Fortitude and Love: Ukon Takayama and Philippine Duchesne
On February 7, 2017, the Catholic Church of Japan was newly blessed by the beatification of Justo Ukon Takayama (1543-1615). Ukon was a prominent Christian leader of the church in 16th century Japan. Reflecting on his life in troubled times, I find similarities between Ukon and Philippine Duchesne, especially in their spirituality of prayer and in their perseverance.
At the age of 12, touched by the powerful message of the Gospel, Ukon was baptized with his father, Dario. He first followed his father, but later had a conversion experience. Confronted with a critical choice, after discernment, he abandoned worldly success and chose faith. In an age of ambition and armed conflicts, Ukon lost everything by choosing faith. As the anti-Christian edict was issued and persecution began, he became an exile in different places in Japan for 28 years. Yet he persisted in his service to others. His sincerity and mercy as an educator attracted people; communities were naturally formed around him. Eventually, he was forced to leave Japan for his final exile in the Philippines. He reached Manila only to die of a high fever.
Philippine’s life was marked by her patience and humility, while Ukon is remembered as a person who “lowered himself.” Following Christ who humbled himself, Ukon abandoned worldly success and lived in simplicity. Neither Ukon nor Philippine ever saw any success, but they never abandoned their missionary vocation. In apparent failure, their love and fortitude shone forth. Prayer was their great support.
Living in the unstable world of today, we can learn from a man of the 16th century and a woman of the nineteenth century the power of choosing God in trust and faith.
Eriko Oyama, RSCJ, Province of Japan
Images: Mimaki Kazuko and Academy of the Sacred Heart