Tokyo, Japan — Nearly 12000 people joined together for a beatification ceremony and mass in honor of Justo Takayam Ukon, a Catholic samurai and martyr, held Feb 4 in Osaka.
Ukon is the first Samurai warrior to be beatified. Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided over the Mass.
Born in 1552 in Japan, Ukon was converted at a time when Jesuits, led by St Francis Xavier, had just begun to bring the faith to the area. By age 12 his father had converted and he himself was baptized. Intense persecution followed. A powerful Daimyo (feudal warlord) who protected Christians when authorities attempted to outlaw the religion, Ukon had vast properties and tremendous respect, but when a 1614 edict made the practice of Christianity illegal at the hands of Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ukon refused to renounce his faith.
He lost everything.
Persecutions continued and increased, eventually ending in 26 crucifixions of Catholic martyrs during the reign of chancellor Hideyoshi.
Exiled to Manila with 300 other Christians, Ukon fell ill from the conditions of his exile and died just 40 days later, on February 4, 1615. His impact is far reaching, with rapid conversions occurring during his lifetime. It is estimated that in his region during the year 1583 his influence and activity eventually developed 25,000 Christians in a population of 30,000.
On January 21, 2016 Pope Francis had previously signed a decree declaring Ukon a martyr for the faith after studying and approving a nearly 400 page application turned in to the congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
“As a Christian, as a leader, as a cultural person, as a pioneer of adaptation, Ukon is a role model and there are many things we can learn from him,” said Father Renzo De Luca, director of the 26 Martyrs Museum in Nagasaki, to Vatican Radio. De Luca is an Argentinian Jesuit.
“In this era of political distrust, I think he will be helpful for people other than Christians,” he said.
For those interested in further studying the life of Ukon, a Martin Scorcese film titled “Silence” depicts many of the events surrounding his lifetime.