St Francis Xavier

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Jesuit missionary. Patron of foreign missionaries. St Francis was a Basque Spaniard, born in 1506 at the castle of Xavier in Navarre. He studied at the University of Paris where he met Ignatius Loyola and joined the group of seven who took their vows at Montmarte in 1534. They were ordained priests three years later in Venice.

In 1541, Francis sailed from Lisbon with Simon Rodriguez, for Goa, at the invitation of the King of Portugal. He was appointed Apostolic Nuncio for the East. The journey took thirteen months.

Francis made this town his headquarters. He began by reforming Goa, where many Portuguese Catholics lived, and were notorious for cruelty to their slaves, abusing the local women and neglecting the poor.

Francis preached and wrote verses on Christian truths set to popular tunes in an effort to bring people back to the faith. He also travelled to Ceylon, Southern Indian and the Molluccan islands where he made many converts. Francis went among the poor living as a poor man himself, sleeping on the ground and eating mainly rice and water. He had great success among the low castes but little among the richer people.

Francis was often seasick and had problems learning languages, but this did not dampened his missionary zeal.

In 1549 he went to Japan, translated a statement of Christian belief into Japanese, and left more than 100 converts at Kagoshima in his first year. He also travelled to many other parts of the country with varying degrees of success. In Yamaguchi he was given an empty Buddhist monastery.

When he left there were about 2,000 Christians in Japan. Within the next 60 years many of these were killed.

In 1552 Francis returned to Goa. He set out on a fresh mission to China but fell ill and died on the island of Chuen-Shan. He was 46.

Some aspects of his work have been criticised. Like most of his Catholic and Protestant contemporaries, he believed the unbaptised were damned. This lent urgency to his activity and a lack of sensitivity to the religions of the east. But his devotion and concern for the poor cannot be faulted.

His body was returned to Goa and he was canonised in 1622. Several missionary congregations bear his name and many churches and colleges have been dedicated to him.

See also: ICN 3 December 2014 Letter from St Francis Xavier to St Ignatius Loyola