Born on April 7, 1506, in the Castle of Xavier near Sanguesa, Navarre, Saint Francis Xavier embarked on an extraordinary journey that would make him one of the most influential missionaries in history. His early education in Navarre prepared him for more advanced studies in Paris at the Collège de Sainte-Barbe, where he arrived in 1525. It was here that he developed a deep friendship with Pierre Favre, a fellow student.
The pivotal moment in Xavier’s life came at this college when he met St. Ignatius Loyola, the future founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Loyola’s vision and spirituality deeply influenced Xavier, leading him and Favre to join Loyola in establishing the Society. Along with four others – Lainez, Salmerón, Rodríguez, and Bobadilla – they took the historic vow at Montmartre on August 15, 1534.
After a period of teaching in Paris, Xavier, with his companions, departed for Venice in November 1536, dedicating himself to serving the sick. His ordination came on June 24, 1537, alongside St. Ignatius. A year later, Xavier was in Rome, contributing to the foundational work of the Jesuit order. In 1540, at King John III of Portugal’s request, he embarked on a mission to the East Indies, leaving Rome and reaching Lisbon by June.
April 7, 1541, marked the beginning of Xavier’s monumental voyage to India, where he landed at Goa on May 6, 1542. His initial months were spent preaching and caring for the sick. He had a unique approach to teaching children, gathering them with a bell and instructing them in the faith.
Xavier’s mission expanded rapidly, taking him to the pearl fisheries of Southern India and even Ceylon. Despite facing numerous challenges, including persecution and the unhelpful conduct of Portuguese soldiers, his efforts led to many conversions.
In 1545, Xavier’s journey took him to Malacca and then to the Molucca Islands, reaching out to the communities in Amboyna, Ternate, Baranura, and possibly Mindanao. His return to Malacca in 1547 introduced him to a Japanese individual, Anger (Han-Sir), sparking his interest in Japan.
After organizing the growing Jesuit missions in India and founding a novitiate and house of studies in Goa, Xavier, along with others, set off for Japan in June 1549. Landing in Kagoshima on August 15, 1549, he spent a year learning Japanese and preparing for his preaching mission. Despite opposition from local religious leaders, he made significant inroads in southern Japan and even reached the influential city of Meaco (Kyoto).
Leaving Japan after two and a half years, he appointed Father Cosme de Torres and Brother Juan Fernández to continue the mission. His return to Goa in 1552 was brief, as he soon focused on reaching China. Despite facing opposition in Malacca and encountering health challenges, Xavier reached the island of Sancian near China’s coast, where he passed away on December 2, 1552.
Saint Francis Xavier’s ten-year mission from 1542 to 1552 stands unparalleled in history for its breadth and impact. His zeal, miracles, and conversions earned him the title of the greatest missionary since the Apostles. Canonized with St. Ignatius in 1622, his remains are enshrined in Goa, with his right arm, a relic, housed in Rome’s Church of the Gesu.
Editorial credit: Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com