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Francis Xavier

A Japanese depiction of Francis Xavier, dated to the 17th century

The Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio, on becoming Pope and taking the name Francis, had to explain that this was after Francis of Assisi (c1181 – 1226) not after the Jesuit Francis Xavier (7 April 1506 – 3 December 1552).

Merciful and gracious God,
you raise up men and women
to proclaim the good news
to those who have not heard it;
we praise you for Francis Xavier
and the work he did in the east;
give us wisdom and love
to commend the faith to others;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer…
[For All the Saints]

Francis Xavier was one of the great missionaries of the Church. Born in Spain in 1506, he studied locally before taking up university studies in Paris in 1526, receiving a master’s degree in 1530. While in Paris he met Ignatius Loyola and, with a small group of companions, they bound themselves together for the service of God on August 15, 1534, the beginning of what would later become the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. After further theological study, Francis and Ignatius were ordained together in 1537.

As the nuncio to the east for the King of Portugal, John III, Francis went to India, arriving at Goa on the western coast in 1542. He later moved south and traveled as well to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and the Molucca Islands, now Indonesia. For seven years, he labored among the people there, winning many converts to the faith, baptizing, teaching, and trying to ease the suffering of the people. His efforts were not always well received. New Christians were often abused and enslaved and sometimes killed.

In 1549, Francis moved on to the southern region of Japan and immediately set about learning the language and preparing a catechism to support his missionary efforts. In time, he moved north to the imperial capital, Kyoto, and made an effort to see the Mikado, the Japanese emperor. Civil strife and localized resistance made Francis’ Japanese efforts difficult, but he came away from the experience with a deep sense of respect for the people and their culture.

After returning to India in 1551, Francis was appointed the Jesuit Provincial for India, but he was not satisfied only to maintain the work already begun. He immediately set out for China, at the time closed to foreigners, in hopes of launching new missionary efforts there. He set up camp near the mouth of the Canton River in August 1552, hoping to secure passage into the country. Later that year he took ill and died, at age forty-six, on December 3, 1552. His remains were later transferred back to Goa, India.

Great Cloud of Witnesses

Francis Xavier was one of the original seven who formed the Society of Jesus with Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Francis became one of the great missionaries to the east, especially Japan. He was born in 1506 into an aristocratic family in Xavier, Navarre, Spain, and was educated in Paris. There he met Ignatius Loyola and became one of the original Jesuits. They took vows to follow Christ in poverty and chastity and to evangelise the heathen. It is as an evangelist that Francis is remembered. He was a brave, passionate and completely single-minded man, whose duty and delight it was to preach the gospel in season and out of season. …

For All the Saints


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