy – and a brilliant designer of Daimyo castles.
The advisors dared not raise with lecherous Hideyoshi another reason for Takayama’s fame – his total faithfulness to his wife Justa Kuroda, in an era of sexual abandon among the powerful men of the land.
His advisors suggested that crucifying Daimyo Takayama like a common criminal could cause dangerous resentment and possibly harm to the Taiko’s “great reputation.”
So Taiko Hideyoshi took Takayama off the list of those to be executed on February 6, 1597.
However the merciless Taiko was angry that Takayama still lived publicly as a Christian, despite the Taiko outlawing Christianity.
To backtrack some years, Sen no Rikyu, still venerated by most Japanese, was the acknowledged creator of the fully developed Japanese Tea Ceremony, “Chado”, The Way of Tea, which was fast becoming the quintessence of Japanese refinement and culture for the ruling classes.
The Tea Ceremony is not like a casual cup of tea with friends.
The Tea Ceremony is conducted mostly in silence, taking an hour or more, and is acted out according to a solemn ritual full of spiritual symbols. Often when Japanese Tea Ceremony people attend Mass for the first time they will say the Mass reminded them of their much loved Tea discipline.
This famous and venerated Sen no Rikyu had publicly named the young Daimyo Takayama Ukon as one of his seven “mana deshi” – “most beloved disciple” – among the many Japanese who now practised the Tea cultural expression he created.
Kampaku Hideyoshi, who was also a follower of this Way of Tea, of course knew Sen no Kikyu personally.
He called Rokyu to his castle, and ordered him to visit Takayama with this stern warning.
“I order you to renounce your Christian beliefs. I am your liege lord. If you do not obey me you are betraying ‘bushido’, the Way of the Samurai. The whole warrior class in Japan, from the Shogun to humblest samurai, vows to follow this Way until death. Bushido demands total obedience to your liege lord. I as Shogun am your liege lord and order you to renounce this foreign religion. If you refuse to obey you are breaking the bushido vow, and will have to suffer the consequences.”
The consequences the Shogun referred to was the duty of hara kiri (seppuku), the ritualistic disembowelling of oneself with a short sword.
Samurai history up to the Emperor Meiji era that began in 1868 has many famous examples of hara kiri as “atonement” for breaking the bushido vow of obedience to one’s liege lord.
So the Kampaku was telling Takayama to reject Christianity or commit hari kiri.
If Takayama died by hari kiri there would be no backlash against the Kampaku.
Sen no Rikyu had no alternative but deliver the Kampaku’s orders.
To crafty Hideyoshi the spirited Daimyo Takayama replied immediately and masterfully, neither rejecting bushido nor his Christian faith: “I accept Kampaku Hideyoshi as my liege lord on this earth. But, higher than my earthly bushido obligation is my totally absolute obligation to obey Jesus, my Divine liege Lord, the Heavenly liege Lord of all earthly lords. I cannot renounce Him from whom I have received life itself, and the promise of eternal salvation.” Sen no Rikyu made no effort to persuade his Way of Tea disciple to renounce Christ.
He later whispered to another Tea disciple that Daimyo Takayama had not betrayed the samurai code, nor the highest ideals of Chado, the Way of Tea.
Probably this refusal of Sen no Rikyu to urge obedience to the Kampaku was one of the reasons why the Shogun ordered Sen no Rikyu to commit hara kiri, four years later in 1591.
The heroic Chado leader obeyed his liege lord Hideyoshi, called close Tea friends to a final Tea Ceremony, handed them his Tea utensils as keepsakes, bowed peacefully, and left them to commit hara kiri alone – to the immense chagrin of all noble-minded Japanese from that year right down to the present day.
When Kampaku Hideyoshi received Takayama’s reply from Sen no Rikyu he was infuriated. He ordered the immediate seizure of Takayama, his castle, lands and all his possessions, reducing him to the ignominious, lowest rank of a samurai, masterless “ronin”, whom no Daimyo could employ or shelter.
Takayama, his wife and family were banished to an inhospitable area of Kanazawa in the present day Ishikawa Prefecture.
Homeless ex-Daimyo Takayama first went to the Jesuit house at Arie, asking to be allowed to do a week’s retreat based on St. Ignatius Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises.”
Takayama was a great admirer of St. Ignatius who once was a knight, filled with love for chivalrous tales of knights who saved fair princesses.
The converted Ignatius chose poverty to follow Christ.
Samurai Takayama told his wife and family that they now had the opportunity to do the same for Christ.
Fortified by the Ignatian retreat, and at peace, Takayama asked for the prayers of the Jesuits and then led his family to what became a hand-to-mouth existence in a hostile environment.
However as soon as he arrived there he began a fearless and free life of spreading knowledge and love of the now outlawed Christ of the Gospels.
The Taiko Hideyoshi died the next year, 1598.
SHOGUN TOKUGAWA IEYASU
Brilliant military strategist Daimyo Tokugawa leyasu, determined to become the new Shogun, waged a series of battles to the death of all rivals.
He destroyed the last of them at Sekigahara in the year 1600 and became the Shogun.
He wanted to unite the whole war-torn land by declaring Shinto the religion all must follow. After consolidating his position he re-issued the ban on Christianity and began a merciless war against Christians in 1614.
He knew ex-Daimyo Takayama was spreading Christianity in the provinces and sent a grim message to him. Takayama ignored it.
Some new friends advised Takayama to save himself and his family by a “seeming” obedience to Tokugawa’s order.
Takayama replied, “For a man who has a sense of honor, and is firmly convinced of his Christian religion, it is inadmissible to even speak of such cowardice.”
Shogun Tokugawa then sent samurai to arrest Takayama and bring him bound to Kyoto.
There Tokugawa worked on still famous Takayama for seven months, alternating between enticements of rewards and savage death threats.
Takayama remained rock solid for Christ.
On November 8, Takayama, his wife Justa Kuroda, their daughter Lucia Yokoyama and their five grandchildren, 350 missionaries and Japanese Christian laymen were put on a small boat and deported to Manila.
By now Takayama’s body was broken.
Forty-four days after arriving in the Philippines, Dom Justo Ukon Takayama died during the night of February 3, 1615.
BEATIFICATION IN OSAKA ON FEB. 7, 2017
On February 7, 2017, Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated the Beatification Rites for Ven. Justo Ukon Takayama, elevating him to the ranks of the “Blessed.”#
Fr. Paul Glynn, author of “A Song for Nagasaki,” published in 13 languages and which is the basis of the movie “All That Remains” is a Marist priest and native of Australia. Ordained in 1953, Fr Glynn spent 25 years as a missionary in Japan.
►The Canonical Erection by Capiz Archbishop Jose F. Cardinal Advincula is set for Thursday, March 25, at the Brgy. Lucero Covered Gym, Jamindan, Capiz.
Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila), the Japanese-born Manila martyr, is the beloved patron of the “Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon Mission Station” whose main chapel — San Isidro Labrador Chapel (*in photo) – is in Brgy. Lucero, Jamindan, Capiz.
>>>BASIC ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES: The Mission Station has 45 Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs).
>>>BARANGAYS: The mission station serves the barangays of Agbun-od, Igang, Lucero, Pasol-o, San Juan Proper, and Sitios of ◘ Agdadangag, ◘ Bunglas & ◘ Embakatutan of Brgy. Milan, Jamindan, Capiz.
>>>19 CHAPELS: The “Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon Mission Station” in Brgy. Lucero, Jamindan, Capiz has 19 chapels in six Barangays: ◘ Lucero, ◘ Igang, ◘ Agbun-od, ◘ San Juan Proper, ◘ Milan & ◘ Pasol-o.
>>>THE PRIEST-IN-CHARGE is Rev. Fr. Krys Señerez.#
Raul Roque Auxuliary, Missionary Disciples for the New Evangelization
►(By Jaime C. Laya | Opinion-Editorial “WALA LANG,” Manila Bulletin, Feb. 15, 2021) — February is not a happy month in Philippine-Japan relations. The Battle of Manila raged 76 years ago in February 1945 and a persecuted Japanese feudal lord died here in February 1615.
By the late 1500s, the Dutch were already in the Spice Islands, the Spanish were colonizing the Philippines, and the Portuguese were in Macao. They all wanted to have part of the action in China and Japan, in both trade and religion. The Japanese were Buddhists and Shinto believers. Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, wanted conversions.#
►Japan was feudal with four major ranks. The ♦Shogun controlled the military and was the most powerful person of Japan. Under him were ♦Daimyo, a couple of hundred lords who controlled, in effect owned, whole provinces and everything in them. Daimyos each had an army of ♦Samurai who were independent knights and soldiers and in the fourth rank were ♦farmers and peasants. People in the two lower ranks were compensated by the Daimyo for their loyalty and service with rice, land, housing, or other valuables.#
►Above the Shogun was the ♦Emperor who was more symbol than real power. Below farmers and peasants were ♦merchants. Still lower on the totem pole were the “Ainu,” the ethnic minority, as well as butchers and other workers in taboo occupations.
In 1548, San Francisco Javier, a Jesuit, arrived from Goa to introduce Christianity to the Japanese. Thereafter a stream of Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries came to Japan. Allowed much leeway, the Jesuits were successful and it is estimated that by 1580 there were 150,000 converts and 200 churches.#
►Among the high-ranking converts was ♦Takayama Tomoteru of Sawa Castle in Yamato province. He converted in 1564 at which time he also had his eldest son ♦Takayama Hikogoro (1552-1615) baptized. The son was given the Christian name Justo and consequently also bore the names ♦Justo Takayama Ukon and ♦Dom Justo Takayama. While still in his teens, he was already an outstanding Samurai, distinguished for courage and fighting skill.#
►Spanish Franciscans followed the Jesuits and with their combined and intensified proselytization, complaints and intrigues proliferated—missionaries ignored the authorities, displayed antisocial behavior, were intolerant of the established Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. There was suspicion that they aimed to weaken the existing social and power structure. It also seems there was rivalry and differences in approach between Jesuits and Franciscans, which did not help any.
The outcome was an order issued in 1587 by Kampaku Toyotomi Hideyoshi for the expulsion of all missionaries and for Japanese Christians to renounce their faith. The order was not strictly enforced but life became more difficult for Japanese Christians.
►Takayama Ukon refused to repudiate Christianity, choosing instead to lose his lands and possessions and be stripped of authority and privileges. He was sentenced to be prisoner of another Daimyo. He wasn’t locked up but retained a position of respect, winning battles on behalf of his custodian. That may also have been when he became a Master of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Among the Franciscans who worked in Japan was ♦San Pedro Bautista. He had arrived in the Philippines in 1584 and served among other places in Sta. Ana, Manila and in Lumbán and Los Baños, Laguna. He rose in the Franciscan hierarchy and built a novitiate and convent that still exists in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City. In 1593, he was sent to Japan to appease Hideyoshi who had threatened to invade the Philippines. He succeeded and was allowed to establish a hospital and begin work in Kyoto.
A couple of years later, the galleon San Felipe, on the way to Mexico, was driven by a typhoon to Japan. The authorities found soldiers, cannon, and ammo aboard and confirmed suspicions that religion and trade were the thin edge of the wedge that would lead to conquest.#
►Thus began the persecution of missionaries and converts. It eventually resulted in the martyrdom of some 500 persons, starting with the torture and crucifixion on Feb. 5, 1597 of the so-called 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki—six Spanish Franciscans and Dominicans from Manila, 17 Japanese and Korean catechists, and three Japanese Jesuits, including ♦San Pablo Miki. About 130 churches were set afire.
Among the 26 martyrs were Franciscans San Pedro Bautista and San Felipe de Jesus. San Felipe de Jesus was collateral damage. He was Mexican and went to Manila to live the good life selling jewelry. He had a change of heart, however, and decided to become a priest. He completed his studies and was a passenger on the ill-fated galleon returning to Mexico to be ordained, and not to be a missionary in Japan.#
►Takayama Ukon had been living quietly. Matters had gone from bad to worse, however, and a new ♦ShogunTokugawa Ieyasu directed draconian measures against Christians. Takayama was sent to exile and after an arduous 10-month trek across Japan, he and some 300 family members, fellow converts and religious, reached Nagasaki where a ship waited to bring them to Manila. The ship lifted anchor on Nov. 8, 1614 and arrived in Manila a month later, on Dec. 21, when a huge crowd led by ♦Governor-General Juan de Silva welcomed them with high honors.
Weakened by the hardships of the long journey, Takayama Ukon died 44 days after arrival, on Feb. 3, 1615. He was interred in the Jesuit Church, located in the present ♦Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) campus at the south end of Intramuros. His resting place may have been at the church sanctuary, where the university’s main entrance now is, at the corner of General Luna and Muralla Steets.#
A MAN WHO WALKED THE PATH OF OBEDIENCE: JUSTO TAKAYAMA UKON (1552-1615)
►The Catholic Church in Japan, from its very beginning, has had a history quite unique among other nations of the world.
The gospel introduced by Francis Xavier in 1549 spread throughout the land and records show that within some 40 years the number of the faithful surpassed 300,000. However, in 1587, while the Church was still young, the powerful Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) made Christianity the target of a policy of persecution. This policy only hardened as the years advanced, and at the beginning of the 17th century, if anyone was discovered to hold the Christian faith, not only he himself but also his whole family were executed.
This policy of prohibition continued for more than 280 years, until 1873.
It is said that under this policy, more than 20,000 were martyred. Despite these conditions, the Church in Japan did not die out. From the beginning of the 17th century, when the persecution became intense, throughout the more than 200 years that followed, the faithful, deprived of support by priests and religious, held on to their faith.
THE LIFE OF UKON
The famous Christian feudal lord Justo Takayama Ukon (1552-1615) laid the foundation on which the Church described above was solidly built. Ukon is known as a typical feudal lord active in the middle of the 16th century, during the latter part of Japan’s century of civil wars.
Ukon met up with Jesuit missionaries and was baptized at the age of 12 along with his father Dario. Ukon was an active and trusted vassal of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who finally subdued the long drawn-out civil wars, as well as of Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s successor. These two Shoguns made major moves toward concentrating their own personal control over the whole of Japan.
However, although Hideyoshi had previously shown understanding toward the Church, in 1587 he suddenly did an about-face in his religious policy, ordering the deportation of missionaries, destroying churches in Kyoto and Osaka, and urging the Christian feudal lords to renounce their faith. Ukon, refusing to renounce his faith, was deprived of his rank and his fiefdom was attacked.
After the death of Hideyoshi, the Tokugawa family took control of the whole country and established their shogunate government in Edo (present-day Tokyo). They continued to pursue a policy of prohibiting Christianity. The shogunate feared the influence of Ukon, and in 1614 exiled him to the Philippines along with more than 300 Christians.
On reaching Manila, they were given a national welcome, but before long Ukon fell gravely ill and died in Manila during the night of February 3, 1615 — 44 days after his arrival there.
He was given a national funeral and was buried in the Philippines.
Immediately after his death his reputation as a martyr spread, and the investigation for his canonization began. At that time it was difficult to collect data in Japan, so the process could not be continued.
Now, however, the Church of Japan, in cooperation with the Church of the Philippines, is actively pursuing the cause of Ukon’s canonization.
UKON’S MESSAGE FOR US TODAY: THE PRINCIPLE OF CHOICE
Ukon was often placed in situations where important and decisive life choices had to be made which could not be avoided by a military commander belonging to the powerful ruling class. He stood at the very forefront where the values of God and that of the world come into greatest conflict. Decisive choices that cannot be avoided have to be made by any Christian leader in whatever age.
Ukon held clear principles for choosing the path that would lead to God and would lead to correct decisions. To answer to the love of God who, in order to love without limit and to save we sinners, took on himself mankind’s destiny to die—this was Ukon’s basic principle. That was the only thing he kept in view. This alone was the standard of the major decisions he made throughout his life. There was no room for compromise. What moved Ukon was the belief that remaining in the love of God was the road to human happiness.
In 1578, Araki Murashige, Ukon’s liege lord, turned against Nobunaga, to whom he was allied. Murashige urged his powerful subject Ukon to also revolt.
Ukon’s dilemma was severe. If he adhered to Murashige, the Church and the missionaries would be persecuted by Nobunaga. If he adhered to Nobunaga, the lives of his son and his younger sister, whom Murashige was holding as hostages, would be endangered. He was forced into conflict with his father Dario, who supported Murashige.
As a result of his prayer in the face of this suffering, Ukon made a decision to pay a visit to Nobunaga. Murashige, realizing his own defeat, returned the hostages to Ukon.
The greatest decision of Ukon’s life was in 1587. The most powerful leader of the time, Hideyoshi, declared the prohibition of Christianity. At the same time he gave strict orders to Ukon to abandon Christianity, and if he would not do so, his fiefdom would be confiscated and he would be banished. If he simply formally renounced the Church, he would receive further advancement. If he did not renounce his faith, he would lead a pitiable life of destitution.
To the messenger who brought this order from Hideyoshi, Ukon said he would visit Hideyoshi unarmed and convey his thoughts, adding that if he should be killed, he would be quite satisfied. Ukon was banished and led a wanderer’s life.
When Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power after Hideyoshi’s death, he continued to enforce the prohibition of Christianity and ordered Ukon, who still retained his faith, to leave the country.
He departed from Nagasaki on November 8, 1614. On arriving in Manila, he fell critically ill and during the night of February 3, 1615, was called to the Lord. Not only banished but also dying in exile, Ukon gained high honor in Manila as a martyr immediately after his death. At present, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan is petitioning for his canonization as a martyr.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, when Ukon lived, Japan was still violently agitated by civil wars. It was a time when powerful go-getters maneuvered to attain wealth, power, and fame. It was a time when society sought upward mobility. Ukon was the type of person blessed with the resourcefulness to seek a better life. However, Ukon was not deceived by visible and attainable fortune and continued to keep his pure vision set on the invisible and true, even if distant, happiness. Ukon was not mistaken regarding the road to be chosen. It was the road of downward mobility as a disciple of the Lord. In that warring age when everyone strove to climb upward, Ukon chose the path of abasement. Through his choices at each of life’s junctures, Ukon became visibly poorer. However, Ukon’s heart became richer.
The downward path that Ukon took was the way of Christ, the way of the cross. On this downward path, one meets God, who is waiting there. Firm hope is found there, because as Christians we know that God lowered himself and chose to become poor for the salvation of mankind. Ukon ascended with Jesus and was received into the presence of the Father.
Those who live close to the ground know that God is near. Ukon teaches us that. In the present age, when we are urged to make choices from among various values that promise happiness, people who adhere to Jesus can learn from the life of Ukon to follow the Lord directly, without deviation or error.#
From the Committee for Promoting Canonization Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
►HOMILY OF THE MOST REV. BRODERICK PABILLO, D.D. APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATOR – ARCHDIOCESE OF MANILA ON FEAST DAY AND 406TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF BLESSED JUSTO UKON TAKAYAMA, FEB. 3, 2021, SANTISIMO ROSARIO PARISH, UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS, MANILA
►There are some aspects of our readings that apply very clearly to our Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon.
In our Gospel, Jesus went to his native place, Nazareth. And the people of Nazareth recognized that he was extraordinary, where did her get all this? They recognized his wisdom. They recognized his mighty deeds – the cures that he did all over the place. And yet they took offense at him. They were not able to accept him. In fact their familiarity with him – they knew his family, they knew his relatives – prevented them from seeing him as sent by the Lord. Really what the prophet said, “that the prophet is not accepted in his own household, in his own family, in his own place” – was true of Jesus. And also true of our Takayama Ukon.
He was not accepted by his own people. By his own leaders. This is why he was exiled. He was too high in society to be executed. So, they just sent him into exile. They could not keep him in his place. He was an irritant for them, because of his faith, because of his attitude. They recognized that he was different. That he was special. And they could not accept him. So, although our Blessed (Takayama Ukon) has not literally shed his blood, yet he was considered as a martyr. Because his suffering and his death was caused by the rejection of the people. Rejection not only of him, but rejection of the faith that he carries, and the faith that tries to live to the full.
Also in our First Reading, although the writer of the letters said to the Christians – to the Jewish Christians – who were being persecuted. That your struggle has not led to the shedding of blood. But remember, that many of the Christians at that time has already shed their blood because of the faith. So, the writer told the Jewish Christians to hang on and to see their own tribulations as discipline of the Lord. And the Lord disciplines them because they are his children. Because He loves them.
And He compares the discipline and the trials that we receive to the discipline that parents give to their children. And they do so, because they want them to be better. They want them to grow up well, so He disciplines them. And this also how we should look at the trials that we are undergoing – it’s a sign of God’s love. It’s not absence of the care of God. It’s a sign of God’s love. And that might have been the attitude of Blessed Takayama Ukon at the disciplines, at the trials that he had to undergo in his society. Because of his commitment to the faith. And he was faithful as the letter to the Hebrews were telling the Christians to be faithful in spite of these trials. And because of these trials, Blessed Justo was faithful up to the end. He was not resentful. He accepted the faith. That’s why the Spanish and the Filipinos when they received him here, they were surprised at his peace of mind, at his calmness, in spite of what happened to him that he being exiled here. So, the letter to the Jewish Christians, “strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees so that they may be healed and not dislocated.” And at another point, the letter told the Jewish Christians – “strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
How true this is also of Blessed Justo, in spite if the persecution that he suffered, he tried to make peace. He made a lot of concessions, even his own dignity, even his own possessions, just to have peace. And in all this, he really tried to be holy. So, it is no wonder that he is now elevated to the altar, because of his effort to be holy. Holiness that he was able to achieve because of his fidelity to Christ. And it was that fidelity was somehow put to the test for decades – several decades – four decades of his holiness in spite of the trials that he was undergoing. So it is but right, that we remember him today, his feast day, and we ask for his help that we too may have that kind of fidelity in front of difficulties. And during this pandemic, we all are experiencing difficulties. In fact, many of us would want to be here in order to celebrate this Mass, but we would just be contented with the online reception of the Holy Mass. And that’s already a kind of a frustration that we feel. And there are still so many activities, and good activities that we could not do because of the limitations that this Corona virus is giving to us. Let us offer this to the Lord. And this can be also a way for our own sanctification.
May the example of our saint strengthen us. May his prayers also help us, that we may follow in that striving towards holiness — without which we cannot see the Lord.#
Transcribed by Raul Roque Auxiliary, Missionary Disciples for the New Evangelization
Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama (福者 高山ユスト右近): A Gift of Powerful Witness (Martyr) of Christian Faith from Japan to the Philippines – A Seed Sown in the Philippines from Japan by God – A Gospel Witness in Asia
►A blog by Masa Runs (仲田昌史), of Loyola University Chicago | LUC · Institute of Pastoral Studies — When I teach and give presentations on Catholic topics and the Scriptures to my fellow Catholics, I often encounter my audience’s surprised reactions when they learn that I am Japanese. They react to me as if there were no Catholics in Japan. I am often mistaken for a Filipino Catholic speaker to teach on Catholic topics. At least people acknowledge Filipinos as Catholics among the Asians. But, not so with the Japanese. Now I am tempted to pretend to be Filipino. Pero, ako Hapon.
In fact, many people find it difficult to conceptualize the existence of Christians not only in Japan but generally in Asia, except in the Philippines. Given the fact that Christians’ ratio to the entire national population of Japan barely makes up 1% Catholics and non-Catholic Christians altogether, this is no surprise. In contrast, Christians (Catholics and non-Catholic Christians) make up about 95% of the national population of the Philippines. Christianity was brought to the Philippines by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 with a statue of Santo Nino and to Japan by St. Francis Xavier, accompanied by his Jesuit companions: Anjiro (Yajiro), Cosme de Torres and Juan Fernandez, in 1549. With only 28 years of difference, Christianity has been in Japan almost as long as it has been in the Philippines.
However, in regard to the quantity of Christians, there is a remarkably huge gap between the Philippines and Japan. Then, what about the qualities of the Christianity in the Philippines and in Japan? Do you think that the quality of Christianity in Japan is less than that in the Philippines, reflecting the quantities?
To know the quality of Christian faith in Japan and to overcome the ignorance about the Catholics in Asia, particularly, in Japan, meet Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama (高山 ユスト 右近), whose life of faith is honored on February 3 in the Liturgical Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Ukon was born to the samurai family of Tomoteru Takayama (高山 友照) in the province of Settsu (now northern Osaka), Japan, in 1552, a year after Xavier left Japan.
Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama is a lay Japanese Catholic dynamo (samurai provincial lord) in evangelization during the extensive period of feudal turmoil in Japan spanning from the late 16th century into the early 17th century. Ukon was instrumental in realizing many dreams of St. Francis Xavier, who came to Japan in 1549 and began evangelizing with struggles with a vision to set Japan on fire of faith, while winning many Japanese souls for Christ. At the same time, Ukon’s faith with his faith-driven actions of evangelization is a fruit of the seeds of evangelization sown in Japan by St. Francis Xavier between 1549 and 1551, because Ukon was baptized into the Catholic Church as his father, Tomoteru Takayama, decided to be baptized to become Christian as a result of listening to a Japanese story teller, who became Christian as a result of listening to St. Francis Xavier. And this story teller, who impacted Ukon’s father to become Christian together with his son, Ukon, and the rest of his family, and all of samurais under his command, is Lawrence Ryosai (ロレンソ了斎).
At first, Lawrence Ryosai, who was almost blind since his birth, was a biwa-playing story teller. Ryosai’s story telling was always gravitating because of his extraordinary knowledge of Shinto and Buddhism. Biwa is a traditional Japanese string instrument. Ryosai decided to become Christian upon being impressed by a homily given by St. Francis Xavier and baptized by him in 1551, the year Xavier left Japan. Having become Christian, Ryosai’s story telling with his biwa playing was just as great as Catholic priest’s homilies that touch our hearts and move us deeply. He remained instrumental to the Jesuit missionaries coming to Japan after Xavier, and he himself became Jesuit later, though not ordained as a priest.
In 1559, Ukon’s father, Tomoteru, had an opportunity to listen to Lawrence Ryosai. He was tremendously impressed by Ryosai’s way of arguing for Christianity in contrast to Buddhism and Shinto. As a result, Tomoteru decided to become Christian together with all of his family members, including Ukon, and all of his samurai servants under his command. And, Ukon received his Christian name, Justo, which means justice, upon his Baptism in 1564. The timing was just perfect as it was around the time for Ukon’s Genpuku ceremony, the coming-of-age ritual ceremony for samurai’s son to be recognized as mature enough to be given swords for himself. And this is how Ukon Justo Takayama begun to grow as Japan’s most notorious Christian samurai as a fruit of the evangelization seed sown by St. Francis Xavier and later becoming a seed of faith sown in the Philippines.
Though Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama and St. Francis Xavier never met in person, they are connected to each other as the sower and a rich fruit grown out of a seed. And it is Lawrence Ryosai who connects Ukon to Xavier for further abundant fruits of Xavier’s seeds of evangelization in Japan.
As a young Christian samurai, Ukon exhibited his loyalty to his father and to his family’s master samurai feudal lord, demonstrating his extraordinary valor and impressive battle tactics. It may evoke Joshua in conquering Canaan for the Jewish settlement and David in securing the geopolitical status of the Kingdom of Israel upon conquering Jerusalem, as its king. Both Joshua and David are not only excellent warriors but also men of exemplary steadfast faith in God – loyal servants of God.
The way Ukon served his samurai feudal lord as a young samurai must have reflected his faith in Christ – the way he dedicated himself to Christ, his true and everlasting Lord. However, as a young samurai, Ukon’s faith in Christ was not really mature yet. This is why Francis Cabral and Luis Frois, Jesuit priests, came to visit Ukon in his Takatsuki castle and gave him a discourse on Deus (God) in 1574.
The Japanese word, “samurai” (侍) literally means a man who serves as a temple guard, based on the Chinese character for this word. Every samurai had his own lord to serve and protect to a point of sacrificing his own life. This servant character of samurai bode well with the servant nature of being Christian – being disciples of Christ, as St. Paul of Tarsus puts it (i.e. Romans 1:1; Colossians 1:23). The way samurai is bound to his feudal lord in service parallels the way Christians, disciples of Christ, are bound to Christ the Lord as his servants. And Christians are obedient and courageous “soldiers of Christ,” in fighting Christ’s enemies and defending his truth and the Word, as defined in the Catechism of Trent for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Given the servant nature as a common factor between being a samurai and a Christian (soldier of Christ) , perhaps, these words of Jesus could have attracted samurais:
>>>You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).
The greatest among you must be your servant, Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12).
As a young samurai, Ukon already distinguished himself for his unmatched gung-ho drive in battle and contribution to his lord’s victories. While many other young samurais admired him and were inspired by him, some became jealous of him and plotted to assassinate him together with his father. Remember, Ukon lived during an extensive period of feudal conflict mainly resulting from the decline in the Ashikaga Shogunate’s central ruling power. As the Ashikaga’s central control power waned, many power-hungry local provincial samurais began competing for the next Shogunate power to be the central ruler or to side with samurai lords who were believed to become the next ruler of the feudal Japan, such as chancellor, as well as a self-appointed regent to even arrogate the Emperor’s power. In such a chaotic situation, those who served loyally could betray their master lords at any time whenever power balance changed. When their master lords died in battle or in assassination, samurais had to find their new lords to serve or throw themselves in this power-competition game to promote themselves in the feudal rank, gaining samurai servants for themselves.
In 1573, a plot to kill Ukon and his father, Tomoteru, became a reality. The assassination attempt was made by a young samurai lord, who used to admire Ukon and sought advice from him. Though Ukon was able to defeat this contester, he himself was gravely wounded in his defense. Though he could have died from the wound, Ukon made rather a miraculous recovery. And this must have strengthened his faith in God. This is similar to how St. Ignatius of Loyola found himself drawn to God and began recognizing his calling to serve God while recovering from his near mortal wound from the Battle of Pamprona in 1521. Ukon must have realized God’s care for him as Ignatius did and further drew closer to Him during his recovery from the wound.
Jealous rivalry, however, was not the only thing Ukon attracted for his distinct excellence as a young samurai. Ukon’s military accomplishments and outstanding battle skills were highly recognized by Oda Nobunaga (織田信長), the military chancellor of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and by Toyotomi Hideshoshi (豊臣秀吉), the Chancellor-Regent, who succeeded Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga and Hideyoshi were the leading figures in sequence during the extensive period of political instability and power-game battles from the latter half of the 16th century to the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. Until Nobunaga’s death in 1582, Hideyoshi served Oda.
Because Nobunaga was open to Christian missionaries and permitted them to evangelize in Japan, Ukon was instrumental to establishing a seminary in Azuchi, which was where Nobunaga built Azuchi Castle for himself in 1576 and considered as his city. The Azuchi Seminary opened its door for aspiring Japanese seminarians in 1580, and one of the seminarians at this seminary was St. Paul Miki, the first Japanese Jesuit who was martyred in 1597 with his 25 companions, including San Pedro Bautista, a Spanish Franciscan from Manila, on the hill of Nishizaka in Nagasaki. Setting the very first pipe organ from Europe, in 1581, at the Azuchi Seminary that he contributed to establish, Ukon sponsored to celebrate Mass in a grand scale for the Resurrection of Christ, having Fr. Alessandro Valignano, a Jesuit expert on missiology, well-known for writing, “Il Cerimoniale per i Missionari del Giappone”, a culturally adopted missionary guideline for Jesuits in Japan. In this Jesuit manual for missionary in Japan, Valignano said that Jesuits on mission in Japan should behave like the feudal ruling class, namely, daimyos (samurai provincial lords), to be respected and to make it easier to evangelize. This missiology approach was based on the unique social character of the feudal Japan of that time. However, the Franciscan missionary sharply criticized Valignano’s method as they thought that it would neglect the Gospel-mandate care for the poor. This is certainly a debatable topic even today in missiology with inculturation. However, if you bring the example of Justo Ukon’s way of evangelization, Valignano’s approach can make sense. Ukon was in a ruling samurai class of the Japanese feudal social structure. At the same time, he was in touch with the hearts of ordinary citizens, including the poor, with compassion in his province. It was because his governance as a provincial lord was driven by his Christian faith, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, he governed his province with justice, as his Christian name, “Justo,” means. Justice, of course, comes with compassion to be in line with God’s justice.
It was also Ukon who built church in Osaka, a major gateway city to the imperial capitol of Japan, Kyoto, in 1583. He covered the cost of the construction, after the land was provided by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who became the ruler of Japan as regent-chancellor, after Oda Nobunaga’s death in 1582. During that time, many of the servants of Toyotomi Hideyoshi also became Christian because of Ukon.
At that time, Ukon was the daimyo (provincial samurai lord) of the province of Settsu, residing in Takatsuki Castle. He governed his province with justice, reflecting his Christian name, “Justo,” and mercy. For example, when rice harvest was low, he exempted farmers from tax. He is said to have carried a casket at a funeral of a citizen in his province, though it was a task for an underclass man. Ukon governed the Province of Setts as a Christian ruler, reflecting Christ’s teaching in his Gospel. Because of this, Ukon in maintained a good working relation with people. This is why nearly 80% of the people of his province had become Christian.
Ukon was a very dynamic evangelizer not only to ruling class samurais but also to ordinary people under the samurai feudal rule. His enthusiasm in evangelization to bring more people to become Christians may be comparable to that of St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Paul of Tarsus, even though Ukon is a lay Christian. Ukon’s gung-ho drive was not only in battle but also in evangelization. One of the samurai rulers, who converted and became Christian, really became a new person by abandoning a sinful life of having multiple concubines and chosing a life of chastity with one wife, as a result of Ukon’s evangelization.
Ukon really set the feudal Japan on fire of the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Spirit, though he was not necessarily well-versed with the Scriptures and the catechism. Obviously, Ukon was very charismatic in sharing how great it is to be Christian, perhaps, in juxtaposition to something so gravitating to being Christian in Lawrence Ryosai’s biwa playing story telling. A main reason for Ukon’s evangelization was so gravitating is that he gave his personal witness to a revelation of the mystery of Christ in his testimonies, rather than being preachy in boasting about how much he knew about the Scriptures and catechism.
In 1584, by order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ukon was transferred to govern the province of Akashi from the province of Setts, becoming the daimyo of Akashi. This was meant to be promotion given to Ukon by Hideyoshi. But, it was also when trials began to loom over him. Around that time, one of Hideyoshi’s cabinet members threatened Ukon to conspire Hideyoshi that Ukon was plotting a rebellion against him. To this, Ukon resolvedly responded to confront such a matter with truth in his loyalty to Hideyoshi without compromising his absolute loyalty to Christ the Lord. In fact, Hideyoshi really valued Ukon and trusted him. And, Uknon valued Hideyoshi’s confidence in him. But, it was more of his faith in Christ that enabled Ukon to stand against such a conspiracy threat against him with his firm resolve.
When Ukon accompanied Hideyoshi in his battle campaign in Kyushu, 1587, Hideyoshi made a drastic change of his policy in regard to Christianity in Japan. He issued a decree to prohibit Christianity in Japan and to expel all foreign missionaries from Japan. What possibly contributed to this sudden change in Hideyoshi’s stance to Christianity was that he began to see the rapid spread of Christianity in Japan as a great threat to the existence of the Japanese religious tradition, constituted with Shinto and Buddhism. Hideyoshi realized that more Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were in ruin and desolation where Christians were concentrated. In fact, Kyushu had the highest Christian ratio to the general population than any other regions of Japan. Therefore, the decline of those who practice Shinto and Buddhism was more evident in Kyushu than anywhere else in Japan. Furthermore, Hideyoshi also began to feel a threat from the firm solidarity among Christians in Japan to his ambition to remain in his political power as ruler of Japan. And Hideyoshi was well-aware that Ukon was responsible for the fast-paced increase of Christians and the Christian solidarity in Japan. This change of Hideyoshi’s policy on Christians in Japan is like how Egypt changed its policy on the Jews in Egypt – from being tolerant to oppressive because of the growth of the Jewish population, as written in Exodus 1.
Nevertheless, Hideyoshi was hoping that Ukon would apostatize for his sake and for his confidence in Ukon. He did not want to lose Ukon for this foreign religion, called Christianity, as he did not want to see traditional Japanese religious custom, Shinto and Buddhism, decline. Although Hideyoshi himself was quite tolerant of Christianity before, especially while his predecessor chancellor, Nobunaga was in his power. And Hideyoshi supported Ukon’s evangelization efforts because he valued Ukon’s distinguished valor and battle skills. So Hideyoshi demanded Ukon to give up his Christian faith for the sake of the loyalty to him and his ambition to stabilize Japan and rule with his own Shogunate.
To this, Ukon resolvedly refused to turn his back against Christ, even disobeying his order could result in execution, and chose to rather lose his privilege as a samurai lord by leaving the domain of Hideyoshi. And he was not even afraid of losing his life for the sake of Christ. But, Ukon also made it clear that his refusal to apostatize as Hideyoshi desired was not out of his disrespect. So, this is how Ukon responded to Hideyoshi’s demand to give up his faith in Christ:
I have always been loyal to you with reverence – never insulted you, to my best recollection. It is my responsibility, however, that my servants both in Settsu and Akashi had become Christians. I will never trade my faith in Christ and forfeit the salvation of my soul even for the whole world to be in my disposition. Therefore, I hereby submit myself, my body and my province, to your disposition. (translation mine).
Not even a prospect of becoming the ruler of the whole world will not tempt Ukon to abandon his faith in Christ. This firm resolve of Ukon evokes how Jesus fended off Satan’s temptation to bow down to him in exchange for the ruling power over the entire world (Matthew 4:8-10). And Ukon will never trade his soul’s salvation for anything, reflecting these words of Jesus:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehena (Matthew 10:28).
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Matthew 16:26).
Because this decision to choose Christ over Hideyoshi as his true lord to serve, Ukon lost all his privileges as a samurai lord and his promising future in Hideyoshi’s political power. He and his family were reduced to homeless wanderers in exile. To borrow Flannery O’Conner’s word, Ukon and his family chose to be “displaced” from the feudal power game of the secular world. In exchange, he and his family gained freedom – becoming unfettered, even though risk of being executed by Hideyoshi remained for defying him.
To this, Hidesyoshi was certainly disappointed. But, he seemed to have rather grieved over losing a great warrior and strategist and governor. Rather than reacting in his anger, Hideyoshi must have been impressed by how strong Ukon’s Christian faith was to a point of his awe.
As a matter of fact, it was Hideyoshi who sought out Ukon to meet him for reconciliation in 1592. Though he could have refused, thinking it as Hidehyoshi’s tricky trap to kill him, Ukon came out and met with his former “boss” over a tea ceremony session in Nagoya castle of Kyushu (not to be confused with Nagoya castle in Nagoya, central Japan). It was an amicable meeting. Hideyoshi did not demand Ukon to apostatize anymore. Rather, he expressed his concern for the wellbeing of Ukon to have lived as a wonder. So, Hideyoshi assured Ukon that he did not have to be “invisible” any more as he can now on present himself publically – though he cannot redeem his former privileges. In fact, it was much a relief to Ukon.
Fortunately, Ukon and his family were able to live under the care of his friends, who were also provincial samurai lords in various parts of Japan. Ukon told a Jesuit priest, Luis Frois, that it was God’s grace to keep him and his family alive and well even being reduced to poverty by defying Hideyoshi for Christ. And, he lived in such a way until his actual expulsion from Japan in 1614.
During these “displacement” or “exile” years in Japan, Ukon and his Christian family could have been arrested at any moment for execution, even though he and Hideyoshi reconciled in 1592. The risk of his arrest for execution had become much higher upon the 1596 San Felipe ship wreck incident, which triggered Hideyoshi to order the execution of the 26 Christians in 1597 in Nagasaki. The lives of these 26 martyred are memorialized and honored in the Catholic Church on their feast day, February 6. The 26 martyred include St. Paul Miki, one of the first Japanese Jesuit seminarians to study at the Azuchi Seminary that Ukon helped to build, a son of samurai. Another one is San Pedro Bautista, a Spanish Franciscan friar from the Philippines, who also served as Spanish Ambassador to make peace with Hideyoshi in 1593, in response to Hideyoshi’s threat to the Philippines in 1591, demanding Spain to recognize Hideyoshi as the superior power not only in Japan but in Asia, including the Philippines. And the 26 martyred saints also include San Felipe de Jesus, a Mexican Franciscan seminarian returning to Mexico from the Philippines, and St. Louis Ibaraki, a 12-year old Japanese Christian boy, the youngest among the 26, known for preaching to his executioner to become Christian shortly before being put to his cross. Hideyoshi made his decision to tighten up the persecution of Christians in Japan upon the Spanish galleon’s shipwreck because this incident, San Felipe incident, resulted in a conspiracy that the Spanish Franciscan priests on the galleon, San Felipe, were Spanish invaders to colonize Japan. An officer under Hideyoshi’s command, who investigated this shipwreck incident, made a false report with the conspiracy against Christians, as Roman Emperor Nero not only justified his persecution policy against Christians in the Roman Empire but to turn Roman citizens to view Christians as their enemies by falsely accusing Christians for being the culprit of the great fire in Rome in 64 AD.
An anti-Christian officer in the Hideyoshi’s administration knew about Ukon and wanted to kill him during these years leading to the San Felipe incident in 1596 and the 1597 execution of 26 Christians in Nagasaki. In fact, Ukon was originally top on the list for the 1597 Christian execution in Nagasaki, along with Paul Miki and Pedro Bautista and other Christians arrested in Kyoto and Osaka. However, unbeknownst to him, Ukon’s name was deleted from this “black list” because of influential samurai lords, who understood Ukon very well. One of them is Toshiie Maeda (前田利家), daimyo of the province of Kaga (Kanazawa, today), who is a close friend of Ukon through Sado (the way of tea). Both Ukon and Toshiie are among top seven disciples of Sen no Rikyu (千利休), the grand tea master of Japan. In fact, Toshiie was very supportive of Ukon during his exile and even Ukon join in his battle campaign, bringing in a great victory. So, the friendship bond between Ukon and Toshiie was very strong, even though Toshiie was not Christian.
Hideyoshi died in 1598, in the following year that he had executed 26 Christians in Nagasaki. It was the same year when Felipe (Philipp) II, king of Spain, died. Hideyoshi’s limitless hunger for hegemony threatened this Spanish king, demanding him to surrender the Philippines, the Spanish colony named after him, to Hideyoshi. Spain could have had a war with Hideyoshi’s forces. But Spain was reluctant to choose a bloody method to resolve this issue with Hideyoshi, knowing how militarized Japan was. So, Spain sent San Pedro Bautista, a Spanish Franciscan friar based in the Philippines, to negotiate for peace with Japan. By the grace of God working through San Pedro Bautista, a possible war between Felipe II’s Spanish forces and Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces over the Philippines was averted when San Pedro Bautista and Toyotomi Hideyoshi met in Japan, in 1593. At this meeting, Hideyoshi also allowed San Pedro Bautista to bring his Franciscan missionaries from the Philippines to Japan in 1593. Though he was able to make peace and work amicably with contentious Hideyoshi, San Pedro Bautista was treated mercilessly and executed because Hideyoshi was persuaded by the groundless report that the Franciscans aboard San Felipe, which was washed off to the coast of Japan, were Spanish spies to colonize Japan. Ukon could have been martyred together with San Pedro Bautista with other Franciscans, St. Paul Miki, St. Louis Ibaraki, San Felipe de Jesus, and 23 more companions. And, Ukon was aware of that possibility all the time. However, Ukon was not afraid and ready to die for Christ. And, it was mainly thanks to his engagement with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola to keep him out of fear, maintaining inner peace throughout this difficult time. He was really benefitted from the Spiritual Exercises in remaining resolved to die for Christ, as the words of Christ in Matthew 10:28 inspire.
The persecution against Christians in Japan became fare more severe as Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) took the reign of Japan in establishing his central feudal government, Shogunate, in Edo (Tokyo) in 1603. From the beginning of his reign, the Tokugawa Shogunate had no mercy to Christians in Japan and became more vigorous in persecuting. The execution of the 26 Christians in 1597 by order of Hideyoshi was just a beginning of persecutory executions of Christians.
In 1614, Ukon and his family had to leave Maeda’s castle in Kaga due to Ieyasu’s 1613 decree to expel all Christian missionaries from Japan. Ieyasu was rather very careful about handling Ukon, knowing how Christians in Japan could rebel against the Shogunate. To minimize this risk, Ieyasu thought that it would be the best interest of his administration to expel Ukon and his family, along with missionaries and other Christians.
On February 14, 1614, official order from Ieyasu was issued to expel Ukon and his family. And the ship that carried Ukon and his family, together with other Christians and missionaries, left the port of Nagasaki and arrived in Manila on December 21, 1614. The voyage was extremely difficult and dangerous, as the ship was rather inferior and defective, unfit for navigation, because of so many problems, including constant water leaks. So, they had to scoop the water out of the ship constantly during the voyage.
Upon his arrival in Manila, Ukon and his family received a red-carpet welcome by Spanish governor of the Philippines and citizens of Manila. It was really a hero’s welcome. Ukon’s extraordinary and exemplary life of Christian faith had been known to the Spanish authority and missionaries prior to his arrival. Ukon’s presence in Manila was certainly inspiring to Christians in the Philippines. However, Ukon remained humble and kindly declined Spanish governor’s offer of lavish treat. Because one of the very few things Ukon brought from Japan with him was his favorite tea bowl. There has been a speculation that Ukon might have had a small tea ceremony in Manila. Though he was seen as a hero in faith by Christians in Manila, Ukon remained rather low-key and died on February 5, 1615.
What do you make out of the story of Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama’s life of steadfast faith in Christ? Are you surprised to know that there was such a hero in Christian faith in Japan, in Asia, in case you had thought that there was no Christian in Japan?
As it was the case with St. Ignatius of Loyola, Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama traded his military and political ambition for his faith-driven service to Christ. Both St. Ignatius of Loyola and Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama were warriors with extraordinary courage and battle skills. And, both were gung-ho in what they were committed to, and both of them were so in serving Christ, keeping the spiritual zeal for the Kingdom of God. And as Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises out of his struggles with the torments of his passion in Manresa, Ukon engaged with Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises to overcome the torments of his passion during his difficult years with increasing persecution.
Ukon’s martyrdom is like John’s martyrdom, because both John and Ukon died in exile because of their faith in Christ. As John was believed to have been spared from bloody form of martyrdom to give witnesses of the mystery of the incarnated Christ through his testimony in his unique way, perhaps, so was Ukon to bring testimonies of his witnesses to Christ from Japan to the Philippines.
Christianization was more advanced in the Philippines than in Japan. So, why the Philippines need a testimony from a country where Christianization progress was in struggle? We tend to think that it is Japan, therefore, in need of more Christian testimonies to advance in evangelization.
Ever since he was a young promising rising star samurai, Ukon was giving his testimony of his personal witness of Christ to his fellow samurais, daimyos, and other noblemen, as well as ordinary people. He continued to do so even after Hideyoshi banned Christianity and he was reduced to a wonder in exile because he did not give up his faith in Christ as Hideyoshi ordered. It was very dangerous to keep giving testimonies and evangelize under Hideyoshi’s prohibition. But, Ukon continued on with his evangelization through his testimonies. And, his testimony giving was extended to the Philippines as it is where his exile ended. Perhaps, this is how God wanted Ukon to serve Him, and Ukon certainly fulfilled God’s will for him.
Because Christianity in the Philippines was protected and rather forced by the Spanish colonial authority, a testimony of Christianity under severe persecution from Ukon was much needed in the Philippines and benefitted the quality of Christianity in the Philippines. God must have chosen Ukon to contribute to Christianity in the Philippines in such a way and to die there as a seed to bring more high-quality servant soldiers of Christ, like Ukon, from the Philippines to Japan as persecution in Japan continue to rage on. Perhaps, for this reason, Ukon was spared from the 1597 execution in Nagasaki.
For Ukon’s feast, February 3, we celebrate his extraordinary life of faith in honor his martyrdom in exile, beginning with these words in the opening prayer:
Let us pray. Almighty and merciful God who brought your martyr Blessed Ukon to overcome the torments of his passion, grant that we who celebrate the day of his triumph may remain invincible under your protection against snares of the enemy through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
In this prayer, we see Ukon as a person of faith, who has overcome the torments of his passion – a faithful samurai, who has won internal battles of distress caused by fear and anxiety. As his swords became his cross, he was able to convert his attachment to honor, status, castle, territory, every treasured tools of tea ceremony (except for the bowl given by his tea master, Sen no Riyu for his excellence in tea), and his own life into his secure attachment to Christ, as Jesus desires (John 14:20) and as envisioned in the branches connected to the vine to bear abundant fruits (John 15:1-10). And the great amount of fruits that Ukon produced through his life of faith were the samurais and ordinary people who became Christians because they were moved and touched by Ukon and the way he lived. Perhaps, there was no other lay Christian who has moved as many people as he did to become Christians as Ukon in Japan. There were not many missionary priests whose records come close to Ukon’s in “winning the souls” for Christ. But, what matters more than his record of “winning” is the quality of Ukon’s life of Christian faith and his character, because these are what really gravitated others to become Christian like him. Yes, Ukon is truly one of the fishers of men for Christ (Matthew 4:19//Mark 1:17).
The bottom line of Ukon’s fruitfulness is his secure attachment to Christ as fruitful branches are securely attached to the vine as all unfruitful factors and detrimental factors to the fruitfulness have been pruned out by his spiritual sword. To keep his fruitfulness unfettered, Ukon remained to be a Christian samurai per excellence as he put the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the combat boots of the readiness from the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Holy Spirit to remain fearless and to make known the mystery of Christ’s Gospel as his ambassador (Ephesians 6:10-20). Yes, Ukon served Christ as his amurai ambassador in Japan for converting so many and also in the Philippines to give powerful witness in his testimony. And the bottom-line character of Ukon, secure attachment to Christ, is reflected in the First Reading (Romans 8:35-39). Ukon must have resolvedly believe that nothing can separate him and his family from the love of God. When he was going through very difficult time during his exile years with increasing persecution, while many Christians were apostatizing for their lives, Ukon remained resolved to offer up his life for Christ out of love, which is one of many fruits he bore as a branch (Galatians 5:22; John 15:5). And to keep himself in internal peace, Ukon also practiced the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola to remain in Christ’s love, letting nothing separate him from Christ, conquering the torments of his passion (Romans 8:35-39), as the branches are not separated from the vine to remain fruitful (John 15:1-10).
Because of his internal security in Christ, Ukon remained fruitful in evangelizing as a fisher of men for Christ. The Respnsorial Psalm (Psalm 126) and the Gospel Reading (John 12:23-28) reflect Ukon’s fruitfulness as a seed sown to the ground – a seed that dies in the ground as sown – to bring even more abundant fruit for greater harvest for the Kingdom of God, in glorifying God.
Though his martyrdom did not come with fatal bloodshed, Ukon was resolved to die for Christ and remained as a witness to Christ in giving testimonies to evangelize more even during these dangerous years in exile under persecution. It must be God’s will for Ukon not to let him die in the hands of persecutors but to keep him as a powerful witness gift to be sent to the Philippines from Japan.
San Pedro Bautista was one of the seeds that were sown and died in the ground of Nishizaka in Nagasaki on February 5. 1597, as a gift from the Philippines to Japan. And Bl Justo Ukon Takayama was a seed sown and died in the soil of the Philippines on February 3, 1615, as a gift from Japan to the Philippines.
Though he only lived for 40 days (44 days in some accounts) in Manila upon his arrival from Nagasaki, Ukon gave moving testimonies to Filipinos and Spaniards as a powerful witness to Christ. Because Christianity was not only protected but promoted by the Spanish rulers, Ukon’s testimonies from Japan of witnessing Christ amidst of increasing persecution were very moving to both Filipinos and Spaniards. Perhaps, because of this, many Filipinos and Spaniards went to Japan, knowing that it means no to return to the Philippines alive. Though he probably never met Ukon in person in Manila, San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint, who was martyred in Nagasaki in 1637, and his Dominican companions, were just some of the abundant harvest impacted by the seed of gift from Japan in 1615, Blessed Ukon JustoTakayama.
Now as you see, Japan and the Philippines have been one in bringing rich fruits to the Kingdom of God, where Christ reigns as the King. Knowing this, you will never mistakenly think that there is no Christian in Japan and in the rest of Asia.
Look beyond Japan and the Philippines in Asia, you sure find more of great seeds sown and died to have resulted in greater harvests for Christ’s Kingdom.
To the ignorance about the Catholics and Catholicism in Japan and in the rest of Asia, let seeds of grains be sown and die with the ignorance so that the truth in the mystery of the incarnated Christ be revealed to bring abundant harvest of faith. And may Bl. Ukon Justo Takayama continue to be this seed of grain for years to come so that more and more harvests of faith be enjoyed both in Japan and in the Philippines, impacting the rest of the world for the greater glory of God – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.#
►Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon (高山右近, 1552 Osaka-1615 Manila) was a Japan-born Manileño who died in Manila on Feb. 3, 1615. Hailed as a Catholic of heroic virtue during his lifetime, Takayama was proposed to the Vatican by the Manila Archdiocese in 1630 as the first candidate for sainthood of the Philippine Church. In 2017, Takayama was beatified – i.e., declared “Beatus” — by decree of Pope Francis.#
►The 2021 Takayama Memorial Mass will be officiated by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Apostolic Administrator of the Manila Archdiocese, proponent of Takayama’s beatification. It will be celebrated at the Santisimo Rosario Parish Church – better known as the UST Chapel – which has been the venue of Takayama’s Memorial Masses since 1988. Because of COVID-19 restrictions on church attendance, the Mass, set for 5:00 PM, will be livestreamed.#
►In Japan, the Gathering of Filipino Groups and Communities (GFGC), chaired by Dr. Maria Kasuya, is holding an online novena (Holy Rosary) — from January 26 (Tuesday) to February 3 (Wednesday) at 9:00 PM via ZOOM — — for healing through the intercession of Blessed Takayama Ukon.#
By ADELAIDA DE PEDRO Auxiliary, Missionary Disciples for the New Evangelization
►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)
►PRAYER THROUGH THE INTERCESSION OF BLESSED TAKAYAMA — But one Prayer Warrior of Blessed Takayama suggests praying for a miracle cure of Pope Francis’ well-documented health problem – sciatica (a condition that causes pain that radiates from the lower back along the sciatic nerve to the lower part of the body) – through the intercessioion of Blessed Takayama of Manila. If there are three of us praying daily for such a miracle (Matthew 18:20), we’ve got a shot at a healing miracle!
To make it a validating miracle, the daily prayer – an ♦“Our Father,” or a ♦“Hail Mary” — must be through Blessed Takayama ONLY – NOT “all the Saints and Angels in Heaven.” (Millions of others will be invoking their favorite saints … that’s OK. But first, we must do our part!#
►POPE FRANCIS INVITES EACH OF US TO BECOME MISSIONARY DISCIPLES — By virtue of their baptism, all Christians are missionary disciples (cf. Mt. 28:19).
►(By Jem Sullivan |Catholic News Service) — In his apostolic exhortation ♦“The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), Pope Francis invites all the faithful to be “missionary disciples.”
His call, which has captured the hearts and minds of many, prompts us to ask: “What is a missionary disciple?”
If we take a closer look at Pope Francis’ words, we realize that they are meant not as a general summons, but as a deeply personal invitation to each one of us. We are each called to live out the gift and meaning of our baptism by our participation in the life of the church, and by our words and actions that witness to the transforming power of the Gospel.
Pope Francis offers his personal invitation when he said in that same exhortation:
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the people of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). … The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.
“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
“Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: We no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (No. 120).
Missionary discipleship begins with, and grows in, friendship with the person of Jesus Christ.
Once we have truly experienced in a personal way the immense love and mercy of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, daily life is no longer the same. It is always God’s love and grace that first transforms us into missionary disciples.
With the grace of our baptism, we carry within us that same love of God that radiates to all around us, particularly to the poor and those who exist on the social and moral margins of society.
To become a missionary disciple, then, is to hear the voice of Jesus calling us to live the new life of faith in him.
We receive this new life of faith at baptism, and the whole Christian life is an unfolding of the initial baptismal gift of faith — faith that is believed, celebrated, lived and deepened through prayer. This first encounter with the love of God is that moment of evangelization, when the seed of the Gospel planted in our lives begins to grow and flourish.
Catechesis is the deepening of this baptismal gift of faith through an ongoing journey of coming to know and be formed in faith.
“Living as Missionary Disciples” is the theme of this year’s Catechetical Sunday, to be celebrated on Sept. 17, 2017. On that day, as catechists are commissioned for their ministry, all the faithful are reminded of our common vocation, by virtue of baptism, to know and live the faith and to witness to the Gospel in word and deed.
Jesus’ call to missionary discipleship radically changes our lives.
Like the first disciples of the Lord — who moved from being fearful and discouraged fishermen into fearless and zealous missionary disciples — we are transformed into messengers of grace and hope.
This transformation takes place here and now, in the context of the everyday. Jesus called his disciples as they went about their daily labors as fishermen and tax collectors. In the same way, he calls us to missionary discipleship in the concrete places and relationships of our daily life.
Having encountered the love of God, we radiate that divine love into the ordinary moments and relationships of our day, to family, co-workers, friends and community.
We are sustained in our mission by reflecting on the word of God, celebrating the sacraments of the church, striving to live the Christian moral life and praying.
For a missionary disciple, the love of God revealed in Jesus is not an abstract idea. God’s relentless love and forgiving mercy, experienced each day in our encounter with God’s word and in the sacraments, inspires and strengthens us to be his missionary disciples in the world.#