01/22/2016, 20.30
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Takayama Ukon, “Christ’s samurai," to be beatified

Pope Francis signs the decree on the martyrdom of the Servant of God Justo Takayama, who died in exile in the Philippines for refusing to give up his beliefs. For PIME regional superior in Japan, “this is fantastic news that brings great joy to the Church in Japan.” Takayama’s “song of love song and faith for the Christian proclamation.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Takayama Ukon, a feudal lord in Imperial Japan, who converted to Catholicism in 1564, will become a Blessed. Pope Francis signed the decree recognising his martyrdom from hatred for the faith in 1615.

Four centuries after his death, despite the difficulty of finding documents about his life, the Church in Japan can now celebrate its first individual native martyr. For the regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Japan, Fr Mario Bianchin, “this is fantastic news that brings great joy to the Church in Japan”.

“Local bishops had initially prepared the cause hoping that his heroic virtues could be recognised,” Fr Bianchin told AsiaNews. “However, it was very difficult to complete the application for the lack of sources and original documents. About a year ago, we were told that it was decided to choose martyrdom" as a way to see him acknowledged.

Takayama Ukon was born in what is now Osaka Prefecture in 1552 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.

The new Blessed "was a very well-known at the time because of its political weight. We could say that he was high up among the local nobility,” Fr Bianchin said. “However, he paid a high price for his baptism. As the chronicles of the time indicate, his life was a song of love song and faith to the Christian proclamation, albeit within the constraint of his daimyo status.”

Afterwards, Dom Justo Takayama lived under the protection of aristocratic friends. However, when Christianity was definitely outlawed 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 Filipino Catholics, when they arrived on 21 December.

Here some exiles proposed to seek Spanish support to overthrow the Japanese government, but Justo refused. 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 his statue dominates Plaza Dilao. The new blessed (pictured) is dressed in the typical samurai costume, but his katana is sheathed pointing downward. Upon it hangs a figure of the crucified Jesus.

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