SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, OUR PATRON
Born on April 7, 1506 into a noble family, located near Sangüesa, in the kingdom of Navarre (part of present-day Spain), Francis Xavier enjoyed a childhood filled with privileges, until it was disrupted by his father's death, as well as by outside efforts to take control of Navarre. At the age of 19, spiraling academic ambition carried him to the University of Paris where he enrolled himself as a student in 1525. There, his life took a new turn as he encountered Ignatius of Loyola, who had experienced a religious conversion while recovering from a war wound. Despite Francis Xavier’s initial hesitation, Loyola’s persistence eventually convinced Xavier to join him on the path of religious devotion and service to humanity.
Soon five others joined the company of Loyola. To seal their companionship and give it an institutional framework on August 15, 1534, in the Montmartre section of Paris, Xavier, Loyola and his companions pledged themselves to form a religious group who later came to be known as the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). In addition to vows of celibacy and poverty, they also promised to visit the Holy Land. When fighting between Venice and the Ottoman Empire made a trip to Jerusalem impossible, Xavier instead went to Rome, where he and others in the society offered their services to the pope.
Impressed by the Jesuits, King John III of Portugal asked them to work in his empire. Though Loyola initially selected others for the task, Xavier was eventually chosen to take the place of a fellow priest who became ill. He left Rome on March 15, 1540, and on May 6, 1542 arrived in Goa, India, where he lived and worked side by side with the poor.
Francis' primary task in India, as ordered by King John III, was to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers, who were ruled by ambition, avarice, revenge, and debauchery. To accomplish this daunting task, Xavier began by instructing the Portuguese themselves in the principles of faith, and gave much of his time to the teaching of children. His mornings were usually spent in tending and comforting the distressed in hospital and prison; after that, he walked through the streets ringing a bell to summon the children and servants to catechism. During this time, he was invited to head Saint Paul's College, which became the first Jesuit headquarters in Asia.
Xavier soon learned that along the Pearl Fishery Coast, there was a group of people called Paravas, many of whom had been baptized ten years earlier, but remained uninstructed in matters of religion. Accompanied by several native clerics, he set sail for Cape Comorin in October 1542. First he set himself to learn the language of the Paravas. After becoming somewhat proficient, he taught those who had already been baptized, and preached to those who weren't.
He devoted almost three years to preaching to the people of southern India, reaching in his journeys even the Island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Overcoming many difficulties and hardships, Xavier built nearly 40 churches along the coast. During this time, he was able to visit the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore, Chennai. He set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (today's Indonesia).
Eager to spread the Christian message, Xavier travelled extensively; his stops included the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands and the Malay Peninsula.
On August 15, 1549, Xavier landed at Kagoshima, Japan. Wherever he went, Xavier adapted to local mores and arranged for the translation of religious texts. These steps helped him reach more people in the year and a half he spent in Japan.
Xavier's next focus was China. He traveled to Sancian (Shangchuan) Island, near Canton, but was not able to enter the mainland because borders had been closed to foreigners. As he waited to find a way to enter the country, illness incapacitated Xavier. He died on the island on December 3, 1552, at the age of 46. His body was then taken to Goa.
Xavier had accomplished much in his short span of life. In addition to being a founding member of the Jesuit order, he instructed a large number of people and baptized an estimated 30,000 people. Considering his work as well as his life of prayer penance and loving service rendered to people, Xavier was declared a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. Xavier is now the patron saint of missionaries, and continues to inspire many men and women who try to make a difference in society through various activities, the most visible among them being the training of young people through educational and training institutions.