From Samurai To Saint
Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world.”-1 Peter 4:12-13
It was one awesome ceremony, and Japan had never seen anything like it ever! However, before you read the second paragraph, go through the first, which gives you a list of ‘firsts’ from the life of an imminent saint:
- He is the first Japanese individual Catholic who will become a saint.
- Exiled from Japan, he sought asylum in Manila where he died within forty days.
- Though a Japanese who encountered Christ in his native land, the petition for his canonization did not come from Japan but from the Archdiocese of Manila.
- His beatification is remarkable because he is the first Japanese to be declared a “Blessed” as an individual, not among a group of martyrs.
- He was a 16th century samurai!
Incredible but true…
Yes, you heard right. He was a Samurai. We can hear your mind buzzing with when, what, why, and how come. So here it is, in chronological order.
Takayama Ukon was born in 1552 in what is now Osaka Prefecture. He was the son of Takayama Tomoteru, Lord of Sawa castle. Both father and son were daimyo, feudal lords appointed by the imperial court of Japan, encouraged and entitled to raise a private army and hire samurais. The son used to practice bushido, which is “the way of the warrior,” a code of conduct for the Japanese warriors. When Ukon turned 12, his father and he converted to Catholicism and were baptized with the names of Darius and Justo, respectively.
After that, they had to live under the protection of aristocratic friends. In 1614, Japan passed a law banning Christianity. Wanting to live for Christ, Justo preferred exile rather than persecution. He led 300 others who had also become Catholics, to a new life in the Philippines. Spanish Jesuits and Filipino Catholics welcomed him. Unfortunately, he finished his earthly race and died exactly four decades ago, on February 4, just 40 days after entering the Philippines. A few weeks prior to that, some of the exiles proposed to seek Spanish support to overthrow the Japanese government, but Justo refused. He was a devout catholic, faithful to church teaching. When he died, he was buried with full military honors.
The very country that outlawed him four centuries ago claimed the right to host his beatification ceremony in Osaka, Japan. Usually, names are proposed for sainthood when there are tried and tested cases of persons having prayed to them and got their prayers answered. That did not happen in Justo Ukon’s case. The other category of proposed saints includes those who were martyred.
Among Japan’s 42 Japanese Saints and 394 Blessed, only the Cause of Blessed Takayama Ukon was processed individually – a first instance in Japanese church history. All other Japanese Saints and Blessed are group martyrs, processed by the Vatican in four batches.
The beatification Mass was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of celebration. Pilgrims from Japan, Korea, Philippines and other parts of Asia shared smiles of sheer bliss and a 1000 member choir was flown down from the Philippines to sing a hymn!
As the celebration stood out boldly as a reminder of the closeness Christians of all nations share in the Catholic baptism and faith.
Local bishops had initially mooted the cause hoping that Justo Ukon’s heroic virtues would be recognized. Despite the difficulty of tracing documents about his life, finally the church chose martyrdom. Pope Francis signed the decree classifying his death as martyrdom due to intolerance toward his faith in his native country. One step before sainthood, is the elevation to the status of “Blessed;” that is what Ukon is now.
The Church of Japan is delirious with joy. Fr. Mario Bianchin, the regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Japan, said with excitement, “Faith in God is validated. Our brother paid a very high price for his baptism, his life was a song of love and a song of faith in the Christian proclamation. What fantastic news this is for the Church in Japan, it has brought so much of happiness to our country.”
Not to mention the dozens of new converts to the Catholic faith.
-The NLTCE News Network Team