Who was Francis Xavier?
Francis Xavier was a Roman Catholic missionary born in the Kingdom of Navarre (now part of Spain) and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was a student of Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits, dedicated at Montmartre in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese Empire of the time. He was influential in the spreading and upkeep of Catholicism most notably in India, but also ventured into Japan, Borneo, the Moluccas, and other areas which had thus far not been visited by Christian missionaries.
In these areas, being a pioneer and struggling to learn the local languages in the face of opposition, he had less success than he had enjoyed in India. It was a goal of Xavier to one day reach China.
Francis Xavier was born in the family castle of Xavier in the Kingdom of Navarre on 7 April 1506 according to a family register. He was born to an aristocratic family of the Kingdom of Navarre, the youngest son of Juan de Jaso, privy counselor to King John III of Navarre (Jean d'Albret), and Doña Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families.
He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta. Notwithstanding different interpretations on his first language, no evidence suggests that Xavier's mother tongue was other than Basque, as stated by himself and confirmed by the sociolinguistic environment of the time.
In 1512 under Ferdinand the Catholic as King of the first political unit referred to as Spain, joint Spanish troops from both the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon commanded by Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, second Duke of Alba, first invaded partially the Kingdom of Navarre. Three years later, Francis' father died when Francis was only nine years old.
In 1516, after a failed Navarrese-French attempt to expel the Spanish invaders from the kingdom, an attempt in which Francis' brothers had taken part, the Spanish Castilian kingdom's Governor, Cardinal Cisneros, ordered family lands to be confiscated, the demolition of the outer wall, the gates and two towers of the family castle, the moat was filled, and the height of the keep was reduced in half. Only the family residence inside the castle was left.
For the following years with his family, till he left for studies in Paris in 1525, Francis' life in the Kingdom of Navarre, then partially occupied by Spain, was surrounded by a war that lasted over 18 years, ending with the Kingdom of Navarre being partitioned into two territories, and the King of Navarre and some loyalists abandoning the south and moving to the northern part of the Kingdom of Navarre (currently France).
In 1525, Francis went to study at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris. There he met Ignatius of Loyola, who became his faithful companion, and Pierre Favre. While at the time he seemed destined for academic success in the line of his noble family, Xavier turned to a life of Catholic missionary service.
Together with Loyola and five others, he founded the Society of Jesus: on 15 August 1534, in a small chapel in Montmartre, they made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also vowed to convert the Muslims in the Middle East (or, failing this, carry out the wishes of the Pope).
Francis went, with the rest of the members of the newly papal-approved Jesuit order, to Venice to be ordained to the priesthood, which took place on 24 June 1537. Towards the end of October, the seven companions reached Bologna, where they worked in the local hospital. After that, he served for a brief period in Rome as Ignatius' secretary.
Francis devoted much of his life to missions in Asia, after being appointed by King John III of Portugal to take charge as Apostolic Nuncio in Portuguese India, where the king believed that Christian values were eroding among the Portuguese. After successive appeals to the Pope asking for missionaries for the East Indies under the Padroado agreement, John III was enthusiastically advised by Diogo de Gouveia, rector of the Collège Sainte-Barbe, to draw the newly graduated youngsters that would establish the Society of Jesus.
Leaving Rome in 1540, Francis took with him a breviary, a catechism and a Latin book (De Instituione bene vivendi) written by the Croatian humanist Marko Marulić that had become popular in the counter-reformation. The breviary and the book by Marulić accompanied Xavier on all of his voyages, and was used as source material for much of his preaching. According to a 1549 letters of F. Balthasar Gago in Goa, it was the only book that Francis read or studied.
Goa and India He left Lisbon on 7 April 1541 along with two other Jesuits and the new Viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. From August until March 1542 he remained in Portuguese Mozambique, having reached Goa, then capital of Portuguese India's on 6 May 1542, and also visiting Vasai. There he was invited to head Saint Paul's College, a pioneer seminary for the education of secular priests that became the first jesuit headquarters in Asia, but soon departed, having spent the following three years in India.
In 1542, he left for his first missionary activity among the Paravars, katesar/kadaiyar Pattamkattiyars (head of fishery coast) and mukkuvars, pearl fishers along the east coast of southern India, North of Cape Comorin (or Sup Santaz). He built nearly 40 churches along the coast with the fund of local headmen and king, out of this St. Stephen's Church, Kombuthurai find mention in his letters dated 1544.
He lived in a sea cave in Manapad, intensively catechizing paravars and other children for three months in 1544. He then focused on converting the king of Travancore to Christianity and also visited Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). Dissatisfied with the results of his activity, he set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (today's Indonesia).
As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficulty procuring success for his missionary trips. Instead of trying to approach Christianity through the traditions of the local religion and creating a nativised church as latter fellow Jesuit Matteo Ricci did in China, he was eager for change. His successors, such as de Nobili, Ricci, and Beschi, attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Francis had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, Francis changed tack by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).
Indonesia After arriving in Portuguese Malacca in October of that year and waiting three months in vain for a ship to Makassar, he gave up the goal of his voyage and left Malacca on 1 January 1546, for Ambon Island where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islands including Ternate and Morotai. Shortly after Easter, 1546, he returned to Ambon Island and later Malacca.
Voyages of St. Francis Xavier Francis Xavier's work initiated permanent change in eastern Indonesia, and he was known as the 'Apostle of the Indies' where in 1546-1547 he worked in the Maluku Islands among the people of Ambon, Ternate, and Morotai (or Moro), and laid the foundations for a permanent mission. After he left the Maluku Islands, others carried on his work and by the 1560s there were 10,000 Catholics in the area, mostly on Ambon. By the 1590s there were 50,000 to 60,000.
Japan In Malacca in December, 1547, Francis Xavier met a Japanese man named Anjirō. Anjirō had heard of Francis in 1545 and had traveled from Kagoshima to Malacca with the purpose of meeting with him. Having been charged with murder, Anjirō had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his beloved homeland.
Anjiro helped Xavier as a mediator and translator for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. "I asked [Anjirō] whether the Japanese would become Christians if I went with him to this country, and he replied that they would not do so immediately, but would first ask me many questions and see what I knew. Above all, they would want to see whether my life corresponded with my teaching." Anjirō became the first Japanese Christian and adopted the name of 'Paulo de Santa Fe'. Europeans had already come to Japan: the Portuguese had already landed in 1543 on the island of Tanegashima, where they introduced the first firearms to Japan.
He returned to India in January 1548. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures in India. Then, due to displeasure at what he considered un-Christian life and manners on the part of the Portuguese which impeded missionary work, he traveled from the South into East Asia.
He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, the father Cosme de Torrès and Brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the "King of Japan" since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio. Francis Xavier reached Japan on 27 July 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but he was not permitted to enter any port his ship arrived at until 15 August, when he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma on the island of Kyūshū.
As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. Shimazu Takahisa (1514–1571), daimyo of Satsuma, gave a friendly reception to Francis on 29 September 1549, but in the following year he forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death; Christians in Kagoshima could not be given any catechism in the following years.
He was hosted by Anjiro's family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March, 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism. Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language.
Having learned that evangelical poverty had not the appeal in Japan that it had in Europe and in India, he decided to change his method of approach. Hearing after a time that a Portuguese ship had arrived at a port in the province of Bungo in Kyushu and that the prince there would like to see him, Xavier now set out southward.
The Jesuit, in a fine cassock, surplice, and stole, was attended by thirty gentlemen and as many servants, all in their best clothes. Five of them bore on cushions valuable articles, including a portrait of Our Lady and a pair of velvet slippers, these not gifts for the prince, but solemn offerings to Xavier, to impress the onlookers with his eminence.
Handsomely dressed, with his companions acting as attendants, he presented himself before Oshindono, the ruler of Nagate, and as a representative of the great kingdom of Portugal offered him the letters and presents, a musical instrument, a watch, and other attractive objects which had been given him by the authorities in India for the emperor.
For forty-five years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytizing in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground as to not be persecuted.
The Japanese people were not easily converted; many of the people were already Buddhist or Shinto. Francis tried to combat the disposition of some of the Japanese that a God who had created everything, including evil, could not be good. The concept of Hell was also a struggle; the Japanese were bothered by the idea of their ancestors living in Hell. Despite Francis' different religion, he felt that they were good people, much like Europeans, and could be converted.
Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God; attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion.
With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful as attested by congregations established in Hirado, Yamaguchi and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. Historians debate the exact path he returned back by, but due to evidence attributed to the captain of his ship, he may have traveled through Tanegeshima and Minato, and avoided Kagoshima due to the hostility of the Daimyo.
During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he saw the rich merchant Diogo Pereira, an old friend from Cochin, who showed him a letter from Portuguese being held prisoners in Guangzhou asking for a Portuguese ambassador to talk to the Chinese Emperor in their favor. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27 December 1551, and was back in Goa by January, 1552.
On 17 April he set sail with Diogo Pereira, leaving Goa on board the Santa Cruz for China. He introduced himself as Apostolic Nuncio and Pereira as ambassador of the King of Portugal. Shortly thereafter, he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio.
Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão Álvaro de Ataíde da Gama who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship and demanded the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca.
In late August, 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was only accompanied by a Jesuit student, Álvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called António and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money.
Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died at Shangchuan from a fever on 3 December 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would agree to take him to mainland China.
Burials and relics He was first buried on a beach at Shangchuan Island. 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.
Sign accompanying St. Francis Xavier's humerus The right forearm, which Xavier used to bless and baptize 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.
Another of Xavier's arm bones was brought to Macau where it was kept in a silver reliquary. The relic was destined for Japan but religious persecution there persuaded the church to keep it in Macau's Cathedral of St. Paul. It was subsequently moved to St. Joseph's and in 1978 to the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier on Coloane Island. More recently the relic was moved to St. Joseph's Seminary and the Sacred Art Museum. In 2006, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, the Xavier Tomb Monument and Chapel on the Shangchuan Island, in ruins after years of neglect under communist rule in China was restored with the support from the alumni of Wah Yan College, a Jesuit high school in Hong Kong.
Legacy St. Francis Xavier is noteworthy for his missionary work, both as organizer and as pioneer. He is said to have converted more people than anyone else has done since Saint Paul. By his compromises in India with the Christians of St. Thomas, he developed the Jesuit missionary methods along lines that subsequently became a successful blueprint for his order to follow.
His efforts left a significant impression upon the missionary history of India and, as one of the first Jesuit missionaries to the East Indies, his work is of fundamental significance to Christians in the propagation of Christianity in China and Japan. India still has numerous Jesuit missions, and many more schools. There has been less of an impact in Japan.
Following the persecutions of Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the subsequent closing of Japan to foreigners, the Christians of Japan were forced to go underground and developed an independent Christian culture.
Pope Benedict XVI said of both Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier: "not only their history which was interwoven for many years from Paris and Rome, but a unique desire — a unique passion, it could be said — moved and sustained them through different human events: the passion to give to God-Trinity a glory always greater and to work for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples who had been ignored."
As the foremost saint from Navarre and one of the main Jesuit saints, he is much venerated in Spain and the Hispanic countries where Francisco Javier or Javier are common male given names. The alternative spelling Xavier is also popular in Portugal, Brazil, France, Belgium, and southern Italy. In India, the spelling Xavier is almost always used, and the name is quite common among Christians, especially in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and more common in Goa.
In Goa, Xavier besides being a surname, is also seen as the suffix in the names Francisco Xavier, António Xavier, João Xavier, Caetano Xavier, Domingos Xavier et cetera, which were very common till quiet recently. In Austria and Bavaria the name is spelled as Xaver (pronounced Ksaber) and often used in addition to Francis as Franz-Xaver. In English speaking countries, "Xavier" is one of the few names starting with X, and until recently was likely to follow "Francis"; in the last decade, however, "Xavier" by itself has become more popular than "Francis", and is now one of the hundred most common male baby names in the US.
Many churches all over the world have been named in honor of Xavier, often founded by Jesuits. One notable church is the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville, Iowa. The other is Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona founded in 1692 and internationally recognized as the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. The Javierada is an annual pilgrimage from Pamplona to Xavier instituted in the 1940s.
The Novena of Grace is a popular devotion to Francis Xavier, typically prayed on the nine days before 3 December.
One of his relatives is John Sevier. The Sevier family name originated from the name Xavier. He has been depicted in various artworks, including Rubens' painting "St Francis Xavier raising the dead", which the Flemish master painted for a Jesuit church in Antwerp, and in which he depicted one of St Francis' many alleged miracles (in this case a resurrection).
Beatification and canonization Francis Xavier is a Catholic saint. He was beatified by Paul V on 25 October 1619, and was canonized by Gregory XV on 12 March (12 April) 1622, at the same time as Ignatius Loyola. He is considered to be a patron saint of Roman Catholic missionaries in foreign lands. His feast day is 3 December.
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