The Filipino fighting for a Japanese samurai’s sainthood

Light of truth

Historian Ernesto De Pedro with statues of Dom Justo UkonTakayama who was beatified in early 2017.

As Pope Francis visits Japan, an 83-year-old Filipino historian is hoping the pontiff will recognize a Japanese samurai who once offered his life for the faith.

Dom Justo UkonTakayama, or “Justus Ucondono” as missionaries fondly called him, was a warrior who fought under the banner of the cross in the land of the rising sun.

He was an eminent Japanese feudal governor who served under Japan’s three hegemons — Oda, Hideyoshi, and Toshiie — who unified Japan.

In 1587, Chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi took drastic steps against Takayama, who declined to obey the chancellor’s order to renounce the faith.

Takayama was baptized a Christian in Sawa Castle on June 1, 1563, when he was 11 years old.

For refusing to renounce his Christian faith, Takayama was sent to Manila as an exile on Dec. 21,1614. Months after his arrival, he died on Feb. 3, 1615 in the old walled city of Intramuros.

The faithful of Manila promptly presented the Japanese warrior’s case to the Vatican for beatification. But after centuries passed, Takayama seemed to have been forgotten.

In 1963, Cardinal Rufino Santos of Manila endorsed the cause of the samurai to the Church in Japan. But there were no updates as church officials came and went.

Then one day, a Filipino history enthusiast passed by a statue of a Japanese man in the Plaza Dilao in the old city of Manila where the samurai supposedly baptized Japanese converts.

Historian Ernesto De Pedro wondered why a Japanese figure would standing as such in the Philippines. He did not give it much attention until a group of Japanese Protestant pastors came to inquire.

The Protestants were researching about a certain Takayama whose statue stands in the middle of Manila. They found nothing.

De Pedro wondered. “Why nothing?” he asked. He did his own research. He found out later that in Manila Takayama “Dom Justo Ukon Don.” In the papal archives, he was identified as “Ukon Don.”

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