December 2, 2016

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Apostle to the East

St. Francis Xavier

December 3rd is the feast of Saint Francis Xavier, (1506 - 1552) the 16th century Jesuit missionary known as the Apostle to the East. He converted more people in his life than anyone since the Apostle Paul. He is remembered for his unceasing devotion to the faith and his work in Asia to spread the gospel. Francis personally converted and baptized more than 50,000 people in 10 years. He single handedly catechized the entire city of Goa, India into the Catholic Church. Along with his mentor and close friend, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose tireless persuasion won the young Francis for Christ, he is credited with co-founding the Jesuit Order.

Francis Xavier was born in the Castle of Xavier in Navarre, Spain into an affluent noble Basque family. He studied at the University of Paris where he met Ignatius of Loyola. He had planned to devote himself to the intellectual life, but at Ignatius' urging surrendered to God. In August, 1534, Francis along with seven other men made vows of poverty chastity and obedience. They intended to journey to the Holy land to convert non-believers. Pope Paul III approved the formation of their order in 1540. This order became the Society of Jesus, more popularly known as the Jesuits. Pope Paul III ask the Jesuits to take a mission to India to help restore Christian virtue among the Portuguese settlers there.

Francis left for India in 1541, and was appointed as the papal nuncio to the East so that he could formally represent the Church. He arrived in the reach of Goa India in May 1542. Francis minister to the sick, the children and the native people of the Pearl Fishery coast. He later traveled to Melaka where he met a Japanese man named Anjiro. Francis converted Anjiro to Christianity making him the first Japanese convert. In 1549, Francis the departed for Japan. But most of the Japanese prove difficult to convert he was able to establish a few congregations but the religion was suppressed and Christianity became the subject of great persecution. This excerpt from St. Francis Xavier’s letter to St. Ignatius of Loyola from the Breviary shows the difficulties Francis faced and his zeal to save souls:

We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law. Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. ... I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, ... crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: "What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!"

Francis returned to India in April 1552 and quickly decided to travel to China by invitation. Since foreign missionaries were not allowed in mainland China, Francis attempted to smuggle himself in to teach the faith. Before he could get there, he became ill with a fever and died on December 3, 1552. He was first buried on an island off the coast of China. His body was later transferred to Malacca, then Goa where it was laid to rest in December 1553. He remains buried in India in a silver casket encased in glass. Several of his bones have been removed as relics. His right arm which he used to bless converts is on display in Rome. Saint Francis Xavier was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1619, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. He is the patron saint of foreign missionaries.

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