Catholic Church reportedly closer to getting its first samurai saint

Cardinal Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda Cardinal Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda of Osaka, Japan. | Credit: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

The Vatican is currently investigating miracles associated with the intercession of Blessed Justus Ukon Takayama that, if confirmed, could lead to the canonization of the Church’s first samurai saint.

Japanese Cardinal Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda of Osaka revealed on Thursday that the Vatican’s investigation into the miracles is ongoing, according to reporting by CBCP News, the news arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. 

“We pray that the investigation of Ukon’s miracles will be completed and approved at least within the next year or two,” Maeda said. 

Maeda revealed the investigations after a special Mass in honor of Takayama in the Manila cathedral in the Philippines. The cardinal and 30 other Japanese pilgrims journeyed to Manila Dec. 18–22 as part of an annual pilgrimage to the site of Takayama’s exile and death.  

A renowned Japanese warrior in his day and a man of great learning and culture, Takayama renounced his power and possessions rather than give up his Christian faith. For his defiance Takayama was exiled from Japan, fleeing with 300 other Christians to the Philippines, where he died in 1615. 

In 2016, Pope Francis approved a decree designating Takayama’s death as a martyrdom, and he was officially beatified in February 2017. To be canonized as the Church’s first samurai saint, the Vatican must approve at least one verified miracle attributed to Takayama’s intercession. 

Samurai, general, ruler… saint?

Born in a castle to a noble Japanese Buddhist family in 1552, Takayama was raised to be a warrior and an exemplar of the Japanese spirit and culture. The Takayama were daimyo: members of the class of ruling feudal lords who held vast estates and were entitled to raise armies. 

When he was 11 years old, Takayama’s father, Takayama Hida-no-Kami, challenged a Christian preacher, a personal follower of St. Francis Xavier, to a debate. 

Though Takayama’s father had intended to put an end to the Christian’s proselytizing, he ended up being so impressed with the Christian arguments that he converted to the faith along with his son. 

Thus, Takayama was baptized as a Catholic at the age of 11, and despite being caught up in wars and political upheaval, he and his father were able to use their influence to support missionary activities in Japan, serving as protectors of Japanese Christians and of the missionaries.

According to a 2014 CNA interview with Father Anton Witwer, general postulator of the Society of Jesus who advanced Takayama’s cause for beatification, Takayama and his father influenced the conversion of tens of thousands of Japanese.

According to the writings of missionary priests, Takayama spent long hours in prayer and meditation throughout his life, especially in his later days when the Japanese persecutions were worsening. 

After years of missionary growth, a brutal persecution against the Catholic faith broke out under the rule of the Japanese chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi called on all Japanese Catholics to abandon the faith or face consequences. It is said that Hideyoshi even crucified Catholic men and women to make an example of them.

Despite years of loyal service to Japan as a warrior, general, and feudal lord, Takayama was faced with the ultimatum of either renouncing his faith or his feudal power. According to the Filipino organization the Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation, Takayama was willing to obey his feudal superiors in all things except when it came to his faith. He chose to give up his power rather than denounce his God. For this Takayama was stripped of his rank and authority. 

He continued to live in poverty in Japan for a few years longer, but the persecution only continued to worsen. In 1614, Takayama and some 300 other Christians were exiled from Japan. Takayama led the group to the Philippines, where they were able to practice the faith freely. Takayama’s time in the Philippines was to be short, however, as he died 44 days after arriving, on Feb. 4, 1615, reportedly due to the “weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland.” 

His final words were to call his grandchildren to stand firm in the Christian faith. 

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The Vatican has not yet replied to CNA’s request for more information on the nature of the miracles being investigated.

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