Homily of His Excellency Archbishop Charles John Brown
Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines
at the Eucharistic Celebration
for the Feast of Blessed Justo Takayama Udon
“As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:36-39).
The story of Blessed Justo Takayama is intimately connected to the story of the evangelization of Japan. And also, of course, to the story of the Catholic Church here in the Philippines.
The Catholic faith had arrived in Japan, in Nagasaki, by means of St. Francis Xavier and the Jesuits in the 1540s. There, it briefly flourished and was very effective in evangelization. Over 100,000 people became Catholic in a short time in Japan in the 1540s and the 1550s, including many people from the noble class, from the land-owning class.
But the faith began to provoke also resentment and opposition. And then beginning in the 1560s, there were series of edicts issued by the emperor, restricting and finally banishing Christianity and Catholicism in Japan, beginning in the 1560s but increasingly into the 1580s.
San Pedro Bautista
There we begin to see the connection with Manila because in 1593, during the time in which the Catholic faith was suffering repression in Japan, a saint from Manila, who was originally from Spain – San Pedro Bautista - went from here, from the Philippines, to Japan, with his companions and continued that work of evangelization.
As we know, San Pedro Bautista himself, after having founded hospitals and churches in Japan was martyred for the faith in February of 1597 in Nagasaki. San Pedro Bautista and twenty-five other Christian Catholics were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597.
That, brothers and sisters, is the context in which our Blessed Takayama was living in Japan. He had been baptized into the faith as a young boy - he was twelve years old in 1564 so just as this persecution was beginning - and he experienced that persecution very, very personally.
He was from the ruling class. He was from the military class. He was a samurai. A man of great nobility, of great human qualities. And he and his family had become Christians. His parents passed the faith on to him.
Archbishop Charles John Brown, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, blesses the image of Blessed Justo Takayama at the Eucharistic Celebration for his feast day at the University of Sto Tomas
He, at the beginning of his Christian life, was not terribly devout, and then later on, he experienced a kind of reconversion, became very, very fervent.
He then began to suffer this repression, this persecution; but he also was an incredibly effective evangelizer. Because of the nobility of his character, because of the beauty of his person, because of the convincing power of his example, many Japanese, even in the midst of this time of opposition and deep persecution, were becoming Catholics.
So finally, in 1614 - quite later on, almost 50 years after he had become a Catholic through baptism - he was exiled from Japan, with something like 300 other Japanese Christians and some foreign missionaries. They were loaded onto a ship, departing from Nagasaki in November of 1614, and arrived here in Manila more than a month later, on December 21, 1614.
Arrival in Manila
Because of the prominent figure of Blessed Takayama, he was received by the Governor-General Juan de Silva here in Manila with high honors. But the voyage was quite difficult and he had become quite sick and ill during the voyage; and here in Manila, after having arrived, he then, approximately forty-four days after his arrival here in Manila, the Lord called him to his heavenly reward. And he went into heaven on the 3rd of February of 1615, and was buried in the Jesuit Church in the Southern part of the Intramuros.
So we have this amazing story of a man deeply immersed in his own culture who became an amazing evangelizer. And then because of the persecution, he was exiled from his country and ended up here in Manila where he went into his heavenly glory in 1615.
He was beatified only about five years ago by Cardinal Angelo Amato, on his trip to Japan. Indeed, he was beatified in Osaka on February 7, 2017.
The following day in Rome, Pope Francis, while reflecting on the beatification said this,
“Yesterday, in Osaka, Japan, Justo Takayama Ukon, a faithful Japanese layman martyred in Manila in 1615, was beatified. Rather than compromise, he renounced honours and comforts, accepting humiliation and exile. He remained faithful to Christ and to the Gospel; for this reason, he represents an admirable example of fortitude in the faith and dedication in charity” (GENERAL AUDIENCE. Paul VI Audience Hall. Wednesday, 8 February 2017)
This is the glory of Blessed Takayama: the fact that he was able to sacrifice his honor, and his homeland for the sake of Christ.
What a beautiful figure for us today, in whom we reflect on his life.
There’s a few things that I think, in studying his life, in reading about him in these days, that really impressed me.
First of all, the fact that he was a samurai. He was from the hereditary military nobility. The samurai were soldiers, were warriors.
It is interesting, isn’t it, my brothers and sisters, how many Catholic saints were soldiers: We think of St. Martin of Tours, we think of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we even think of St. Joan of Arc, a warrior, or Blessed Charles de Foucauld who will be canonized by Pope Francis this year.
All of these people were military people who were then converted to Christ and their spirit of service and deed in combat were translated into spiritual combat.
Lives of Combat
That is the role of all of us Catholics have to assume. Our lives as Christians in the Church Militant, which is a church on this earth, are lives of combat: combat against sin; combat against discouragement. The unseen warfare of our heart. The warfare in which we allow God’s grace to make us victorious over sin and death.
That is the process of Christian life and it’s a spiritual battle, a spiritual combat which we fight. These saints like Blessed Takayama, who were soldiers, can give us an image of that spiritual combat.
Resistance to Injustice
Secondly, Blessed Takayama is an example of holiness and resistance to injustice. He did not allow the unjust rules of persecution of Christians to discourage him. He remained faithful to his commitment to Jesus, to his love for our Lady.
Indeed, he brought here to Manila the beautiful statue of our Lady that he brought in Japan. He did not allow the opposition of the world to defeat him or to discourage him. That, brothers and sisters is a message that we can take home for us today:
Do not allow, even today in 2022, the spirit of the world to conquer you, defeat you, or discourage you.
Because in Christ we conquer over sin and death. In Jesus all things are possible. Our faith is life that triumphs over sin and death. Blessed Takayama illustrated that - manifested that - in his life.
He manifested the fact that the kingdom of God is within us. And the spiritual combat that allows that kingdom of God to conquer, first of all, our hearts, and then spread to those around us, the first battle is an interior battle. Then, the exterior battle.
Refugees and Migrants
Thirdly and lastly, I think that Blessed Takayama is also for us a good example of the importance and indeed, the precious quality of refugees and migrants. Because he was literally a refugee from Japan who came here on a boat.
A refugee who was a saint.
The Letter to the Hebrews, those famous words, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).
What does that mean? Sometimes, by receiving strangers, migrants, and refugees, we are giving hospitality to angels without even being aware of it.
Indeed, here in the Philippines, the beautiful Catholic culture was already in place here in Manila. You received with open arms these Catholic refugees from Japan.
You received, perhaps, not an angel unawares, but a saint unawares.
A saint who later on beatified, and if God willing, canonized.
So let us remember, reflect, and also be proud of the spirit also here in the Philippines of receiving immigrants and people who need shelter and protection. It’s something that Pope Francis is constantly reminding us of. We see this example in the 17th Century in the 1600s, an example that remains valid for us even more today in our own world.
So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, as representative of Pope Francis here in the Philippines, it gives me so much joy to celebrate this Mass in commemoration of Blessed Takayama. Let us ask his intercession.
let us ask also that we may have the grace to imitate him in his steadfastness in the spiritual combat, in his love for our Lady, and in his triumph over sin and death. May God bless you!
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo
Photos by Lorenzo Atienza