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Catholic Church Beatifies First Japanese Samurai Warlord

In a historical first, the Catholic Church has beatified a Japanese samurai warlord who died in exile after refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

As an official envoy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Angelo Amato presided over the ceremony for Justo Takayama Ukon Tuesday in Osaka, Japan, with some 12,000 people in attendance. As a lead-up to canonization, beatification officially places Takayama on the road to being declared a saint.

Pope Francis had signed a decree on January 21, 2016 clearing the way for Ukon to be beatified as a martyr.

Born in 1552, Ukon was a renowned feudal warlord who protected Christians at a time when authorities attempted to stamp out all vestiges of the religion, exiling missionaries and all Christian samurai who would not abandon their faith.

When Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power and outlawed ‎the practice of Christianity by an edict in 1614, Ukon ‎refused to follow the great feudal lords and renounce his faith. As a result, he ‎lost his properties, position, ‎social status and respectability and was eventually forced into ‎exile.

With 300 other Japanese ‎Christians, Ukon fled to Manila where, just 40 days after his arrival, he fell ‎ill and died on February 4, 1615.

Christianity came to Japan in 1549, thanks to the missionary efforts of the Jesuit saint Francis Xavier. Because of Ukon’s work, the number of Christians grew dramatically in the region where he was active, and in 1583 there were as many as 25,000 of them out of a population of 30,000.

Reading from an apostolic letter from Pope Francis Tuesday, Cardinal Amato, proclaimed Ukon as “blessed” (beatus), praising him as a man who chose faith over worldly success and material comfort.

Martin Scorsese’s film version of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence has revived interest in the historical events of Christianity in Japan.

The Japanese government has decided to open Christian sites and churches in the provinces of Nagasaki and Kumamoto for UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Sites.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter 

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