Saint Francis Xavier
By Catholic Digest Staff
St. Francis Xavier
Feast Day: December 3
Raised in the Castle of Xavier near Pamplona, Spain, Francis’ parents sent him to study at the university of Paris when he was seventeen. While there, he befriended another noble Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola. At Saint Pierre de Montmartre in 1534 the two of them, along with five other dedicated young men, swore their lives to serving the Lord. The very first Jesuits, they hoped to head to Palestine for their first mission, but despite being ordained in Venice that same year they had difficulty being recognized as a new order. Undeterred, Ignatius sent Francis to team up with Father Simon Rodríguez, so that the two could journey to the East Indies to do mission work. However, Rodríguez was already busy attending and teaching the sick at a hospital in Lisbon. Francis quickly fell in along side of him, and together the two of them healed, catechized, and taught the people of the town. They also heard the confessions of King John III’s court, and the king was very reluctant to allow them to leave on their mission. When Francis was appointed the apostolic nuncio in the East he finally left, refusing the gifts of gratitude the king tried to heap upon him. Taking only some clothes and books, he also refused to bring a servant explaining, “the best means to acquire true dignity is to wash one’s own clothes and boil one’s own pot, unbeholden to anyone.”
Despite suffering from sea sickness, Francis cared for the crew, passengers, soldiers, slaves, and convicts on the lengthy voyage, preaching before the mast each Sunday. During the thirteen month long journey, he even turned his cabin into an infirmary to better handle the sick, especially during outbreaks. When Francis arrived in Goa, India, he found a religious nightmare awaited him. Despite the large Christian population, there were no clergy outside the walls of the city, sacraments were neglected, Indians were baptized in hopes of protecting themselves, and colonial abuses abounded. Europeans of all social standings took on Indian concubines regardless of their welfare (or the women’s childrens) and it was said that, “when slaves were flogged, their masters counted the blows on their rosaries.”
Horrified, Francis began a mission with the Indians. He worked in disease stricken hospitals, deplorable prison conditions, held mass for the lepers, and taught catechism to slaves. The poor flocked to him. Though discouraged that he could not stop the concubinage, he firmly taught the Europeans that they must take responsibility for the Indian women and children who were dependent on them. He undertook dangerous journeys to help anyone in need, including low-caste people, and fought oppression and injustice when he encountered it. As his reputation spread, villages greeted him with great joy, and it was reported that he once drove off a band of murderous raiders with a crucifix. After writing an angry letter to the king of Portugal asking him to make his subjects accountable for their actions abroad, Francis felt called to continue his mission, traveling East once more.