John de Britto was the son of rich and influential parents at the court of Lisbon, Portugal, in the 17th century. As a child, he fell seriously ill and his mother prayed to St Francis Xavier for him. Little John recovered, but then to the dismay of his parents, he determined to follow the great missionary saint in every respect. He joined the Jesuits and volunteered to work in India, as his saintly predecessor had. John’s field of work was south India, or what is today Tamil Nadu. His labours were mainly pastoral. He preached, catechized, built and nurtured Catholic communities among the outcastes, and generally lived a life of hardship and austerity. His popular name was ‘Arulsamy’, literally ‘Father John’ . His mastery of the local language and his adoption of local dress endeared him to thousands of his Catholics. They saw him as different to the priests they had been used to. Not all was smooth sailing, though. His success aroused the hostility of the local Hindus. He was banished from Tamilnadu and sent back to Portugal. But John managed to return after eight years and resume his mission work with the same zeal. His challenge to a local ruler - to put aside his several wives and live with just one woman - excited the anger of the deposed spouses. Father John was arrested, imprisoned and put to death, a martyr for the faith, like John the Baptist before him. Today, four centuries later, John de Britto is revered as the patron of the Church in South India where his martyrdom has yielded an abundant harvest of disciples of the Lord.
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