Xavier, Francis, St.
XAVIER, FRANCIS, ST.
Apostle of India and Japan (Spanish form, Francisco de Yasu y Javier); b. Castle of Xavier, near Sangüesa, Navarre, Spain, April 7, 1506; d. on the island of Sancian, near the coast of China, Dec. 3, 1552. After completing his preliminary studies in his own country, Francis Xavier went to Paris in 1525, where he entered the College of Sainte-Barbe. Here in 1526 he met the Savoyard, Pierre Favre, and a warm friendship sprang up between
them. Ignatius Loyola, the future founder of the Society of Jesus, resided at this same college from September 1529 to March 1535. He won the confidence of the two young men. First Favre and later (1533) Xavier offered themselves as his companions and were the first to associate themselves with him in the formation of the society. Four others, Salmeron, Rodriguez, Laynez, and Bobadilla, having joined them, the seven made their well-known vow at Montmartre, Aug. 15, 1534, binding themselves to the service of God.
After completing his philosophical studies, Xavier received the degree of master of arts in March of 1530. He then filled the post of regent in the Beauvais College (1530–34), and afterward studied theology (1534–36). He left Paris with his companions Nov. 15, 1536, and made his way to Venice, where he expected to take ship for palestine. On June 24, 1537, he received Holy Orders with Ignatius at Venice. Unable to proceed to Palestine, he spent the following autumn and winter in Bologna, and in April 1538 he went to Rome. From April to June 1539 he took part in the conferences Ignatius held with his companions to prepare the foundation of the Society of Jesus. The order received verbal approbation from Paul III, Sept. 3, 1539. Before written approval was secured, Xavier was appointed to substitute for the sick Bobadilla, who, at the request of John III, King of Portugal, was to have gone to minister to the Christians of southeast India. Xavier left Rome, March 15, 1540, and reached Lisbon in June. There he remained nine months, occupying himself in giving catechetical instructions, hearing confessions, and tending to the prisoners of the Inquisition.
India and Malaya. On April 7, 1541, the king delivered to him a brief appointing him apostolic nuncio in the East, and he embarked for India. After a tedious and dangerous voyage, which was interrupted by winter spent in Mozambique, he landed at Goa 13 months after leaving Lisbon. He immediately busied himself learning the language, preaching and ministering to the sick, and composing a catechism.
In September he set out for the Pearl Fishery Coast, which extends from Cape Comorin to the isle of Mannar, opposite Ceylon. Christianity had been introduced into that area five to seven years earlier, but had almost disappeared owing to the lack of priests. Xavier devoted two years to the work of preaching to the Paravas, with notable success. Multitudes flocked to hear him, and at times he was so fatigued from administering the Sacrament of Baptism that he could scarcely move his arms, as he himself wrote in a letter dated Jan. 15, 1544. He had less success with the Brahmans than with the low-caste Paravas; only one Brahman convert rewarded a year's work.
Xavier had many trials and hardships to face. The Christians of Comorin and Tuticorin were attacked by Badagas from the north who robbed, butchered, and carried off captives into slavery. Six hundred Christians were slain by the ruler of Jaffna in northern Ceylon. Other trials stemmed from the avarice, debauchery, and cruelty of Portuguese merchants and officials.
Japan. At the end of August 1545, Xavier set off from Mylapore (Madras) for Malacca on the Malay Peninsula with the intention of going on to Macassar. He labored in Malacca for the last four months of the year. Hearing that there was another priest in Macassar, he left Malacca for Amboina and visited islands that he referred to as the Moluccas. In July 1547, he was back in Malacca, where he again spent four months, and where he met a Japanese called Anjiro. From him he gathered information about Japan. Xavier's zeal was at once aroused by the idea of introducing Christianity into Japan, but for the time being the work of the society required his presence at Goa, where he went, taking Anjiro with him. In the meantime other jesuit missionaries sent from Europe by Ignatius and Simon Rodriguez had arrived at Goa in 1545 and 1546, and the little company there was augmented by a number of recruits who had entered the society in Goa. Thus, in 1548 and 1549 Xavier was able to send Jesuits to the principal centers of the Portuguese East, such as Ormuz, Bassein, Cochin, Quilon, and Malacca, to establish houses and colleges. Xavier received into the society a Spanish secular priest, Cosmas de Torres, whom he had met in the Moluccas. With him and Juan Fernandez of Cordova, a laybrother, Xavier set out on April 17, 1549, for Japan. They took with them the Japanese Anjiro, who had been baptized at Goa and had taken the name of Paul of Holy Faith.
They landed at Kagoshima in southern Japan, Aug. 15, 1549. The first year was devoted to learning the Japanese language and translating, with the help of Paul, a short catechism and explanation of the Creed that was to be used in preaching and catechizing. Xavier was welcomed by the daimyo (ruler), but after some time the bonzes (Buddhist monks and religious leaders) became troublesome. Leaving behind, under the care of Paul, a flock of about 100 converts, Xavier set out from Kagoshima at the end of August 1550 with the intention of penetrating to the center of Japan. He preached in Hirado and visited Hakata and Yamaguchi. Toward the end of the year he reached Sakai, and in January he was in Miyako (Kyoto), then the capital of the empire. Here he found it impossible to obtain audience with the mikado as he had hoped, and so much civil strife filled the capital city at that time that Xavier saw it would be fruitless to prolong his stay. Therefore, he returned to Yamaguchi. There he altered his methods somewhat. Apostolic poverty did not appear as attractive to the Japanese as it had to the low caste Indians, so Xavier put on better clothing and disputed with the bonzes.
After an apostolate of about two years and three months in Japan the Christian community in that nation numbered some 2,000, and later increased rapidly. Leaving De Torres in charge of the mission, Xavier returned to Malacca, where, at the end of 1551, he was appointed provincial of the newly erected Province of India. He then continued his journey to Goa, where he arrived at the end of February 1552.
China. After settling certain domestic troubles at Goa and naming the Flemish Gaspar Berze vice provincial, Xavier turned his attention to China. He had heard much of that empire during his stay in Japan, and he knew what an important influence its conversion would have upon the Japanese. With the help of friends he arranged an embassy to the Chinese sovereign, and obtained from the Portuguese viceroy in India the appointment of Diogo Pereira as ambassador. Pereira awaited Xavier at Malacca, but the maritime authority there, because of a personal grudge, refused to permit Pereira to sail either as envoy or as a private trader. Xavier succeeded in persuading the authority to permit him to sail in Pereira's ship and to go on to China even though the embassy project had to be abandoned. In the last week of August 1552, the ship reached the desolate island of Sancian (Shang-chwan), near the Chinese coast and not far from Canton. There, while trying to arrange means of gaining entry into China, he was seized by a fever on November 21. He grew weaker, and at last, in the early morning of December 3 he died. He was buried the following day.
After more than two months the grave and coffin were opened, and his body was found to be incorrupt and fresh. It was taken first to Malacca and then to Goa, where it is still enshrined in the church of the Good Jesus. The Jesuit General Claudio acquaviva ordered the right arm to be severed at the elbow and brought to Rome, where an altar was erected to receive it in the church of the Gesù.
Xavier was beatified by Paul V, Oct. 21, 1619, and canonized by Gregory XV, March 12, 1622. In 1748 he was declared Patron of the Orient; in 1904, of the work of the Propagation of the Faith; in 1927, together with St. Thérèse de Lisieux, of all missions. He is honored also as patron of navigators.
Feast: Dec. 3.
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