NAGASAKI, Japan, Nov. 14, 2014—A samurai who lived and died in the Philippines is expected to be declared blessed in 2015 after Japan’s Episcopal Conference submitted to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints all the documents needed to pave his way to sainthood.
Bishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of the Nagasaki diocese told Rome Reports in an interview that Takayama Ukon was “a great witness to the Christian faith” during a period of Christian persecution in Japan.
“First, he clung to his faith without having doubts, without being swayed by any temporary wealth. He followed Jesus Christ at all times, and he lived a Christian life, according to the Gospel,” the prelate shared.
Nickamed “Samurai of Christ”, Takayama was born in Nara about 1552 and was raised a Catholic by his convert father.
But hostility against the “Western religion” grew under Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who distrusted foreigners and anything foreign, kicking the Jesuits out of Japan in 1587.
“There were no priests left in Japan: they were all expelled. So then, the community went underground, keeping their faith and prayers hidden,” said Pope Francis in a recent catechesis on Baptism where he referenced Japanese Catholics persecuted in the 17th century.
Despite the ban later imposed by Tokugawa Ieyasu on Christianity, Takayama’s family defied this and remained devout to their faith, opting to lose all they had.
“They ordered him to abandon his faith, but instead Takayama Ukon abandoned his social status, his wealth, his land, his castle. He left behind all his properties, and was even expelled. Many of his values are still valid for us all today,” Takami added.
With persecutors hot on his heels, Takayama, with 300 others, sought refuge in the Philippines, a Catholic country then ruled by Spain and which opened its doors to Japanese Christians.
He found sanctuary in Manila’s Dilao district (today’s Paco) which at that time was home to some 3,000 Japanese immigrants, mostly religious refugees like himself.
Renamed “Dom Justo”, the “honorary Filipino” Takayama died in1615 in Manila, 40 days after his arrival.
The Spanish government gave him a burial worthy of a Christian and a samurai.
Today, about half a million Japanese identify as Catholics; roughly 0.5% of the population. Jesuits, including St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionaries, were the first Christians to set up mission in Japan, arriving there in the 1500s.
A statue of Takayama in full samurai gear stands at Plaza Dilao. (Raymond A. Sebastián)