Takayama Ukon, a 16th-century Japanese samurai who faced exile rather than give up his Catholic faith, is being considered for sainthood because of his fidelity to Christ and his Church.
bishops’ conference submitted a 400-page application for the samurai’s
beatification to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2013.
life is an example of “great fidelity to the Christian vocation,
persevering despite all difficulties,” Jesuit Father Anton Witwer,
general postulator of the Society of Jesus, told CNA.
was born in 1552, three years after the Jesuit missionary St. Francis
Xavier introduced Christianity to Japan. When he was 12, his father
became Catholic, and Ukon was baptized as Justo by Jesuit Father Gaspare
The Takayama were daimyo, members of the class of
ruling feudal lords who ranked second to the shogun in medieval and
early modern Japan. Daimyo held vast estates and were entitled to raise
armies and hire samurai.
Given their respected position, the
Takayama were able to support missionary activities in Japan, serving as
protectors of Japanese Christians and of the Jesuit missionaries.
According to Father Witwer, they influenced the conversion of tens of
thousands of Japanese.
In 1587, when Takayama was 35, Japan’s
chancellor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, began a persecution of Christians,
expelling missionaries and encouraging Japanese Catholics to forsake
While many daimyo chose to leave the Catholic faith,
Takayama and his father chose instead to forsake their estates and
honors to maintain the faith.
Father Witwer recounted that
Takayama “did not want to fight against other Christians, and this led
him to live a poor life, because when a samurai does not obey his
‘chief,’ he loses everything he has.”
He said Takayama “chose
poverty to be faithful to the Christian life. During subsequent years,
he lived under the protection of aristocratic friends and was able to
live a more dignified life.”
“Many people tried to convince
Takayama to abjure his faith,” Father Witwer explained, “because he was a
noble and a known person and because they did not want to kill a
Japanese. The persecutors found it easier killing Christian foreigners,
while it was difficult to kill Japanese Christians.”
In 1597, Toyotomi ordered the execution of 26 Catholics, both foreigners and native Japanese; they were crucified Feb. 5.
the threat of such a fate, Takayama refused to leave the Church,
choosing to live as a Christian until his death. When the shogun
Tokugawa Ieyasu definitively banned Christianity in 1614, Takayama went
He led a group of 300 Catholics to the Philippines,
where they settled in Manila. Arriving in December, he died Feb. 4,
having been weakened by persecution in Japan.
died in exile, because of the weakness caused by the maltreatments he
suffered in his homeland,” Father Witwer explained, “the process for
beatification is that of a martyr.”
If Takayama is accepted as a martyr, he will not need a miracle before being beatified.