Osaka (AsiaNews) - The Japanese Church has finished preparing the application for the beatification of Takayama Ukon, a feudal lord or daimyo who, after his conversion, played a pioneering role in the spread of Christianity in Japan in the 16th century.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan presented a 400-page application to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with all the relevant information about the case. The bishops hope to celebrate the new Blessed in 2015, the 400th anniversary of his death.
Takayama Ukon was born in 1552 in what is now Osaka Prefecture to Takayama Tomoteru, lord of Sawa Castle. When he turned 12, his father converted taking the name of Darius whilst he was baptised with the name of Justo.
Both father and son were daimyo, feudal lords appointed by the imperial court, entitled to raise a private army and hire samurai.
Before his conversion, Justo practiced bushido, the "way of the warrior," a code of conduct for the Japanese warriors.
Towards the end of the 16th century, in the 1580s, Japan was ruled by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known as the country's second "great unifier".
Through their political activity, the Takayamas come to dominate the Takatsuki region. During the rule of the two daimyo, many local residents converted to Christianity.
In 1587, Hideyoshi was convinced by some of his advisers to ban the 'western religion'. Whilst many feudal lords chose to abjure their Catholic faith, Justo and his father chose instead to give up land and honours to maintain their faith.
During subsequent years, Justo Takayama lived under the protection of aristocratic friends. However, when Christianity was definitely banned in 1614, the former daimyo chose the path of exile and led a group of 300 Christians to the Philippines, welcomed by Spanish Jesuits and the local Catholics, when they arrived on 21 December.
Here some exiles proposed to seek Spanish support to overthrow the Japanese government, but Justo refused Right.
On 4 February 1615, 40 days after his arrival in the Philippines, he died and was buried with full military honours in a Catholic ceremony. Today a statue of him dominates Manila's Plaza Dilao (pictured).
The current application is not the first time the Japanese Church has tried to get him beatified. The first attempt was made in the 17th century by the clergy of Manila. Unfortunately, due to the isolationist policy of the Tokugawa shogunate, which prevented foreigners from entering Japan, it was impossible to get the necessary documents for a canonical investigation. A second attempt was made in 1965, but failed because of several formal errors.
"The application was not accepted because no one knew how to put it together nor how to best publicise his case," said Fr Hiroaki Kawamura, head of the Diocesan Commission that sent the papers to Rome. Learning their lessons, this time church officials have been much better prepared.
Last October Mgr Leo Jun Ikenaga, archbishop of Osaka and president of the Bishops' Conference of Japan, sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking for approval of the cause. The Vatican answered, saying that it would take the cause "into special consideration."
It would do so because the daimyo would be the first individual Japanese to receive such a high honour. There are 42 saints with some connection to Japan as well as 393 blessed. All of them were martyred together during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and are celebrated as groups.
"Takayama was never misled by what those around him. He persistently lived a life following his own conscience," Fr Kawamura said. "He led a life appropriate to a saint and continues to encourage many people even today."