Above: St. Francis Xavier
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER (APRIL 7, 1506-DECEMBER 3, 1552)
Roman Catholic Missionary to the Far East
The standard feast day for St. Francis Xavier is December 3, of course. I have, however, transferred it to December 5, for I have booked December 3 with the full complement of four observances I allow per date on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.
St. Francis Xavier lived for about 46 years and 8 months. During his adult life, according to estimates, he converted about 40,000 or perhaps about 70,000 or maybe more than a million people to Christianity. He was, as John K. Ryan, author of the article on our saint in The Encyclopedia Britannica (1962),
the greatest missionary since St. Paul.
–Volume 11, page 759
Our saint, who devoted his life to God, came from a Basque noble family. He, born at the Castle of Xavier, Navarre, on April 7, 1506, was the youngest of three sons of Juan de Jasso y Atondo (steward of the castle) and Dona Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznarez (of Navarrese nobility). In 1526 our saint commenced his study of philosophy at the University of Paris. For a few years, starting in 1528, St. Ignatius Loyola was among his roommates. After Xavier graduated in 1530 he started his theological studies and became a professor of philosophy. Four years later Loyola, Xavier, and five other men–close associates for years and the core of what became the Society of Jesus in 1540–took vows of poverty and chastity then made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1537, at Venice, these men became priests. Loyola dispatched Xavier to preach to the poor of Bologna in 1538. Later our saint became Loyola’s secretary.
King Joao (John) III (the Pious) of Portugal (reigned 1521-1557) requested that the Church send six Jesuits to the far eastern part of the Portuguese Empire. Loyola could send only two. Among these was our saint, who took the place of a man who had fallen ill. On May 6, 1541, Xavier and Martin Alfonso de Sousa, the governor of Goa, sailed from Lisbon. They spent six months (August 1541-February 1542) in Mozambique then arrived in Goa on May 6, 1542. Xavier carried with him credentials of his new position, papal legate for the Indies. Holy Mother Church already had missionaries from various orders active in the region. Our saint not only built on the foundations other had laid but also laid foundations on which others built.
At first Xavier focused on the needs of colonists at Goa. He lived in a hospital, visited prisoners, preached to the poor, and catechized children, poor free adults, and slaves. There was much work for him to do, for immorality, such as harsh treatment of slaves, was rampant.
Then, after five months, Sousa suggested that our saint commence evangelism among the Paravan people. Xavier accepted and followed this advice. Through the end of 1544 Xavier helped them build up and organize their defenses and to make peace with their enemies. He also converted many of them to Christianity. Furthermore, in December 1544 alone, our saint baptized 10,000 in the neighboring Kingdom of Travancore and arranged for others to teach them.
Xavier, as a missionary, did not remain in one place for long. Sometimes he was in Goa, but usually he was elsewhere. In 1545 our saint began to evangelize in the East Indies. He remained there until 1548, when he began to make plans to engage in missionary work in Japan. In 1547, while at Malacca, Xavier had met Anjiro, a Japanese man interested in Christianity. Our saint sent Anjiro and two other Japanese men to Goa for preparation for baptism. On August 15, 1549, Xavier, two other Jesuits, Anjiro, and the two other Japanese converts arrived at the island of Kyushu. Xavier’s mission in Japan proved successful and ended in September 1551.
Xavier, the new Jesuit Provincial for India, intended to evangelize in China, where foreigners were forbidden. Diplomatic complications delayed our saint’s attempts to enter the empire as a missionary. Finally Xavier made plans to go anyway. For three months he waited on Sancian Island, near the port of Canton, for a ship to take him into China. In November 1552 Xavier became ill. He died on this island on December 3, 1552, aged 46 years.
Pope Paul V beatified Xavier in 1619. Pope Gregory XV canonized our saint three years later.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
SEPTEMBER 23, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ALL FAITHFUL BISHOPS
THE FEAST OF GERARD MOULTRIE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS
Loving God, you called Francis Xavier to lead many in India and Japan
to know Jesus Christ as their Redeemer:
Bring us to the new life of glory promised to all who follow in the Way;
through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:1-11
Psalm 62:1-2, 6-9
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 99