Francis Xavier Church
Missionary to the
Francis Xavier (Francisco de Jassu y Javier, 1506-1552), was the first
Jesuit missionary and the prototype who inspired many men to enter the
Society of Jesus and evangelize far off nations. One of the original
group of seven men who founded the Jesuits, he was sent to India before
the new religious order received formal approval from the Church.
Xavier was born in his family's small castle in Navarre, in the north
of Spain, and there received his early education. In September 1525 he
went to Paris to begin university studies at the College of
Sainte-Barbe where his roommate was Peter Faber (Pierre Favre) from the
Savoy region of France.
Four years later everything changed when an older student moved in,
Ignatius Loyola (Iñigo Lopez de Loyola), a failed Basque
courtier given to prayer. Loyola soon won Faber over to wanting to
become a priest and work for the salvation of souls, but Xavier aspired
to a worldly career and was not at all interested in being a priest. He
earned his licentiate degree in the spring of 1530 and began teaching
Aristotle at the College of Dormans-Beauvais; he remained living in the
room with Favre and Loyola.
When Faber went to visit his family in 1533, Ignatius finally broke
through to Xavier who yielded to the grace God was offering him. Four
other students also became close friends through their conversations
with Ignatius who was became a spiritual guide and inspired the whole
group with his desire to go to the Holy Land. Xavier joined his friends
Aug. 15, 1534 in the chapel of Saint-Denis in Montmartre as they all
pronounced private vows of poverty, chastity and going to the Holy Land
to convert infidels.
Xavier and Loyola began studying theology in 1534. Two years later
Xavier set out for Venice with the rest of the group except for Loyola
who had returned to Spain earlier. Venice was the point of departure
for ships going to the Holy Land. The companions spent two months
waiting for a ship and working in hospitals, then went to Rome to ask
papal permission for their pilgrimage and ordination of the non-priests
among them. Xavier, Loyola and four others were ordained by the papal
delegate in his private chapel on June 24, 1537. And they continued to
wait for a ship, but because of Venice's impending war with the Turks
none sailed for a whole year, something quite extraordinary.
The companions then decided that Ignatius should go to Rome and place
the group at the disposal of the pope. Meanwhile, they would go to
various university centers and start preaching. Xavier and Nicholas
Bobadilla went to Bologna.
Xavier went to Rome in April 1538 and began preaching in the French
church of St. Louis. He also took part in the famous deliberations
during Lent 1539 in which the companions agreed to form a new religious
order. Before Pope Paul III granted his approval of the plan, he asked
Ignatius to accede to King John III of Portugal's request to send two
of the companions to the new colony in India. Ignatius chose Simon
Rodrigues and Nicholas Bobadilla, but the latter got sick and could not
go. Francis Xavier was the only one of the companions not already
committed to a work so Ignatius asked him to go, even though they were
the closest friends and the departure meant that they would never see
each other again.
Xavier and Rodrigues left Rome March 15, 1540 and arrived in Lisbon by
the end of June. The fleet had already left so the two priests had to
remain in Lisbon until the following spring. They devoted themselves to
preaching and caring for prisoners. The king was so taken by their work
that he asked one of them to stay and start a school; Rodrigues was
chosen, leaving Xavier to head off alone as the first Jesuit
missionary. As Xavier boarded the ship Santiagio, the king's messenger
gave him a letter in which the pope named him apostolic nuncio, which
meant that he had authority over all Portuguese clergy in Goa. The ship
set sail April 7, 1541, on Xavier's thirty-fifth birthday.
It took 13 months for Xavier to arrive in Goa, including a long wait in
Mozambique for favorable winds. As soon as he arrived, the energetic
Spaniard set about preaching to the Portuguese, visiting prisons and
ministering to lepers. He also tried to learn Tamil, but had to rely on
interpreters for his first mission to the Paravas, pearl fishers who
lived on India's southeastern shore above Cape Comorin. They had
converted to Christianity but been without a pastor, so Xavier
reinstructed them in the faith, baptized those who were ready and
prepared catechists to remain with them as he moved on from one village
to the next. By the end of 1544 he reached the western shore of India
at Travancore; in November and December of that year he is reported to
have baptized 10,000 persons.
He moved northward to Cochin, and then sailed to the Portuguese city of
Malacca in Malaya; from there he headed for his goal, the Moluccas, or
the Spice Islands where he landed on Feb. 14, 1546. He visited the
Christian villages and baptized over 1,000 persons at nearby Seran.
Then he did a reconnaissance trip to the islands Ternate and Moro,
known for its headhunters. He returned to Malacca in July 1547 and
arranged for two Jesuits to take his place.
When Xavier returned to Malacca, he learned about Japan from a Japanese
nobleman named Anjiro who was interested in becoming a Christian. This
revelation of a culturally advanced nation that had not yet heard of
Christ captured the Spanish Jesuit's imagination. Before he could do
anything about Japan, Xavier had to return to Goa to fulfill his
responsibilities as mission superior and assign newly arrived Jesuits
to their posts. He was not able to set sail for Japan with Anjiro and
several Jesuits until April 1549.
The party got back to Malacca easily enough but could find no ship's
captain willing to take the risk of sailing into unknown waters. So
Xavier hired a pirate to take them. They left June 24, 1549 and landed
on August 15 at Kagoshima in southern Japan, Anjiro's home city.
At first the mission went very smoothly. The local prince gave
permission to the foreigners to preach Christianity, but he himself
would not convert. Xavier decided that the way to convert Japan was to
begin with the emperor, but no one would tell him how to get to the
Imperial City, Miyako (today's Tokyo). They spent a year in Kagoshima
but only made 100 converts, so the Jesuits left for Hirado, a port used
by the Portuguese on the upper coast of Kyushu. Another 100 Japanese
became Christians but Xavier remained eager to see the emperor, so he
moved to the country's second largest city, Yamaguchi. He preached in
the streets but suffered a very unsuccessful meeting with the daimyo,
so he left that city in December 1550 for Sakai.
Their fortune turned and they finally found a prince willing to take
them to the Imperial City. Xavier and Brother John Fernandez were hired
as domestic servants and arrived in January 1551, the first Catholic
missionaries to see Asia's largest and most beautiful city. For 11 days
they tried without success to secure an audience with the emperor, so
they returned to Hirado. They went back, though, with the knowledge
that the most powerful lord in Japan was not the emperor, but the
daimyo of Yamaguchi, whom they had failed to convince in their first
meeting. Xavier resolved to try again, appearing not as a poorly-clad
European but as an individual worthy of the daimyo's attention.
The two Jesuits rented horses and a litter and dressed themselves in
colorful silken robes. When they ceremoniously arrived in Yamaguchi,
they were received at the daimyo's palace without any suspicion that
they were the same barbarians who had been brushed away only months
earlier. Xavier presented the daimyo with expensive gifts of clocks,
music boxes, mirrors, crystals, cloth and wine as signs of friendship;
and he presented impressive credentials: letters from King John III of
Portugal and Pope Paul III. The daimyo granted the Jesuit's request to
preach the Christian religion in the empire, and gave people the
freedom to become Christians if they wanted to. He also gave the
Jesuits a residence in the city, where many people visited. Within six
months they had gained 500 converts.
Xavier thought it was time for him to move on so he brought Father
Cosmas de Torres to replace him in Yamaguchi so he could return to
India. Xavier set out in September 1551, and found a ship for Malacca.
He hoped to return to Japan the following year, but the ship got caught
in a typhoon that drove it 1,000 miles off course. On December 17, the
vessel entered the Bay of Canton and anchored off Sancian Island. As
Xavier looked towards nearby China, he felt that country calling him.
The two Jesuits were able to board a ship that happened to be bound for
Singapore, which they reached at the end of the month. There Xavier
found a letter from Ignatius appointing him provincial of the "Indies
and the countries beyond."
He was back in India in January 1552 and found another letter telling
him to return to Rome to report on the mission; he decided that visit
could wait until he had first gone to China. In April 1552 Xavier set
out from India and entered the Bay of Canton in September. He landed on
Sancian Island which was both a hideout for Chinese smugglers and a
base for Portuguese traders. None of the smugglers was willing to risk
taking the Jesuit missionary over to China; one who said he was, took
Xavier's money and then disappeared.
On November 21 he came down with a fever and could not leave his leafy
hut on the island's shore. Seven days later he fell into a coma, but on
December 1 regained consciousness and devoted himself to prayer during
his waking hours. He died on the morning of December 3 and was buried
on the island, but his remains were later taken to Malacca and then to
Goa where they were interred in the church Bom Jesus.
He was canonized in 1622 and made patron of the Propagation of the
Faith in 1910 and in 1927 was named patron of the missions.