►In 1585, the Imperial Regent (Kampaku) Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豐臣 秀吉/豊臣 秀吉, March 17, 1537–Sept. 18, 1598) — who is regarded as the second “Great Unifier” of Japan — dropped by the Jesuit seminary in Osaka, accompanied by a son and a brother of the late Oda Nobunaga, and several other lords, and held a “long and familiar conversation” with Fr. Gregorio de Céspedes, SJ (1551–1611), the Superior.#
“You know,” he told the priest, “that everything in your law [Christian religion] contents me, and I find no other difficulty in it, except its prohibition of having more than one wife. Were it not for that, I would become a Christian at once.”
~ James Murdoch, “A History of Japan,” Vol. 2, p. 214 (New York: Frederick Unger Publishing Co., 1903, 1964).#
►TO BE CLEAR: The celebrated “Samurai of Christ,” Dom Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近, 1552-Osaka-1615 Manila) — known at the Vatican as “Dom Justo Ucondono” — never set foot on Europe, but he had a wide footprint there – in books and theater plays. Europe, which was the source of all Jesuit missionaries sent to Japan, was fascinated with all things Japanese … and its most illustrious Catholic convert.
►Ever since the Italian merchant Marco Polo (1254-1324) wrote about Japan (which he called “Zipangu”) in his book 📖 “The Travels of Marco Polo” (Venice: c1300), describing his travels through Asia between 1271 and 1295, the Western World has been fascinated with a kingdom no one had yet visited. Marco Polo was the first European to write about Japan but it is unlikely that he visited Japan at all. Most likely his accounts were based on what he heard about Japan in China from sailors involved in the failed Mongol invasions of Japan (元寇, Genkō), which took place in 1274 and 1281, when Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty attempted to conquer Japan. Marco’s account of the Mongol invasion of Japan is very sketchy because he heard of the invasion only from the Mongols.
The first three Europeans to arrive in Japan in 1543 were Portuguese traders who landed by accident at the southern tip of Tanegashima, where they would introduce the arquebus firearm to the local population, who eventually reconfigured it into the Tanegashima (種子島), a matchlock gun that changed warfare in the Japanese archipelago. Within ten years of its introduction upwards of 300,000 tanegashima were reported to have been manufactured. The tanegashima eventually became one of the most important weapons in Japan.
►With Dom Justo Ukon Takayama considered by the Jesuits as the greatest Japanese missionary of the sixteenth century, the Jesuits who were all Europeans brought the fame and heroic virtues of Lord Takayama throughout Europe: 🔸Italy, 🔸Spain, 🔸England, 🔸France, 🔸Germany, 🔸Austria, 🔸Switzerland, and 🔸Belgium. It is odd that there is no imprint from Portugal where most of the early Jesuit missionaries originated.
►1590 — Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-1590) — Apostolic “Breve” (*photo of present-day print-out) dated April 24, 1590 imparted to Dom Justo Ucondono, when Lord Takayama was stripped of his feudal domain in Akashi Prefecture on June 24, 1587 for refusing to abjure his Christian faith.
►1617 – P. Pedro Morejon, SJ, 📖 “Lettera annua del Giapone del MDCXIV” | al Molto Reuerendo Padre Mvtio Vitelleschi | Generale della Compagnua di GIESv.cion. Scritta del Padre Pietro Morecion della Compagnia di Giesv. (Roma, Per Basttolomeo Zanuzzi, MDCXVII.
This was a biography of Takayama Ukon written in Spanish by Ukon’s Spanish father-confessor, Fr. Pedro Morejon, SJ, and first published in Barcelona, then translated into English by Fr. William Wright, SJ. As the Jesuits were banned in England since 1604, this was published by the underground Jesuit press in St. Omer, France. All these — within four years of Takayama’s death in Manila!
►1646 — P. Antonio Francisco Cardim, SJ (1596-1659) – 📖 “Fasciculus e Japonicis Floribus, suo adhuc madentibus Sanguine” (Japanese Flowers Still Dripping with Blood). Rome, 1646
►1663 — Colin/Pastells, 📖 “Labor Evangelica, ministerios apostolicos de los obreros de la Compañia de Iesvs, fvndacion, y progressos de su provincia en las islas Filipinas” by Colín, Francisco (1592-1660; first published 1663); and copiously annotated by Fr. Pablo Pastells, SJ (1846-1932), eds. Barcelona: 1900.
►1663-1742 – USE OF JESUIT THEATER PLAYS TO PROMOTE TAKAYAMA — By 1600, the Jesuits had over 200 schools, universities, and seminaries, most if not all of which offered some kind of public performance as part of the educational process. By 1706, that number had increased to 769 schools all over the world. In some parts of Europe, the Jesuits held a virtual monopoly on education, including parts of France, Austria, southern Germany, and Spain. And almost without exception, all of those schools performed plays, resulting in a huge body of dramatic literature and numerous public and private performances. According to Robert S. Miola, in the seventeenth century, “at least one hundred thousand (100,000) Jesuit dramas played on European stages.” (“Early Modern Catholicism: An Anthology of Primary Sources,” 2007, 329).
The performers and the audiences alike were the school’s students, although parents, patrons, and other personages of note would be invited to attend certain performances as well. Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin, and Louis XIV were all supporters and regular patrons of Jesuit drama in France.
►1663 – First Jesuit play 🎭 about Lord Takayama is presented this year. Even an incomplete survey of the plays about Takayama shows how his fame spread throughout Europe, and played a role in the development of European drama.
Based on the research of Fr. John Baptist Muller, SJ (📖 “The Jesuit Drama,” Augsburg, 1930), and Fr. Thomas Imoos, SMB (professor of German Literature at Sophia University), the Takayama plays were presented from 1663 to 1742.
►1663 – Munich (Germany) — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1666 – Vienna (Austria) — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1673 — Cornelius Hazart, SJ (1617-1690) — 📚 “Kerckelijke Historie van de Geheele Werelt…” (Religious History of the Whole World), Vienna: 1673.
►1673 – Landshut, Bavaria, Germany — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1682 – Lucerne (Switzerland) — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1689 – Winnocx (Belgium) — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1691 — Kortryjk (Belgium) — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1698 – Sint Winchsbergen — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1698 — Kortryjk — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1724 – Ellwangen — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1742 — Solothurn — 🎭 Takayama play (presentation title, not indicated).
►1775 – St. Alphonsus Ligouri, 📚”Victories of the Martyrs: Or, the Lives of the Most Celebrated Martyrs of the Church” (1775, 1887, 1954). Researching at the Vatican Archives, Fr. (later, Saint) Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, CSsR (1696-1787) — “patron saint of journalists” – studied the Takayama papers and concluded that, despite dying in bed surrounded by family, Takayama was truly a martyr.
►1806 — Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806, “Oratorio for Takayama” (1806). A music researcher at the British Library shared there was a chorus in honor of Takayama composed by the Austrian composer Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806), younger brother of the more famous composer, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) who was the most celebrated composer in Europe. The younger Haydn composed a chorus honoring Takayama. “It features a composite of Takayama and Titus,” Fr. Thomas Imoos, SMB (1918-2001) notes. Researchers in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, Japan tracked this down in Salzburg, studied the music, and had a choir sing at a symposium in Takatsuki.
►1912 — MANRESA MOSAIC (1912) – There was a portrait of Takayama Ukon that was part of a mosaic on the nave of the church at the Santa Cueva in Manresa, Spain – which was first published in black & white in the “Tribune” in Manila in September 1942.
►This mosaic depicted six Catholic noblemen who were all products of the Jesuits’ famed 30-day “Spiritual Exercises,” namely:🔸the Bourbon king of France, Louis XIII, holding the book “Exercitia Spiritualia”;🔸Don Alvaro de Cordoba, a Spanish grandee whose public life was much influenced by the Jesuit manual;🔸the Hapsburg prince, Don Juan de Austria (1545-1578) — half-brother of Philip II, king of Spain — familiar to Filipinos as the victor of the Battle of Lepanto (1571);🔸Lord Justo Takayama Ukon (identified in the mosaic as “Justo Ucandono”);🔸Marques de Villapuente, renowned in Mexico, Africa and Europe for his charities; and🔸Don Lupercio de Arbizu, the Aragon nobleman who was persuaded by the Jesuits to build Manresa into a city.#
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, PhD
Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama
►A “bridge of faith and martyrdom” links the “Kirishitan Samurai,” Justo Ukon Takayama (1552-1615), Japan’s greatest lay missionary in the 16th century, who died in Manila in 1615, with San Lorenzo Ruiz (1594-1637), Filipino protomartyr who died in Nagasaki in 1637. “Martyrdom is the deepest link between our two churches,” Cardinal-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle, Cardinal Prefect of the Evangelization of Peoples (“Propaganda Fide”), has said.
In a Eucharistic Mass with Japanese Catholics in Kobe, Japan on Feb. 3, 2016, then-Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said the Philippines, especially Manila, and Japan are linked through a “bridge of faith and martyrdom.”
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.
Saint Lorenzo Ruiz
►Lorenzo was born in Manila of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both Christians. Thus he learned Chinese and Tagalog from them, and Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He became a professional calligrapher, transcribing documents in beautiful penmanship. He was a full member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary under Dominican auspices. He married and had two sons and a daughter.
Lorenzo’s life took an abrupt turn when he was accused of murder. Nothing further is known except the statement of two Dominicans that “he was sought by the authorities on account of a homicide at which he was present or which was attributed to him.”
At that time, three Dominican priests, Antonio Gonzalez, Guillermo Courtet, and Miguel de Aozaraza, were about to sail to Japan in spite of a violent persecution there. With them was a Japanese priest, Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz, and a layman named Lazaro, a leper. Lorenzo, having taken asylum with them, was allowed to accompany them. But only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan.
They landed at Okinawa. Lorenzo could have gone on to Formosa, but, he reported, “I decided to stay with the Fathers, because the Spaniards would hang me there.” In Japan they were soon found out, arrested, and taken to Nagasaki.
They were subjected to an unspeakable kind of torture: After huge quantities of water were forced down their throats, they were made to lie down. Long boards were placed on their stomachs and guards then stepped on the ends of the boards, forcing the water to spurt violently from mouth, nose and ears.
The superior, Fr. Gonzalez, died after some days. Both Fr. Shiwozuka and Lazaro broke under torture, which included the insertion of bamboo needles under their fingernails. But both were brought back to courage by their companions.
In Lorenzo’s moment of crisis, he asked the interpreter, “I would like to know if, by apostatizing, they will spare my life.” The interpreter was noncommittal, but in the ensuing hours Lorenzo felt his faith grow strong. He became bold, even audacious, with his interrogators.
Lorenzo’s persecutors gave him an ultimatum, “Would you renounce your faith in God if we let you live?” To which Lorenzo bravely responded, “If I had one thousand lives, I’d give it all to Jesus. I would never deny my faith even if it costs my life.”
The five were put to death by being hanged upside down in pits. Boards fitted with semi-circular holes were fitted around their waists and stones put on top to increase the pressure. They were tightly bound, to slow circulation and prevent a speedy death. They were allowed to hang for three days. By that time Lorenzo and Lazaro were dead. Still alive, the three priests were then beheaded.
In 1987, Pope John Paul II canonized these six and 10 others: Asians and Europeans, men and women, who spread the faith in the Philippines, Formosa, and Japan. Lorenzo Ruiz is the first canonized Filipino martyr. The Liturgical Feast of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions is September 28.
Hikogorō Takayama (彦五郎).was born in 1552, scion of the castellan of Sawa Castle in Yamato Province, Tomoteru Takayama (高山友照, 1531–1596), an ardent Buddhist who persecuted the early Jesuit missionaries. But in a series of discussions with Bro. Lorenzo, a half-blind Jesuit brother, he was convinced of the tenets of Christianity, and converted with his family and retinues at Sawa Castle. Hikogorō, 11, was baptized Justo, after St. Justin the Martyr, on whose feast day on June 1, 1563 Justo was baptized.
Dom Dario Tomoteru Takayama was awarded the Takatsuki Castle, but the old man decided to turn over the domain to his eldest son Ukon, who at age 21, ruled Takatsuki foe the next 11 years.
In Takatsuki, Lord Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近) used his resources to build churches, oratorios and a seminary for the Jesuits – to the chagrin of the Buddhist advisers of Chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豐臣 秀吉/豊臣 秀吉, 1537 – 1598).
His troubles coincided with the persecution of Christians in Japan, which started on July 24-25, 1587. He received a message from Hideyoshi asking him to give up his faith or lose his fief and position in the latter’s army. He replied that while he had made an oath of allegiance to Hideyoshi, he was prepared to give up wealth, position and power to follow a greater lord, Jesus Christ.
Stripped of his Akashi domain, he became a ronin — a masterless samurai — who found protection with a Christian Daimyo, Admiral Augustine Konishi Yukinaga who, despite being a Christian, was needed by Hideyoshi to realize his conquest of Korea. With the tacit consent of Hideyoshi, Ukon was hired as a guest-general by Kaga Daimyo Toshiee Maeda, where he served until the final edict of February 1614, deporting him to either Macau or Manila.
Takayama left Kanazawa on Feb. 15, 1614, and after a 150-day journey in the winter, he arrived in Nagasaki where he boarded a boat for Manila on Nov. 8, 1614.
Takayama arrived in Manila on Dec. 21, 1614, and was literally greeted with open arms by the Spanish governor-general, Juan de Silva (r. 1609-1616). Justo Ucondono was accompanied by 350 Catholic deportees, including: his wife Lady Justa Kuroda Takayama (1563-?), a daughter, Lucia Takayama Yokoyama married to Yokoyama Daizen Yasuharu (1590-1645), a general of the Maeda clan; five grandchildren (the eldest 16, the youngest almost eight); and 💥23 Jesuits (eight Jesuit fathers and 15 Jesuit brothers), 💥four Franciscan fathers, 💥two Dominican fathers, 💥two Augustinian fathers, and 💥two secular fathers, 💥the 15 nuns (14 Japanese, one Korean) of the Jesuit-chaplained “Beatas de Meaco” or “Miyako no Bikuni” (Nuns of Kyoto, 1615-1656), 💥about 100 Japanese catechists, and 💥two dozen sons and daughters of Japanese noble families.
Sometime in January 1615, Takayama fell ill. He died of “a tropical ailment” four days later, on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 1615 — only 44 days after his arrival in Manila on Sunday, Dec. 21, 1614. He was buried near the High Altar of the Jesuit church in Intramuros – Santa Ana Church – at the PLM /Jesuit Compound.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, described the new Blessed as “an extraordinary witness of the Christian faith in difficult times of opposition and persecution.”
Writing about the “greatest Japanese missionary in the 16th century,” Fr. Anton Witwer, SJ, Jesuit General Postulator who promoted Takayama’s Cause, said: “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.
“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.”#
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, PhD/History
►In the summer of 1587, as the Regent (Kampaku) Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豐臣 秀吉/豊臣 秀吉, 1537–1598) was consolidating power with final battles in Kyushu, where the Akashi Daimyō Justo Takayama Ukon (高山右近, 1552-1615) was a field commander, he sent Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522–1591), to Lord Takayama: Would Ukon renounce his fealty to a foreign religion?
Hideyoshi did not want a foreign God in Japan. So he decided to expel all missionaries who were bringing the tenets of “that evil religion” among the Japanese, including many daimyos in Kyushu.
Rikyū was a friend of both Hideyoshi and Takayama, so he knew what Ukon’s reply would be, but he was duty-bound to bring the message nonetheless.
Lord Takayama knew well the consequences of his decision. He dispatched a horseman from Hakata to Akashi – six hours’ drive in Japan’s modern roadway system – for his family to vacate immediately the new Akashi castle he had just built – before Hideyoshi’s cohorts got there.
Now a “rōnin” (浪人, “drifter” or “wanderer”), Takayama sought to keep his family together in the faith. For a year, he was under the protection of his friend and fellow Christian, Lord Konishi Yukinaga (小西 行長, 1555-1600) – who despite being a Christian, was untouchable because Hideyoshi needed him for the conquest of Korea – and then China.
For the next 26 years, Takayama was in domestic exile in Kanazawa — whose Great Daimyo Lord Maeda Toshiie (前田 利家, 1538–1599) — though not a Christian, had a daughter who was one. Takayama served as guest general (“Kyakusho“). in Maeda’s standing army.
In 1590, Takayama fought for Lord Toshiie Maeda in the Siege of Odawara, Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s campaign to eliminate the Hōjō clan as a threat to his power. Hideyoshi’s victory occasioned an invitation from Hideyoshi for Ukon to join him at a tea ceremony, suggesting there was no personal enmity between the two wary men.
While Takayama himself served at the Maeda court in Kanazawa, he was given an estate in Noto Peninsula to support his family and his retainers. Here he invited some 600 Christian ronin and their families to make up two ecclesial communities in Shika-machi (志賀町) and Shio-machi (志雄町) with its own Jesuit chaplain and Brother.
But the increasing Christian activity of Ukon had not escaped the notice of Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, 1543-1616) and when the ruler ordered the expulsion of the missionaries on Jan. 27, 1614, he paid special attention to the Christian community, exiling its leaders Ukon and Lord Juan Tokuan Naitô (内藤 如安, c1549–1626) along with their families. Other outstanding members of this church were condemned to hard labor in the region of Tsugaru.
The Tokugawa shogunate’s prohibition was extended to everyone regardless of class or origin, including all missionaries without exception. The shogunate was concerned about a possible invasion by the Iberian colonial powers, which had previously occurred in the New World and the Philippines.
It was from Kanazawa that Takayama departed for Manila on Feb. 14, 1614 – on a 267-day journey on foot (with lengthy stops to wait for developments) to Nagasaki – and after a 43-day voyage to the Philippines on board a Chinese sampan captained by the Portuguese mariner Esteban d’Acosta — arrived in Manila on Sunday, Dec. 21, 1614 – with his family of 7 (wife Doña Justa Kuroda Takayama, daughter Lady Lucia Yokoyama [wife of Lord Yokoyama Daizen Yasuharu], and five grandsons (aged 8-16), all surnamed Takayama) and 350 other migrants and refugees (M&R).
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, PhD
Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama
►Aside from ‘Te Deum Laudamus,’ Japanese Christians chanted other Latin hymns: “Ave Maria,” “Adoro Te Devote,” “Regina Caeli,” “Pange Lingua Gloriosi,” “Veni Creator Spiritus,” and “Salve Regina.”
As the 26 Martyrs were marched along the long road from Kyoto to Nagasaki, they chanted the “Te Deum Laudamus” (“Thee, O God, we praise”) over and over again — Jesuits and Franciscans alike. If he had been the 27th Martyr, Lord Justus Ukon Takayama (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila) would have added his full-throated voice to the plain chant.
But, alas, Dom Justus missed his chance at martyrdom, because his name, which originally topped the list, had been crossed out by Lord Maeda Toshiie (who, since 1588, had been the liege lord of Ukon) and Lord Ishida Mitsunari, daimyo of Sawayama in Ōmi Province.
Lord Takayama had been stripped of his feudal domain in Akashi in 1587, and was now a guest general (Kyakusho) in Lord Maeda’s employ.
The two daimyos calculated that the untimely execution of Ukon, the foremost Christian ex-daimyo, might cause complications they could not foresee.
Beginning Jan. 10, 1597, the 26 martyrs — with their left ears cut off — were marched barefoot in the snow from Kyoto to Nagasaki – via the scenic route. They walked about 620 miles (1,000 km) over the course of 26 days. They left Sakai and went to Osaka, Hyogo, Akashi, Himeji, Akaho, Okayama, Omichi, Mihara, Hiroshima, Shimonoseki. They traveled by boat from Shimonoseki to Okura and they walked to Hakata, Karatsu and Sonogi. Traveling by boat from Sonogi, they went to Tokitsu and they walked to Nagasaki.
On Feb. 5, 1597, Japan’s 26 proto-martyrs – three Japanese Jesuits, and 17 Japanese members of the Third Order of St. Francis, including three young boys, and four Spaniards, one Mexican, one Portuguese from India (all of whom were Franciscan missionaries – were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki on the orders of the Lord Chancellor (Kampaku) Hideyoshi Toyotomi (豐臣 秀吉/豊臣 秀吉, 1537-1598).
Two proto-martyrs stand out:
💥 St. Paul Miki (1562-1597), son of a Kirishitan Samurai in the service of Lord Takayama in Takatsuki Castle. Paul studied at a Jesuit seminary at Arima, built in 1580 beneath Hinoe Castle, repurposed by Lord Takayama from a Buddhist monastery. The original décor was left largely unchanged.
💥 St. Fr. Pedro Bautista (1542-1597), Father Provincial of the Franciscans of the Philippines and founder of the San Francisco Monastery in Quezon City, had arrived as the Philippine Ambassador to Hideyoshi’s court in 1593, and was royally received. With his diplomatic chores done, he was permitted to remain in Japan to set up a Franciscan missionary outpost.
When Hideyoshi lost his temper over steady advances of Christianity, he ordered the execution of “the Manila friars” (meaning, Fr. Bautista and his confreres) and other Japanese Christians to deter the spread of Christianity. He prescribed crucifixion as the method of death, in grim parody of Christ’s own death.
These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears.
‘Te Deum’ in Manila Cathedral
When the first Japanese exile boat with 350 Catholics deported from Japan, led by Lord Takayama, arrived in Manila after a perilous 43-day voyage, they were grateful for the new lease on life they were graced with. On the late afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 21, 1614, the exiles / refugees / migrants visited the newly consecrated Manila Catholic (III) – inaugurated just 16 days earlier on Dec. 5, 1614 — and sang a “Te Deum.” It was the battle hymn they had not been able to sing during the typhoon that wrecked their voyage.
It was an ancient hymn of deliverance written in A.D. 387. It survives to this day largely through the devotion of Benedictine monks.
Lord Takayama (a.k.a. “Dom Justo Ucondono”) did not know what the future held for him, but he was now newly arrived in a land where he and his family could now practice freely their Catholic Faith.#
Dr. ERNESTO A. DE PEDRO, PhD
Managing Trustee, 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)
Pope Francis’ Address to Japan’s Bishops, during his Apostolic Journey to Japan (Nov. 23-26, 2019)
I am very grateful for the gift of visiting Japan and for the welcome you have given me. I especially thank Archbishop Takami for his words on behalf of the entire Catholic community in this country. Here in your presence, in this first official meeting, I want to greet all the members of your communities: laypeople, catechists, priests, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians. I also want to extend my embrace and prayers to all the Japanese people at this time marked by the enthronement of the new Emperor and the beginning of the Reiwa era.
I don’t know if you are aware of this, but ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands. Many years have passed since that missionary impulse, whose realization has been long in coming. Today the Lord gives me the opportunity to come among you as a missionary pilgrim in the footsteps of great witnesses to the faith. Four hundred and seventy years have passed since the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier in Japan, which marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity in this land. In his memory, I want to join you in thanking the Lord for all those who, over the centuries, have dedicated themselves to implanting the Gospel and serving the Japanese people with great tenderness and love. This dedication has given the Japanese Church a unique face. I think of the martyrs 💥Saint Paul MIKI and his companions, and of 💥Blessed Justo Ukon TAKAYAMA, who in the midst of many trials bore witness up to his death. Such self-sacrifice for the sake of keeping the faith alive amid persecution helped the small Christian community to develop, grow strong and bear fruit. We can also think of those “hidden Christians” of the Nagasaki region, who kept the faith for generations, thanks to baptism, prayer, and catechesis. Authentic domestic Churches that shone forth in this land, perhaps without even realizing it, as reflections of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
The path taken by the Lord shows us how his presence “plays out” in the daily life of his faithful people, who seek ways to keep his memory alive. His is a silent presence, a living memory that makes us realize that wherever two or more are gathered in his name, he is there, with the strength and tenderness of his Spirit (cf. Mt 18:20). The DNA of your communities is marked by this witness, an antidote against despair, that points out the path they must follow. You are a living Church that has been preserved by invoking the Lord’s name and contemplating how he guided you through the midst of persecution.
Faithful sowing, the witness of martyrs and patient expectation of the fruits that the Lord gives in his time, have characterized your apostolic approach to Japanese culture. As a result, over the years you have developed a form of ecclesial presence that is for the most part much appreciated by Japanese society, thanks to your many contributions to the common good. This important chapter in the history of your country and of the universal Church has now been recognized with the designation of the churches and villages of Nagasaki and Amakusa as World Cultural Heritage sites. But above all, as living memorials of the soul of your communities, a fruitful hope for every form of evangelization.
The motto of my Apostolic Journey is “Protect All Life”. This could well symbolize our own ministry as bishops. A bishop is called by the Lord from among his people and then given back to them as a pastor called to protect all life. This determines in great measure what our aims and goals should be.
The mission in these lands was marked by a powerful search for inculturation and dialogue, which allowed the formation of new models, independent of those developed in Europe. We know that, from the beginning, literature, theatre, music and various types of instruments were employed, for the most part in the Japanese language. This is a sign of the love that those first missionaries felt for these lands. Protecting all life means, first of all, having a contemplative gaze capable of loving the life of the entire people entrusted to you, and recognizing it, above all, as the Lord’s gift. “Only that which is loved can be saved. Only that which is embraced can be transformed” (Address at the Vigil with Young People, Panama, 26 January 2019). An incarnational principle that can help us view each life as a gratuitous gift, apart from other valid yet secondary considerations. Protecting all life and proclaiming the Gospel are not separate or opposed; rather each appeals to, and requires, the other. Both entail being careful and vigilant about anything that could hinder, in these lands, the integral development of the people entrusted to the light of the Gospel of Jesus.
We know that the Church in Japan is small and Catholics are in a minority, but this must not diminish your commitment to evangelization. In your particular situation, the strongest and clearest word you can speak is that of a humble, daily witness and openness to dialogue with other religious traditions. The hospitality and care you show to the many foreign workers who represent more than half of Japan’s Catholics, not only serve as a witness to the Gospel within Japanese society but also attest to the universality of the Church. This demonstrates that our union with Christ is stronger than any other bond or badge of identity, and can enter into and become part of every situation.
A Church of witness can speak with greater freedom, especially when addressing pressing issues of peace and justice in our world. I will soon visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where I will offer prayers for the victims of the catastrophic bombing of these two cities, and echo your own prophetic calls for nuclear disarmament. I wish to meet those who still bear the wounds of this tragic episode in human history, as well as the victims of the triple disaster. Their continued sufferings are an eloquent reminder of our human and Christian duty to assist those who are troubled in body and spirit and to offer to all the Gospel message of hope, healing, and reconciliation. Evil has no preferences; it does not care about people’s background or identity. It simply bursts in with its destructive force, as was the case recently with the devastating typhoon that caused so many casualties and material damage. Let us entrust to the Lord’s mercy those who have died, their families and all who have lost their homes and material possessions. May we never be afraid to pursue, here and throughout the world, a mission capable of speaking out and defending all life as a precious gift from the Lord.
For this reason, I encourage your efforts to ensure that the Catholic community in Japan offers a clear witness to the Gospel in the midst of the larger society. The Church’s highly respected educational apostolate represents a great resource for evangelization and engagement with larger intellectual and cultural currents; the quality of its contribution will naturally depend on the fostering of its distinctively Catholic identity and mission.
All of us are aware of the grave problems affecting people in your communities whose lives are marked, for various reasons, by loneliness, despair, and isolation. The increase in the rates of suicide in your cities, as well as bullying (ijime) and various kinds of neediness, are creating new forms of alienation and spiritual disorientation. Since these affect the young in particular, I ask you to pay special attention to them and their needs. Try to create spaces in which the culture of efficiency, performance and success can become open to a culture of generous and selfless love, capable of offering to everyone, and not only to those who have “made it”, the possibility of a happy and successful life. With their zeal, ideas, and energy, young people – when well-formed and accompanied – can be a deep source of hope to their contemporaries and bear vital witness to Christian charity. A creative, inculturated and imaginative quest to live the Gospel message can have a powerful effect on so many lives thirsting for compassion.
I recognize that the harvest is great and the laborers are few, so I encourage you to seek out and develop a mission capable of involving families and of promoting a formation that can reach people where they are, always taking into account the specifics of each situation. The starting point for every apostolate is the concrete place in which people find themselves, with their daily routines and occupations. It is there that we must reach the souls of our cities, workplaces, and universities, in order to accompany the faithful entrusted to us with the Gospel of compassion and mercy.
I thank you once more for the opportunity you have offered me to visit your local Churches and to celebrate together with them. Peter wants to confirm you in faith, but he also comes to walk in, and be renewed by, the footsteps of so many martyrs and witnesses to the faith. Please pray that the Lord may grant me this grace.
I ask the Lord to bless you and, with you, your communities.#
►(By Fr. Renzo de Luca, SJ) — After the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in Japan (1549), the Catholic Church grew rapidly, and the faith was accepted by people of all states of life. Those who ruled were displeased and responded with persecution, leading to tens of thousands of martyrs giving up their lives. Many Christian communities chose to go underground to preserve their faith. It was not easy to become underground Christians; it was another form of the way of the cross for the sake of the faith, as they had to live in fear and adopt a Buddhist-like style of life to avoid raising the suspicion of officials.
The missionaries who then arrived in Japan strived to foster the local Church. The Christians strengthened their unity through associations such as the Misericordia Confraternity. The confraternities had strict rules and the members were very much committed. For instance, parents who did not respect their children’s freedom concerning marriage and people who had bad drinking habits could not become members.
When the persecution began, the Christians constantly prepared for martyrdom through instructions such as “Maruchirio no Kokoro-e (How to face Martyrdom).” Some of these instructions have been preserved, so we can confirm that not only they made use of them, but also that they kept them safe from the officials who were always checking for any Christian materials.
The reaction of the persecutors
On seeing the attitude of the martyrs and the response of the faithful when the persecution began (1587), its perpetrators understood that it would be difficult to wipe out the Christians completely. An example of their awareness is contained in a passage from Shumon Sensaku Kokoro-mochi no koto (Guide for Interrogation of Religious Beliefs), written in approx.1640 at the request of Lord Inoue of Chikugo, who was in charge of the crackdown on Christians: “If the husband is Christian, so is the wife; if the child is Christian, so are the parents; if the parents are Christian, so too the child; generally, 80 percent of them would also be Christian. Korean Christians especially, men or women, are deeply committed to their faith, and women in particular have deeply rooted faith.” We can see that not only the Japanese Christians, but also the Koreans in Japan preserved their faith.
A public edict from the government, made known everywhere in the country, declared in one article: “Those who hand over Christians who have returned to their faith shall be rewarded with 300 silver coins.” Christians who returned to their faith are those who, after rejecting their faith at one point, later returned to it. These people intended to keep their faith to the end. This clause was added to the others and it shows that the capture of these returnees was worth a lot of money. We can see that it was a known fact among the authorities that there were those who kept their Christian faith, even during their interrogation which involved the ceremony of stepping on holy images (fumie). This fact tells us of the presence of many underground Christians at the time this clause was added to the edict issued in the 1650s.
The faith of the Christians was so strong that it forced the Tokugawa shogunate to realize that the tactics of public flogging used under Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s regime (1587) had reverse effects and so they had to change the method of persecution.
Plans to send missionaries to Japan
In 1644 the last remaining priest in Japan underwent martyrdom. He was Fr. Konishi Mansho, a religious missionary. Thereafter, priests could not set foot in Japan for more than 200 years. It is worth mentioning that the Church continued to plan the sending of missionaries to Japan. Fr. Antonius Thomas, SJ, (1644-1709) who worked in India and Macau wrote in a letter dated September 18, 1679: “Notwithstanding a lack of understanding in Rome (on the part of the Superior General), one confrere has been looking for several years for a way to enter Japan.”
In the same year, Fr. Thomas sent a report addressed to the Superior General entitled “The main reasons for sending expeditions to Japan.” In the report, he provides detailed studies and proposes some strategies. Fr. Thomas also wanted to set up a study center in the Mariana Islands to form missionaries to send to Japan, as well as proposing to reach Hokkaido by entering Japan from Russia.
These plans were never realized, but in 1708, a diocesan priest, Fr. Sidotti, arrived in Japan and was arrested shortly after arrival, becoming a martyr on December 15, 1715. Sidotti’s heroic action must have encouraged the hidden Christians and given them hope for the future. Pope Benedict XIV promulgated a decree on February 24, 1748, announcing Francis Xavier as the Patron of Japan and turned the Universal Church’s attention to the country.
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples asked the bishop of Nanking in a letter of February 11, 1781, to “explore possibilities of re-entering Japan,” and in a letter of May 28, 1803, the Congregation sent to the Jesuits in Russia a “Letter of mandate for entry into Japan.” In neither of these cases did the missionaries ever arrive, but the facts show that the Universal Church never forgot the Christians in Japan.
As we have seen, the link between the Japanese Church and the Universal Church was never broken. When eventually the missionaries arrived, the wider Church was thrilled and overjoyed by the “discovery of the faithful” in Nagasaki (March 17, 1865). We can see that this event was not unilateral or the result of mere chance, but an encounter that had been prepared by longing expectation on both sides.
The faith that the French missionaries discovered
The underground Christians of Urakami village (Nagasaki City) risked their lives to visit Oura Church and tell the first priest they had ever met, a foreigner, Fr. Petitjean, that “Our hearts are the same as yours.” Moreover, upon seeing for the first time a statue of Mary, they exclaimed: “Look, it’s Holy Mary, she is holding Infant Jesus,” revealing that the hearts of the hidden Christians were already well prepared.
For their part the missionaries welcomed and accepted the underground Christians. Subsequently, the missionaries interviewed them for a lengthy period of time to examine their faith life. They did a thorough investigation to see whether the faith of these Christians was still intact and at one with the teaching of the Catholic Church introduced by the missionaries in the 17th century, if the baptisms were valid, and so on. For instance, they spelled out in an alphabet more than 20 examples of words used for baptism among the Christians, confirming their meaning with the locals, in order to investigate the connection between Catholic teaching and the hidden Christians (Compiled Letters of Msgr. Petitjean).
After consulting with the Church leaders in Rome, they reached a conclusion that, in spite of some outward differences, the faith of the hidden Christians (with a few exceptions) followed the orthodox teachings of the Catholic Church. Since in some cases they asked for certain conditions to be met for a valid baptism, it is without doubt that the missionaries did their investigation very carefully.
The legacy of the different religious congregations
The French missionaries who arrived in Japan in the Meiji era (1868-1912) found that the characteristics of the different religious congregations who brought Christianity in the 17th century had influenced the way the Christians lived their faith. Fr. Petitjean wrote in his letter of January 29, 1866, “We do not exaggerate when we say that the old rivalry had created sects among the Christians. Even after more than 200 years, the differences have survived.
In some villages, each group consists of around a hundred people, and the groups seem as though they are different religions. One group would fast on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but another group would fast only on the weekends. Due to using different calendars, they celebrate Easter on different dates and one group does not recognize the other. There are the Reucitans, the Patarans and the Doisikos, each representing the spiritual children of the Franciscans, the Jesuits and the Dominicans. Their differences are not crucial, thank God. Actually, they recognize us as the successors of the missionaries of the olden times. These differences which are the legacy of past conflicts should disappear in time, and everyone will be united in the same direction.”
We can see the rivalry among the religious congregations was also handed down, but at the same time we can confirm that as regards the dogma the conflict was not definitive, and they shared the orthodox teaching of the Church. Not only the proper faith of the Catholic Church but much of the spirituality of different religious congregations had also been handed down. The holy images and other religious objects kept by the Christians show the tradition and emphases of the different congregations.
A book that sustained the hidden Christians
After his first encounter with the hidden Christians and before starting the interviews investigating them, Fr. Petitjean wrote about a book that the Christians treasured: “A book on contrition published in 1603 is one of the best among other books we have found. It almost seems as though the authors had predicted there would be a long period without priests in the Japanese Church. This book is an example of a comprehensive and clear instruction and presentation of the dogma. Understanding and practice of its contents should have been a powerful support for souls who sinned against God after baptism” (Letter of June 30, 1865).
It is significant that Fr. Petitjean and the other missionaries highly appreciated the “Manual for Contrition” and asserted that the book sustained the spiritual life of the hidden Christians. So, in spite of some superficial conflicts that remained over the years, faith itself and the way to nurture faith had been handed down.
“Spiritual Ascetic Training” (a loose translation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and other devotional works, in which the “Manual for Contrition” was also included) was also widely read among the faithful since the early 17th century. It is known that it was the favorite book of the feudal Lord Takayama Ukon and of Lady Hosokawa Gracia, an aristocrat who converted to Christianity, and the martyrs held it in their hands in their final moments.
I will quote a passage from “Spiritual Ascetic Training” to give an example of its appeal: “With a short orasho (prayer), letting your heart rise, letting out a breath, make it a habit to offer your undivided heart to Deus (God) frequently. This is similar to adding wood fuel from time to time in order not to let the fire go out. You should take to heart that this is ascetic training in order not to dampen down the fire of devotion that burns in the orasho.” As we can see in this quoted passage, it is based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and is fleshed out and made easy to understand.
The discovery of the Japanese Christians was a history-making event, but shortly afterward (1867), persecution began again, and the Christians who confessed their faith openly were exiled to different locations. More than 600 of these Christians died in exile. Pope Pius Ⅸ received information on the situation from the missionaries in Japan and sent a letter in 1868 to encourage the Christians. In this it is obvious that the pope does not dwell on the outward expressions of faith of the discovered Christians, but highly appreciates and justifies their perseverance. Finally, in 1873 the Meiji Government removed the prohibition and little by little the exiled Christians who survived were able to go back to their homes.
When we look back on its history, the Japanese Church with its martyrs and hidden Christians spared no sacrifice for the sake of the faith. If we consider that our Church today experiences the invisible persecution of materialism, we can be inspired by our predecessors’ love and adherence to the Church that nurtured them. These Christians who handed down their faith for seven generations without a priest are appealing to us who are having difficulty today to hand down our faith even to the next generation.
I feel that we are urged not to be afraid of conflicts or arguments in order to adhere to the faith we have received. Far from the featureless, obscure ways in which we tend to build up our society today, these Japanese Christians must have known that in deepening the faith and its features, they received through this faith a spirituality by means of which one can be in union with God.#
Fr. Renzo de Luca, SJ
Father Provincial, Jesuit Province of Japan
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.#
►This is a photo of the Takayama Ukon Memorial Park at Shika (志賀町, Shika–machi), a town located in Hakui District, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan – 12 hours by bus from Tokyo. During the lifetime of Dom Justo Ukon Takayama (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila), Ishikawa was part of the feudal domains ruled by the Great Daimyo Toshiie Maeda (前田 利家, 1538 – April 27, 1599) who was granted the Kaga Domain in 1583 – that is, 5 years before he invited the dispossessed ex-Lord Takayama to be a guest-general (“Kyakusho”) in his army.
►The celebrated Samurai of Christ, Ukon Takayama, spent 26 years (1588-1614) in domestic exile in Kanazawa and in Noto Peninsula (where Ukon was given a large estate) – before finally being deported with his family — and 350 other Christians — to the Philippines in 1614.
►I’ve been looking for Shika-machi (志賀町) as well as Shio-machi (志雄町) where Ukon built two chapels for his ecclesial community of 600 Kirishitan Samurai and their families – who were allowed to practice their Christian religion by a tolerant Lord Maeda, whose daughter was herself a baptized Catholic.
From Toyama to Shika is a 1-hr drive; 3 hrs by bus. The photo shows there’s a statue standing in Shika that looks like the Takayama statue at Plaza Dilao.