St Francis Xavier
Can we ever say enough about Francis Xavier, the most dynamic Christian saint of the last four hundred years, and one whose name is synonymous with mission worldwide?
Certainly, young Francisco had other plans in mind when he lived in Paris in the 1530s, studying for a master’s in theology. The young man from Navarra, in Spain, was looking forward to a promising career in the Church. But in Paris he came under the spell of Ignatius Loyola, who challenged him to serve under an ‘eternal king’, Jesus Christ. Thoroughly transformed by the ‘Spiritual Exercises’, Xavier took a vow of celibacy, was ordained priest, and with seven other companions led by Ignatius, formed the original ‘Society of Jesus’.
While serving as Ignatius’s secretary in Rome, Francis volunteered to accompany the Portuguese ambassador to Lisbon. From there he set out for Goa to preach Christ’s message in a strange country, India. His journeys criss-crossed south India and Sri Lanka, where he planted the faith through preaching and catechesis. He also started the first seminary in Goa, the College of St Paul, to train Indian priests.
Francis did not limit himself to the Indian subcontinent. He traveled to Malacca, to the Spice Islands, to the Philippines and finally to Japan. Struggling with the language, and in the face of bitter opposition from the Buddhist monks, he preached the ‘good news’ of Jesus and worked many miracles. Within 40 years, the Church in Japan numbered four hundred thousand!
Realizing that the Japanese looked up to China as their model in every respect, Francis determined to go there, at that time forbidden territory to all foreigners. He did not succeed. He died of fever on the island of Sancian, outside Canton in 1552. He was 44 years old.
His innumerable letters made Francis Xavier a household word in Catholic Europe, and their graphic descriptions of missionary life inspired thousands of men and women to follow in his footsteps.
There was never anyone like him. And we can confidently say, there will never be again.
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