Vigils Reading – St Francis Xavier

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Vigils Reading – St Francis Xavier

December 3, 2022

St. Francis Xavier

from Butler’s Lives of the Saints[1]


Francis Xavier was born in Spanish Navarre at the castle of Xavier, near Pamplona, in 1506, the youngest of a large family. He entered the college of St, Barbara and in 1528 gained the degree of licentiate. It was here that he met Ignatius Loyola, and later joined with him in the first band of seven who vowed themselves to the service of God at Montmartre in 1534. With them he received the priesthood at Venice three years later and in 1540 Ignatius appointed him to join Fr. Simon Rodriguez on the first missionary expedition the Society sent out to the East Indies.


They arrived at Goa, India on May 6, 1542, after a voyage of thirteen months. Francis opened the mission with the Christians of Goa, instructing them in the principles of religion and forming the young to the practice of virtue. He walked through the streets ringing a bell to summon the children and slaves to catechism. He offered Mass with lepers each Sunday. For the instruction of the very ignorant or simple he versified the truths of religion to fit popular tunes, and this was so successful that the practice spread till these songs were being sung everywhere, in the streets and fields and workshops.


In the spring of 1545 Francis set out for Malacca, on the Malay peninsula, where he spent four months. The next fifteen months were spent in endless traveling between Goa, Ceylon and Cape Comorin, consolidating his work and preparing for an attempt on that Japan into which no European had yet penetrated. In April 1549 Francis set out, accompanied by a Jesuit priest and lay-brother and three Japanese converts. On the feast of the Assumption they landed in Japan, at Kagoshima on Kyushu.


Francis set himself to learn Japanese. A translation was made of a simple account of Christian teaching, and recited to all who would listen. The fruit of twelve months labor was a hundred converts, but then the authorities began to get suspicious and forbade further preaching. So, leaving one of the Japanese converts in charge of the neophytes, Francis pressed further with his companions and went by sea to Hirado, north of Nagasaki. Before leaving Kagoshima he visited the fortress of Ichiku, where the baron’s wife, her steward and others accepted Christianity. Xavier left the rest in the care of the steward, and twelve years later the Jesuit lay-brother, Luis de Almeida, found these isolated converts still retaining their first fervor and faithfulness.


At Hirado the missionaries were well received by the ruler and they had more success in a few weeks than they had had at Kagoshima in a year. Xavier’s objective was Miyako (Kyoto), then the chief city of Japan. In due time he was able to be received by the authorities, who gave him permission to preach and provided an empty Buddhist monastery for a residence. He preached with such fruit that he baptized many in that city.


Francis decided to revisit his charge in India, from whence he hoped to extend his mission to China. After dealing with matters in India, Xavier set sail for China. In august 1552 the convoy reached the desolate island of Shang-chwan, half-a-dozen miles off the coast and a hundred miles south-west of Hong Kong. Here Xavier fell sick with a fever and died on December 3. He was buried on the island, but his body which was found to be incorrupt, was later moved to Goa. He was canonized in 1622 at the same time as Ignatius of Loyola.

[1] Butler’s Lives of the Saints – revised edition – Harper – San Francisco – 1991 – p 398f


December 3, 2022
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