Saint of the Day – 3 December – St Francis Xavier SJ (1506-1552 – aged 46) – Priest, Missionary, co-Founder with St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) and St Peter Faber (1506-1546) of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) – he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta on 7 April 1506 at Javier, Spanish Navarre, Basque region and died on 3 December 1552 at Sancian, China of a fever contracted on a mission journey. Patronages: African missions, black missions, foreign missions (proclaimed on 25 March 1904 by St Pope Pius X), missionaries, sailors, navigators, parish missions, plague epidemics, World Youth Day 2011, Australia, Borneo, Brunei, China, East Indies, India, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Apostleship of Prayer, Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Fathers of the Precious Blood, Missioners of the Precious Blood, University of Saint Francis Xavier, 6 cities, 16 dioceses. His body is incorrupt.
St Francis was a companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris, in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese Empire of the time and was influential in evangelisation work, most notably in India. He also was the first Christian missionary to venture into Japan, Borneo, the Maluku Islands and other areas. In those areas, struggling to learn the local languages and in the face of opposition, he had less success than he had enjoyed in India. Xavier was about to extend his missionary preaching to China when he died on Shangchuan Island.
He was Beatified by Pope Paul V on 25 October 1619 and Canonised by Pope Gregory XV on 12 March 1622. In 1624 he was made co-patron of Navarre. Known as the “Apostle of the Indies” and “Apostle of Japan”, he is considered to be one of the greatest missionaries since Saint Paul. In 1927, Pope Pius XI published the decree “Apostolicorum in Missionibus” naming Saint Francis Xavier, along with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, co-patron of all foreign missions. He is now co-patron saint of Navarre with San Fermin. The Day of Navarre (Día de Navarra) in Spain marks the anniversary of Saint Francis Xavier’s death, on 3 December 1552.
A young Spanish gentleman, in the dangerous days of the Reformation, was making a name for himself as a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. He was aspiring, apparently, to a high dignity, until Saint Ignatius of Loyola decided to undertake the spiritual conquest of this ardent soul. What does it profit a man to gain the entire world, if he suffers the loss of his soul? Ignatius often repeated to the brilliant teacher. The words of Christ, joined to the example of Ignatius and his disciples, prevailed. It was not long before his gifted friend decided to labour for the glory of God, by adopting the evangelical life of an apostle, to which he was indeed called. He was among the first members of the Society of Jesus, those who with Ignatius made their religious vows in the church of Montmartre in Paris, on the feast of the Assumption in 1534.
On his way to Rome with the others, handicapped by severe penances he had imposed on himself, he remained in Venice and exercised a brief apostolate by caring for the sick in the city hospital. The others waited for him to regain his ability to walk. These first fervent Jesuits were intending to embark for the Holy Land but were prevented by a war. In Rome, Francis again went to a hospital to serve the sick and visited the prisons to encourage and console the poor inmates, while preparing for ordination with the others, according to the desire of the Pope.
Saint Ignatius having remained in Venice, the other five returned there afterwards. Francis was sent by Saint Ignatius to the Orient in 1534, where for twelve years he laboured unceasingly to win souls, sleeping only three hours a night, eating very little, and bearing the Gospel to Hindustan, to Malacca and as far as Japan. At all times thwarted by jealousy, covetousness and the carelessness of those who should have helped and encouraged him, he did not slacken in his apostolic endeavours despite opposition and the difficulties of every sort which he encountered.
Miracles accompanied him everywhere, he resurrected several who had died. His inexhaustible kindness was not the least of his assets in winning thousands of pagans to the Faith. He baptised so many that his arm became virtually disabled, ten thousand in a single month in the kingdom of Trevancor, where in the same space of time he saw to the building of forty-five churches. At Meliapour, site of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas, he found the marble on which the Apostle was sacrificed and which exuded blood the first time Mass was said upon it. Passing through various islands, cities and provinces of India, he strengthened his first conquests by additional preaching. He planted crosses in the public squares and overcame all obstacles.
Saint Francis is called Apostle of Japan as well as of India. There the pagan priests opposed and calumniated him and tried without success to outwit him in debates. Humiliated, they used subtle means to instil dislike for him in the minds of the court authorities. But he won the love as well as the respect of those he evangelised, blessing them with such miracles as filling the hitherto sterile sea of Cangoxima with inexhaustible reserves of fish. The vast kingdom of China appealed to his charity and he was resolved to risk his life to force an entry, when God took him to Himself. It was on 2 December 1552, that the Apostle of the Indies died on Sancian, an island facing the city of Canton in China, like Moses, in sight of the land of promise.
St Francis was first buried on a beach at Shangchuan Island, Taishan, Guangdong. His incorrupt body was taken from the island in February 1553 and was temporarily buried in St Paul’s church in Portuguese Malacca on 22 March 1553. An open grave in the church now marks the place of Xavier’s burial. Pereira came back from Goa, removed the corpse shortly after 15 April 1553 and moved it to his house. On 11 December 1553, Xavier’s body was shipped to Goa. The body is now in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, where it was placed in a glass container encased in a silver casket on 2 December 1637. This casket, constructed by Goan silversmiths between 1636 and 1637, was an exemplary blend of Italian and Indian aesthetic sensibilities. There are 32 silver plates on all the four sides of the casket depicting different episodes from the life of the Saint. The right forearm, which Xavier used to bless and baptise his converts, was detached by Superior General Claudio Acquaviva in 1614. It has been displayed since in a silver reliquary at the main Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesù.
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