SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, S.J.
Jesuit and Missionary.
By Hugh Kelly, S.J.
CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY of Ireland No. Bh674a (1964).
ST FRANCIS XAVIER, S.J.
For centuries, in the late middle ages, the spread of Christianity in Asia had been held up by the wide-spread conquests of the Moslem power. The followers of Mahomet were the fanatical enemies of Christianity, in the long wars of the Crusades; and for centuries, they lay across all the land routes to the east. But in the last decade of the fifteenth century two events occurred which allowed the current of Christian missions to flow again. In 1492, Columbus discovered America and in 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and thus opened up the sea approaches to the east. These two discoveries threw open to Christian zeal vast fields, white to the harvest, and resulted in a wonderful outburst of missionary activity. The ships which Spain and Portugal sent out to the west and to the east, in addition to their complements of sailors, soldiers, merchants, and adventurers, carried zealous and intrepid missionaries.
Francis Xavier is the acknowledged leader of that army. He was the spearhead in the most widespread and sustained missionary effort in the history of Christianity. By his heroic example and his burning letters, he drew the attention of Catholic Europe to the vast multitudes so suddenly revealed as waiting for the good news of the gospel. His courage, zeal and enterprise, have made him the symbol and inspiration of all foreign missionaries. The Holy See created him the patron of foreign missions. His heroic achievement, and his devotion to a high ideal, have been generously recognised even by historians who do not share his faith. His career has been called one of the most heroic efforts of human history.
Francis Xavier belonged to that old, strange, race, the Basques, who even at the beginning of recorded history were already settled on the north and south slopes of the Pyrenees. They were a sturdy, independent, mountain people, with their own very distinctive culture and language and an unshakable attachment to the Catholic Faith. The family of the Xaviers was noble on both sides, and was noted for its traditional loyalty to the Kingdom of Navarre. When that kingdom was being absorbed by the growing power of the united powers of Aragon and Castile, the Xaviers fought gallantly in a losing cause, and, as a result suffered grievously in fortune.
Francis, the youngest of six children, was born on April 7th 1506 at castle Xavier. By his devout mother he was brought up in the purest practices of the Catholic religion. The centre of the life of the family was the castle chapel, where the chaplain and his assistant priests celebrated Mass daily, and a solemn Mass on Sundays and recited the divine office, and where Dona Maria gathered the children about her every evening to say the Rosary before a venerated crucifix, and to sing the ‘Salve Regina’ (‘Hail Holy Queen’). How much the after career of Francis owed to the devotion of his mother! At the age of 18, Francis, a tall dark, active young man set off for the University of Paris. This step was a break with the military traditions of his family. But Francis was sufficiently responsive to the spirit of the age to see that the university and the Church afforded a more brilliant prospect to talent than the army.
The change from the grim castle in Navarre with its wide outlook on the Pyrenees, its simple way of life, its strong Catholic spirit, to the university quarter of Paris was a violent one. The University of Paris was at that time the most celebrated seat of learning in Europe. It consisted of a mass of buildings, academic and ecclesiastic, set in the midst of grimy dwelling houses, separated by narrow noisesome lanes, all huddled on the south bank of the Seine. Here some 6,000 students from all the nations of Europe, speaking a babble of languages, lived, fought or wrangled. All the momentous questions, especially those concerned with religion, were fiercely debated in the inns and classrooms. It was the age of Luther and Calvin and Henry VIII. The dangers to faith and morals were very great, but Francis was preserved from them, partly by his devout Catholic upbringing and also by the prayers of his sister Magdalen, who had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella of Castile and then entered the convent of the Poor Clares at Gandia. She had seen before anyone else the latent promise of her youngest brother.
Francis was very intelligent and made rapid advance in his studies. He was a youth of inexhaustible energy, who soon became known for proficiency in athletics. In character, he was attractive and popular. With his personal gifts, supported by his family influence, he was clearly marked out for a distinguished career. But God had other designs on him and brought him in contact with two men who diverted the course of his life. The first of these was Peter Faber, his room-mate, a young man from Savoy who had been a shepherd lad, but had shown such a love for books that he had succeeded, in some way, in getting to Paris to study for the priesthood. He was a most candid soul, with a sweet and loving disposition, who was already blessed with an easy, simple familiarity with God. Francis was much influenced by the sheer goodness and spirituality of his friend; but Faber’s chief service to Francis was to introduce him to Ignatius Loyola.
The conjunction of these two luminaries was a notable event in Church history. Ignatius was also a Basque and his ancestral castle was not far from that of the Xaviers. He was fifteen years older than Francis, and had had a strange career. He was a soldier in the service of the monarchs of Castile and Aragon and in the defence of Pamplons against a French and Navarrese army, had been wounded. In the course of a long and painful convalescence, he was completely converted from his worldly and ambitious aims. For a dozen years, he had led a life of the greatest austerity, going about dressed as a pilgrim, begging his bread. He was far advanced in the ways of God, and was gifted with a big measure of contemplative prayer. He was fired with the desire to help souls, but it was only very slowly that he came to know definitely what were God’s designs on him. He had come to Paris to study for the priesthood, after a perilous pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Ignatius discerned at once the latent capability of Francis. He felt that with his intelligence, his energy, his attractive, generous temperament, he could become an outstanding instrument for the salvation of souls. Old soldier that he was, Ignatius set about methodically the siege of Francis, to win him to his own ideas. It was a hard struggle. Ignatius confessed afterwards that Francis was the toughest material he had ever worked on. Francis clung obstinately to his worldly and ambitious dreams, the vision of a brilliant career in the Church, which seemed within his grasp. But he at length capitulated to grace and his surrender was complete.
Ignatius put him through his famous Spiritual Exercises. Francis Xavier is probably the greatest achievement of the Exercises which, as Saint Francis de Sales said, within a century after their composition, had converted more souls than they had letters. Ignatius had constituted the Exercises as the entry, the novice-ship, to the company that he meant to form; their purpose was to communicate to others the great love of Christ and souls that was the master passion of his own life. Francis began the Exercises as a worldly man; he finished them a saint, a man entirely dedicated to the service of Christ. After Ignatius himself, he may well be said to have grasped more firmly than anyone else the central idea they aimed at conveying. He saw with unwavering conviction that love for Christ meant love for His cause, and that such a love demanded complete sacrifice of self in all its forms, and the willing, even joyous, acceptance of all that a generous apostolic life would entail. His outlook was completely changed. The crowning grace prayed for in the closing contemplation of the Exercises “to love and serve the Divine Majesty in all things” was given to him in ‘full measure’.
He was ordained a priest at Venice on June 24th 1537. A brief period of ministry followed, which was a kind of test for his future work, of which he, as yet, knew nothing and which showed Ignatius that he was not mistaken in his estimate of Francis. In a general way, Francis was drawn to the foreign missions, but only according to the first idea of Ignatius, which was to work in the Holy Land for the conversion of the Moslems. But God gave him some premonitions. On one occasion the companion who shared his room heard him cry out in his sleep “O Jesus how crushed and fatigued I feel.” Next morning he explained that he had dreamt that he was carrying an Indian on his back and that the weight grew so much that it seemed to crush him to the earth.
The actual appointment to his mission came almost by accident. The king of Portugal wanted some Jesuits to go to the Indies in the next merchant fleet that was soon to leave Lisbon. Ignatius appointed two Fathers, but one of them had fallen ill. Francis happened to be in Rome at the moment. Ignatius, who was himself ill, called him, explained the situation and said: “Master Francis here is your enterprise.” Francis replied, “Good; I am ready.” It was a short and simple interview, which led to great things. The two friends parted never to meet again in this life. But distance and time only served to increase the love which knit them together. In distant Malacca and Japan Francis would read, on his knees, the letters from Ignatius, which had taken a year and a half to reach him. The words in which Ignatius ended his letter, “I shall never forget you; entirely your own — Ignatius,” would move Francis to tears. He carried on all his voyages the signature of Ignatius and a copy of his vow in a reliquary, which he hung round his neck.
A SAINT ABOARD.
On April 7th 1541, on his thirty-fifth birthday, Francis boarded the flagship of the merchant flotilla at Lisbon. The voyage to India by the Cape of Good Hope was a perilous one and took the best part of a year. The dangers were so many that voyagers were advised to bring a winding sheet with them. The ships were often becalmed on the west coast of Africa, and lay for weeks motionless, under a fierce sun. The water ran short and grew foul. Fever made its appearance and ran through the congested ships and many died. It was so on the occasion of Francis’ voyage. The danger and distress was a call to his devotion. He gave up his cabin to serve as an infirmary. He distributed the food he got at the Governor’s table to those who needed it; he watched at the bedside of those who tossed in fever or delirium. He nursed them; he consoled them, heard their confessions, and prepared them for death, and buried them. He was on friendly terms with the roughest element on board, with the sailors, soldiers, and the adventurers who were going to the Indies to make their fortune by fair means or foul. No one could resist the goodness and genuine holiness of Francis. In a short time, it was known throughout the fleet that they had a saint aboard. Thirteen months after leaving Lisbon the fleet reached Goa and Francis entered on his life’s work. Great was his welcome from the few Franciscans and others already laboring in these vast ripe fields.
CONQUEST OF A CONTINENT.
It will help us to get a fair idea of Francis’
career if we set him before a map of East Asia; he is there in his true
setting. We get at once an idea of the vast distances he travelled, and of the
enormously diverse peoples he had to deal with. His first field of labour was
the long west coast of India. Making Goa his headquarters, he at once devoted
his attention to the Portuguese, who needed his ministrations badly. Then he
turned to the natives with extraordinary success. He ranged up and down the
immense coast line from Goa to Cape Comorin, and rounding the Cape he went as
far north as San Thome (also called Mylapore and now a suburb of Madras or
Chennai). Perhaps his most enduring work was done in that field; in no place is
his memory more faithfully cherished than by the Goanese, among whom his body
lies to this day. That vast field would have absorbed the energy and time of
any other missionary. For Francis it was but the first step. A successful
period in Ceylon was but an interlude. (Certainly, his catechists taught in
Ceylon or Sri Lanka, but there is doubt if he himself was closer than the islands
that form a land bridge to that vast island.)
Reports came to him from distant Portuguese stations farther east and at the end of August 1545, he struck across the Bay of Bengal to Malacca, two thousand miles away on the Malay Peninsula. Malacca was the centre of the Portuguese power in the Far East. It was one of the places which the great but ruthless Albuquerque had wrested from the Moslem power, in the renewal in Asia of the struggle that had been waged between the Cross and the Crescent for eight centuries on the Iberian Peninsula. The Moslem power was widely spread in all the east. The Portuguese were biting into it with a series of strongholds and settlements. The two powers were bitter rivals in trade as in religion.
The passage through the Strait of Malacca brought Francis into a new world, a vast ocean studded with islands and archipelagos, with a bewildering variety of peoples, religions, languages. On one extreme was the great empire of China, with a civilization elegant but ineffectual and as old as time. At the other extreme, were the head hunters of Borneo and Moro, (the Moluccas or Spice Islands in present day eastern Indonesia, including Ambon, Halmahera, Ternate, Morotai, and Rau), where cannibals lurked in impenetrable thickets and jungles. Between these extremes was a wide gradation of cultures. The variety of religions was still greater. Buddhism, Moslemism, Hinduism, Shintoism, were widely spread. Around them and below there was a tropical growth of primitive, degraded, native cults. Almost single handed Francis entered on his great field; but his reputation had crossed the Bay of Bengal before him and he was met by a great multitude as he disembarked at Malacca.
Through this immense, bewildering, world Francis
moved rapidly and decisively. His entry was momentous. It was at once felt that
a new powerful spiritual force was released. He was an indefatigable traveller.
The sea was his highway. He was at home on all sorts of craft, Portuguese
merchantmen and caravels, fishing vessels, pirate ships (for thus it was that
many fishing villages supplemented their incomes), Chinese junks. He was often
alone for weeks with pagans on these voyages. He was drawn ever forward by the
discovery of new fields that promised a harvest. Portuguese merchants had
penetrated into these remote regions “for cloves and souls” as they said. But
in the quest for spices, pepper, cloves and nutmegs the souls got second place.
Francis went after the souls. Neither distance nor danger could hold him up.
The tall, lithe, figure with the thick black hair, rapidly silvering, the
decided energetic movements, the dark eyes with their friendly glance, became
known in every port from Goa to Japan. His very inexhaustible activity has been
made a reproof and he has been called a “saint in a hurry,” a man urged by an
inward restlessness, that gave him no time to consolidate his gains, but drove
him on to ever new and distant objectives. That criticism is refuted on almost
every page of his voluminous correspondence, which testifies to his constant
solicitude for the missions he had left behind temporarily. From far away
Japan, shivering in flimsy rooms, during an arctic winter, we find him writing
detailed instructions and warnings to the priests he had appointed to his settlements.
His letters to Europe show the same solicitude, especially those written to Saint Ignatius and the king of Portugal. His European letters had a much wider circle of readers and hearers than he dreamed of. They were copied out and sent in all directions and read in religious houses and universities. They were a revelation of a mighty work, which was just opened up and was calling urgently for helpers. They were a trumpet call from the new vast mission fields. Francis soon became a heroic, a symbolic figure.
But it should also be remembered, in estimating the career of Francis, that he was essentially a pioneer of the pagan missions; that his work was primarily to reconnoitre, to prospect. His true mission was to open up the vast pagan world to the new spirit of zeal, which was one of the chief signs of the spirit of the counter-reformation, expressed by the council of Trent. There had been Catholic missionaries in the east before Francis embarked at Lisbon. Secular priests, Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and other religious had gone east in Portuguese vessels and were working courageously in scattered mission settlements. But their work for the most part had been done for the Portuguese garrisons and settlements or in a small circle around these. But Francis was the standard bearer of a new movement. He blazed a trail. He had opened up a new era in Catholic pagan missions — the greatest in the history of the Church.
SPARED NO PAIN.
The uncritical admiration of early biographers has
done Francis a disservice by representing him as being spared the drudgery of
missionary work by miraculous favours. For example, they say that he had
usually the gift of tongues through which he could be understood by a polyglot
multitude. In that way, they rob him of the merit of his patient efforts to
overcome the language difficulty by painful effort. As a matter of fact, he
took the greatest pains to make the rudiments of the faith known to his
hearers. He had the Creed, its explanations, and the chief prayers translated
into their languages. He toiled at the task of reading his lesson so as to be
intelligible. His reading often excited laughter or ridicule. The words in
which he was instructed to express the Christian notions were often vague and
misleading. But his great sincerity, his manifest holiness, soon bore down all
The results of his preaching were extraordinary. If some of the powers granted to the first preachers of Christianity were too credulously attributed to Francis, certainly the outpouring of grace and the mass conversions that followed his preaching, recall the scenes described in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Whole villages trooped up to be baptised; and he relates that, on occasion, his hands fell to his side with the work of baptising, and his voice failed with the frequent repetition of the words. Divine favours were frequent during almost every stage of his missionary life; they were multiplied after his death and burial at Goa! One of his Jesuit brethren a short time after his death, reports, “there are here a number of people who have met him. They have seen him perform things clearly supernatural among the pagans: such things as one reads in the lives of the saints of former times. People in whom full confidence can be placed have come to me and asked why we have not inquired into these things with a view to canonization.”
THE RADIANCE OF CHRIST.
It was a sign of his lovableness that he attracted children, and saw in them little apostles, through whom he could have quick access to the parents. He would go through a village ringing a bell; the little ones would troop after this new Pied Piper to the church. For them he put the Creed into the form of hymns, which the children learned to sing and then taught to the parents. And it came about that these hymns could be heard from the men working in the fields or at their nets on the shore.
Like his Master, Francis associated the care of the sick with his preaching. He was drawn irresistibly to the hospitals. Lepers and those suffering from loathsome diseases were sought out. He spent hours at their bedside. He usually stayed at the hospital sleeping on a mat in the wards. There is an abundance of quite trustworthy evidence of his healing powers, of striking sudden cures, brought about by his touch, his prayers, the application of his staff.
But his chief care was always the sinners. Whether they were Portuguese or natives, they were the first to get his loving attention. At every stage of his life as a priest, in Venice, Rome, Lisbon, aboard ship, wherever he preached, he devoted a great amount of time to the work of the confessional. Certainly for the Europeans it was a most necessary and fruitful ministry. The conditions in which they lived were a continuous incitement to a sensual and depraved life. Francis soon came to discover that one of the chief obstacles to the conversion of the natives was the example of the Europeans.
ENERGY AND COURAGE.
Throughout the vast region in which he worked Francis was soon known as the holy Father. His great sanctity was quickly recognised. He was clearly a man who was possessed by his message; who cared only for one thing, and cared for that supremely, that Christ should be known and served. His natural qualities too excited admiration. He was seen to be a man of indomitable courage. Typhoons, savage peoples, native rulers, whose vices he lashed, the closeness of death in many forms, the prospect of imprisonment or torture worse than death, all these fears he despised. When preparing one of his brethren for the Japanese mission he said, “There is nothing you must so fight against as the fear of death. By despising death we manifest our superiority over these proud peoples.” There was another form of courage, rarer than physical courage, the moral courage, which will arm a man to denounce the conduct of those in authority. In his letters to the king of Portugal, on the misdemeanour of his servants, he speaks with a freedom and straightness, which that monarch did not hear from anyone else. Two other qualities, in high measure, went to make up the rich character of Francis. One was an inexhaustible spring of energy and enterprise, which packed his days and even nights with an incredible amount of work. The other not often found along with this, was a marvellous sweetness of disposition, which made him to be loved more even than he was respected.
LOVE AND SERVICE.
If we are to understand the secret of his success, we must not leave out the austerity of his life, which added immensely to the force of his spoken word. He lived on the scanty diet of the very poorest, a little fish and rice, never wine or meat. He usually went barefoot on the burning sands. His sleep was a few hours snatched from his work and prayers. A life of such toil and such austerity may well be considered as the greatest of his miracles. There could be only one explanation of a life that seemed to transcend the limits of human powers. That explanation must be sought in his interior spiritual life.
He was inspired and sustained by the absorbing love of our Lord Jesus Christ, which had been enkindled by the Spiritual Exercises. The rule of charity was uncontested in every sphere of his life. His union with God was continuous and close. His activity did not rob him of the sense of God’s presence. The love and service of God were not two things for him; they led to and supported each other. His whole crowded life was one prayer. His devotion to the Mass was visible to all. He was sometimes seen raised from the ground while he celebrated and often the server had to twitch his vestment to arouse him from the contemplation of the Host. He was often seen in ecstasy. When possible he would spend a great part of the night before the Blessed Sacrament. He was raised to a high degree of contemplative prayer, to the stage described by Saint Teresa, in which the soul seems to be divided, so that one part is busy in the work for souls while the other abides in constant union with God. Like his master, Ignatius, Francis was a contemplative in action.
We can well understand how his close constant contact with paganism was an unspeakable distress to such a lover of God. The obscene images, lurking in the dim temples, the foul rites, the gross superstitions, the deceits and vices of the Bonzes, the sacrifices offered to demons or animals, all this filled him with horror. He felt as if he was in a world in which evil spirits and degraded powers were in full control, and where the true living God, with His Son Jesus Christ, had no place.
FRANCIS AT HIS BEST.
In the life of Saint Paul, the first and greatest
foreign missioner, a momentous decision had to be made when he decided to pass
over into Europe. Writing to the Corinthians he said, “a great and evident door
is opened to me, and many adversaries.” The decision to go to Japan was
similarly a momentous one for Francis; it was a door opening into a new world.
The expedition to Japan is the greatest episode in a life full of great things.
It is one of the supreme achievements in all missionary history. It shows
Francis at his highest and best; it called out all that was finest in him. The
origin of it seemed something accidental. As he left the cathedral at Malacca,
where he was celebrating a marriage, he met a friend, George Alvarez, who had
returned from a trading voyage to Japan bringing with him a fugitive Japanese.
This man’s name was Anjiro (sometimes spelt Angero); he had committed a murder
and had fled his country to find peace of conscience.
The meeting struck a cord in the soul of Francis; it was an answer to an unspoken prayer. He inquired eagerly about this strange, remote, people, who lived at the end of the world. Anjiro told him that they were religious and had many monasteries crowded with monks; that they were intelligent and had great universities; that they had a high esteem for nobility of blood and also for personal bravery. To his question were they likely to become Christians, he answered that they would first ask many questions, and must have their doubts resolved, and that then they would embrace Christianity. From his first meeting with this runaway murderer, Francis fell in love with the Japanese people. Even when he discovered, by painful experience, that Anjiro’s account was woefully inaccurate, he still cherished them before any other people. “They are the best people thus far discovered,” he wrote, “and it appears to me, among infidels none will ever be found to excel the Japanese.”
As Francis had been appointed by Ignatius, provincial superior of all the east missions, he had to settle the affairs of his great province before he could think of leaving for Japan. He had made up his mind that he should undertake this hazardous expedition. His friends pointed out that half of the ships, which set out for that country, were lost because of storms or pirates. These dangers did not dismay Francis; but he was acutely conscious of the activity of the evil spirit. “The enemy is very active to prevent the voyage”, he said. “I do not know what he fears from our enterprise.” This interior opposition was a frequent experience of Francis; but he had never before felt it so strongly. “Combats within, fears without” had accompanied the decision of Saint Paul to enter Europe (2 Corinth chapter 7, especially verse 5); similar experiences inaugurated the great enterprise of Francis.
THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.
He arranged with the captain of a Chinese junk to convey him to Japan. He had been generously helped by the Portuguese merchants with money and gifts. On the 24th of June, the feast of Saint John the Baptist, 1549, with two companions he set sail from Malacca. Every league carried him into the unknown. The captain soon grew afraid and wished to abandon the journey, but the vigorous remonstrances of Francis kept him to his engagement, until they met with a storm, which carried the vessel irresistibly to their destination. On August 15th 1549, Francis stepped ashore at the port of Kagoshima, on the most southern island of Japan. There was a very special significance in the event. Fifteen centuries before, Our Lord at the moment of His Ascension, had given the Apostles the commission “You shall be witnesses to Me . . . . at the uttermost parts of the earth.” The wave of missionary effort had spread ever wider during the centuries and now, in the person of Francis, it had literally reached to the ends of the earth. (The gospel had lead him there.)
REJECTED AND DESPISED.
Francis spent a little over two years in Japan from August 1549 to November 1551. It was the most difficult, the most heroic, chapter in his career. The astounding success, which had marked his earlier efforts, the esteem and reverence which had surrounded him, these were not found in Japan. Everything was quite different from what he had known or even expected. The flimsy houses, which were so poor a protection to the awful cold, the toy-like furniture, the strange food, the whole social and religious structure of society, the impossible language, the painful journeys, the difficulty of making contact, these would have daunted anyone but Francis. The accounts given by Anjiro were found to be completely wide of the truth. The plan of Francis to seek out the king to get permission to preach, was seen at once to be impossible. The country was in a state of political anarchy. The hereditary king had lost all power and the government in the provinces was in the hands of local rulers. The universities, which he had dreamt of entering, with a view to influence the intellectual classes, were closed to him. The Bonzes he met, were, for the most part, vice-ridden, cynical men, who traded on the superstition of the people.
A great part of Francis’ time was taken up with journeys from one local ruler, Daimyo, to another. These journeys involved extreme suffering. He was soon in the midst of the arctic Japanese winter, and had only just come from the tropics. He had made no preparation to meet the new situation. When he and his companions travelled on foot, they had to wade through icy streams and walk along rough roads frozen as hard as iron. They were stoned at nightfall out of the villages by the children and had to try to sleep in the woods. Francis travelled barefoot. Food was always hard to get. At times he travelled by sea, crouched on the open deck of a small craft, without any protection from the icy wind and frozen spray. With the assistance of Anjiro, who had become a Christian and at Baptism had taken the name of Paul of the Holy Faith, he had the Creed translated into Japanese and for hours and weeks, he toiled at the task of learning how to read the account. The Japanese had never seen a European before and the appearance of these strangers excited derisive laughter, which the attempts to read the gospel only increased. On one occasion as Francis’ companion attempted to read his script, a man came up and spat in his face.
But the sincerity and courage of Francis began to make itself felt, and in different places small groups of converts began to form. It was a slow and scanty harvest. It was the fruit of suffering such as no other mission had involved. But God was very good to him and inundated his soul with spiritual delights. As he trudged along the icy roads, his feet were torn and lacerated and bled freely, leaving a red stain on the snow. An eyewitness gave a picture of Francis travelling in the retinue of a wealthy Japanese, running along with the other servants, tossing an apple into the air, filled with heavenly joy and oblivious of his sufferings.
But letters from India and Malacca made it clear that his return to these places was imperative. He left Bungo in November 1551 and after a terrible storm, during which the ship ran before the wind for five days without sight of sun or stars, he reached Malacca. But while he went about settling the business of his province, his mind was occupied with thoughts of another and greater enterprise. Wherever he went in the Far East, he found a great respect and esteem for China, for its immensity, its civilization, its wealth, its culture. This attitude was very pronounced in Japan. Francis was often asked how could his religion be the true one, if it was not known to the Chinese. On his way back to Malacca he was shown letters smuggled out of Canton from Europeans imprisoned there. They described the barbarous tortures to which they were subject. They indicated that if the king of Portugal sent an embassy to the emperor of China they would be released.
GOING ONWARD ALONE.
This news came to Francis as a confirmation of a resolution he had already formed, the resolution to enter China to preach the gospel. He knew only too well the hazards of the enterprise. China had long been hermetically sealed against foreigners. The few Portuguese who had managed to slip through the closed cordon had been at once arrested and tortured and then confined in underground dungeons pressed down to the earth with heavy beams. Francis was not to be averted from his design by these dangers. He said that he was more afraid of losing his trust in God by giving up the prospect. Portuguese friends again helped him generously and, armed with authority from the Pope and the king of Portugal, he was confident that he would enter the closed empire and announce Christ there. He was convinced that the conversion of China would mean the conversion of all the east. But the enterprise, at the last moment, was wrecked by the ill-will and jealousy of Don Alvarez (Alvaro da Ataide da Gama) the grand captain of the Malacca Fortress and Colony. He was immovable in his opposition and rejected all Francis’ arguments and appeals with contempt.
It was a most severe blow, which would have crushed another man. But Francis’ courage and enterprise were not to be overcome. If he could not enter China in the train of the Portuguese ambassador and as the delegate of the Pope, he would enter alone and secretly. He secured a passage aboard a merchant ship to Sancian, a small island off Canton where Chinese and Portuguese merchants met to do business. He was now separated by only a few miles of sea from China. He arranged with the captain of a small junk to be ferried across and landed secretly at Canton. While he waited, he ministered to the Portuguese merchants; he had them put up a small chapel with branches and straw, where he said Mass. As the weeks passed, the vessels left the harbour one by one and returned to Malacca. The winter was approaching. Francis could be seen pacing the shore, stopping now and then to look out to sea, in the hope of catching sight of the sail he was expecting. When the boat had not appeared by the 20th of November he knew he had failed.
It would seem as if the disappointment suddenly undermined his strength. He fell into a fever and was brought aboard a vessel, but the tossing of the ship was very distressing and he was transferred to a small straw hut that let in the icy winds on all sides. He was attended by two youths, an Indian and a Chinese. His fever grew worse and he was bled. He did not utter a word of complaint. Then he became delirious and preached in different languages. His prayers were incessant, invocations to the Blessed Trinity, to Our Lord and Our Lady. Some of his prayers were in a language his hearers could not understand. It would appear that on his death bed he had gone back to the scenes of his childhood, to the chapel at Xavier castle, where he learned his prayers in Basque from his mother. After midnight on Saturday, the 3rd of December, the blessed candle was placed in his hands and he died with the name of Jesus on his lips. He was forty-six years of age.
The body was hastily buried and a quantity of quicklime put into the coffin. When some months afterwards the vessel was to return him to Malacca, the coffin was opened and the body was found to be fresh and flexible, as if he were asleep. The body on its arrival at Malacca was received with the greatest reverence as that of a saint and apostle. His long journey back to Goa was a triumphant procession. At Goa, he was buried in the cathedral among those who were his first converts, and who have always been loyal to his message and memory.
Saint Francis Xavier was beatified in 1619 and three years later was canonized with his master and friend Saint Ignatius. In 1748, he was constituted the patron of India and all the east, where he is revered as a great servant of God. In 1904, he was appointed the patron of the congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. In 1927, Saint Francis and Saint Therese of Lisieux were constituted by Pius XI as the principal patrons of all the missions and missionaries of the world.
EVER AN INSPIRATION.
The lapse of time, through the changes, and the shifting of emphasis, which it inevitably brings, makes certain saints remote from later ages, though it does not lessen their heroic stature. The causes they served so nobly are no longer living issues. But history will never leave Saint Francis behind. The cause to which he gave such splendid service will always be a living one for the Church. “You shall be witnesses to Me — to the ends of the earth,” was the last commission Christ gave to His Apostles. It was a commission that must always be urgent; that no lapse of time would make out of date. When Saint Paul cried out: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinth 9:16) he voiced the abiding urge not merely of every apostolic soul but of the Church itself. The Church of Christ must ever be dynamic, expansive, must ever strain to the fullest note of being Catholic, of being for all men. Its concern must always be to make Jesus Christ known to an ever widening circle of believers.
To the men and women who will respond to this call of the Church, who will desire to be exiles and travelers for the name of Christ, Saint Francis Xavier will ever be an inspiration and an ideal. That courageous adventurer who penetrated to the remotest places, who was intrepid in the face of all dangers, the tireless worker who gave all to the service of souls, the great hearted friend of sinners, the sick, the outcasts, and the saints, he who lived so close to Christ his Master, and who desired to set the whole world aflame with the love that blazed in his own heart, Saint Francis Xavier, will never cease to beckon to generous souls and lead them to the distant fields, that are always white to the harvest.
Thanks to the Irish Messenger.