The Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), one of Japan’s five national newspapers with a circulation of roughly 8 million, ran a story this week that could serve as an example of how to report on religion for an audience unfamiliar with the topic.
The article entitled “Vatican to beatify Christian warlord Takayama Ukon” reports that the Catholic Church is expected to recognize as “blessed” a Sixteenth Century warlord who converted to Christianity. Writing for a Japanese, and presumably highly secular audience, the Asahi Shimbun’s correspondent Hiroshi Ishida has crafted a lovely little story that succinctly tells, the who, what, when, where and why -- and leaves out any editorializing, preaching or “snark”.
The article opens:
VATICAN CITY--A Japanese feudal warlord who was expelled from his country 400 years ago because of his Christian faith is set to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as “beatus” (blessed), the second highest canonization next to sainthood. Angelo Amato, a Vatican cardinal and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told a Japanese pilgrim band on Oct. 21 that Takayama Ukon (1552-1615) is likely be accorded the title of beatus next year, the 400th anniversary of his death.
The article relates the story of Ukon and his expulsion from Japan after Christianity was made illegal in 1614, and offers a quote from a high ranking cleric on why this man is worthy of this accolade.
“Ukon consistently set his faith above his desires for career success and wealth whenever he was forced to choose,” said Yoshinao Otsuka, a bishop of the Catholic Kyoto Diocese who serves as the chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan’s committee to recommend canonization candidates. “There is a lesson for people today, who live in a highly competitive society, from his courage to set aside his competitive instincts for his faith.”
The story then outlines the beatification protocols followed by the Catholic Church and outlines where Ukon stands in this process.
The requirement for beatification includes that the deceased was killed due to hatred of their faith or that he or she is evidenced to have conducted miracles such as curing people’s ailments. The Japanese authority has recommended that Ukon be beatified as a martyr.
Why pick this story for praise? Because it is simple and clean. There are no extraneous bits here -- no agenda other than telling the story as known to the Asahi Shimbun.
After relating the news of the canonization process for Ukon, the article provides historical context, an informed and succinct quote from a church leader explaining why this issue is important to Japanese Catholics, and then outlines what happens next.
It may well be that unfamiliarity with the workings of a minority religion in Japan led the newspaper to ask the basic questions about the sainthood process -- and coming to the issue without preconceived notions, it was able to describe what happens and in fewer words, but with more detail and understanding than most Western newspapers.
All in all, a job well done.