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Francis Xavier

(1506—1552) Spanish Catholic missionary

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Jesuit missionary. Born at the castle of Xavier ( Javier) in Navarre, Francis, a Basque Spaniard, was educated at the University of Paris, where he met and eventually joined Ignatius of Loyola, becoming one of the group of seven who took their vows at Montmartre in 1534, and were ordained priests in Venice three years later. From the very beginning preaching in the foreign missions was an integral part of the Jesuit ideal and vocation: Francis joined Simon Rodriguez at Lisbon and in 1541 sailed to Goa at the invitation of John III, king of Portugal, to evangelize the East Indies, fortified by a papal brief nominating him apostolic nuncio in the East. The journey took thirteen months.

Francis made this town his headquarters; his astonishing missionary achievements filled the remaining ten years of his life. He began by reforming Goa, which contained numerous relaxed Portuguese Catholics, notorious for cruelty to their slaves, open concubinage, and neglect of the poor. By example, preaching, and writing verses on Christian truths set to popular tunes, Francis did much to offset the apparent betrayal of Christ and the Church by bad Christians. For the next seven years he worked among the Paravas in southern India, in Ceylon, Malacca, the Molucca islands, and the Malay peninsula. He went among the poor as a poor man himself: sleeping on the ground in a hut and eating mainly rice and water. By and large he met with immense success among the low-caste but with almost none among the Brahmins. Wherever he went, he left after him numerous organized Christian communities: a good example of the permanence of his achievements is the persistent fidelity to Christianity of the Paravas, whom he also probably saved from extermination. From time to time he returned to his headquarters at Goa, but for long he had intended to go further east in spite of his propensity to seasickness and his difficulty in learning foreign languages.

In 1549 he went to Japan, translated an abridged statement of Christian belief, and made a hundred converts in a year at Kagoshima. He left them with his helpers and pressed on to Hirado, where he met with acclaim, to Yamaguchi, where a month's labour was fruitless, and lastly to the capital Miyako. Here he found he could not see the Mikado without offering a present which far exceeded his resources; the town was in a state of political turmoil, so he returned to Yamaguchi where he changed his tactics. He abandoned the external appearance of poverty, dressed in fine robes and gave presents of a clock and a musical box to the ruler as a representative of the king of Portugal. The result was that he obtained protection and the use of an empty Buddhist monastery. When he left, the total number of Japanese Christians was about 2,000: within 60 years they resisted fierce persecution, even to death (see Miki and companions). In 1552 he was again at Goa, but left after a few months for China. On his way he fell ill and died almost alone on the island of Chang-Chuen-Shan. He had suffered extreme hardship, had worn himself out with ceaseless activity, yet enjoyed a high degree of union with God in prayer.


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