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St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis XavierBorn: 7-Apr-1506
Birthplace: Xavier Castle, Navarre, Spain
Died: 3-Dec-1552
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Basilica Bom Jesus, Goa, India

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: Spain
Executive summary: Jesuit missionary

San Francisco de Xavier, Jesuit missionary and saint, commonly known in English as St. Francis Xavier and also called the "Apostle of the Indies." He was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso, privy councillor to Jean dAlbret, I king of Navarre, and his wife, Maria de Azpilcueta y Xavier, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was born at his mother's castle of Xavier or Xavero, at the foot of the Pyrenees and close to the little town of Sanguesa, on the 7th of April 1506, according to a family register, though his earlier biographers fix his birth in 1497. Following a Spanish custom of the time, which left the surname of either parent optional with children, he was called after his mother; the best authorities write Francisco de Xavier (Latin Xaverius) rather than Francisco Xavier, as Xavier is originally a place name. In 1524 he went to the university of Paris, where he entered the College of St. Barbara, then the headquarters of the Spanish and Portuguese students, and in 1528 was appointed lecturer in Aristotelian philosophy at the Collčge de Beauvais. In 1530 he took his degree as master of arts. He and the Savoyard Pierre Lefčvre, who shared his lodging, had already in 1529 made the acquaintance of Ignatius of Loyla -- like Xavier a native of the Spanish Basque country. Ignatius succeeded, though in Xavier's case after some opposition, in gaining their sympathy for his missionary schemes; and they were among the company of seven persons, including Loyola himself, who took the original Jesuit vows on the 15th of August 1534. They continued in Paris for two years longer; but on November 15th, 1536, they started for Italy, to concert with Ignatius' plans for converting the Muslems of Palestine. In January 1537 they arrived in Venice. As some months must elapse before they could sail for Palestine, Ignatius determined that the time should be spent partly in hospital work at Venice and later in the journey to Rome. Accordingly, Xavier devoted himself for nine weeks to the hospital for incurables, and then set out with eight companions for Rome, where Pope Paul III sanctioned their enterprise. Returning to Venice, Xavier was ordained priest on Midsummer Day 1537; but the outbreak of war between Venice and Turkey put an end to the Palestine expedition, and the companions dispersed for a year for home mission work in the Italian cities. Nicolas Bobadilla and Xavier took themselves first to Monselice and from there to Bologna, where they remained until summoned to Rome by Ignatius at the close of 1538.

Ignatius retained Xavier at Rome until 1541 as secretary to the Society of Jesus. Meanwhile Joćo III, king of Portugal, had resolved on sending a mission to his Indian dominions, and had applied through his envoy Pedro Mascarenhas to the pope for six Jesuits. Ignatius could spare but two, and chose Bobadilla and a Portuguese named Simćo Rodrigues for the purpose. Rodrigues set out at once for Lisbon to confer with the king, who ultimately decided to retain him in Portugal. Bobadilla, sent for to Rome, arrived there just before Mascarenhas was about to depart, but fell too ill to respond to the call made on him.

Hereupon Ignatius, on March 15th, 1540, told Xavier to leave Rome the next day with Mascarenhas, in order to join Rodrigues in the Indian mission. Xavier complied, merely waiting long enough to obtain the pope's benediction, and set out for Lisbon, where he was presented to the king, and soon won his entire confidence, attested notably by procuring for him from the pope four briefs, one of them appointing him papal nuncio in the Indies. On April 7th, 1541, he sailed from Lisbon with Martini Alfonso de Sousa, governor designate of India, and lived amongst the common sailors, ministering to their religious and temporal needs, especially during an outbreak of scurvy. After five months' voyage the ship reached Mozambique, where the captain resolved to winter, and Xavier was prostrated with a severe attack of fever. When the voyage was resumed, the ship touched at Malindi and Sokotra, and reached Goa on May 6th, 1542. Exhibiting his brief to D. Joća d'Albuquerque, bishop of Goa, he asked his permission to officiate in the diocese, and at once began walking through the streets ringing a small bell, and telling all to come, and send their children and servants, to the "Christian doctrine" or catechetical instruction in the principal church. He spent five months in Goa, and then turned his attention to the "Fishery Coast", where he had heard that the Paravas, a tribe engaged in the pearl fishery, had relapsed into heathenism after having professed Christianity. He labored assiduously amongst them for fifteen months, and at the end of 1543 returned to Goa.

At Travancore he is said to have founded no fewer than forty-five Christian settlements. It is to be noted that his own letters contain, both at this time and later on, express disproof of that miraculous gift of tongues with which he was credited even in his lifetime, and which is attributed to him in the Breviary office for his festival. Not only was he obliged to employ interpreters, but he relates that in their absence he was compelled to use signs only.

He sent a missionary to the isle of Manaar, and himself visited Ceylon and Mailapur (Meliapur), the traditional tomb of St. Thomas the apostle, which he reached in April 1544, remaining there four months. At Malacca, where he arrived on September 25th, 1545, he remained another four months, but had comparatively little success. While in Malacca he urged King Joćo III of Portugal to set up the Inquisition in Goa to repress Judaism, but the tribunal was not set up until 1560. After visiting Amboyna, the Moluccas and other isles of the Malay archipelago, he returned to Malacca in July 1547, and found three Jesuit recruits from Europe awaiting him. About this time an attack upon the city was made by the Achinese fleet, under the raja of Pedir in Sumatra; and Xavier's early biographers relate a dramatic story of how he roused the governor to action. This story is open to grave suspicion, as, apart from the miracles recorded, there are wide discrepancies between the secular Portuguese histories and the narratives written or inspired by Jesuit chroniclers of the 17th century.

While in Malacca Xavier met one Yajiro, a Japanese exile (known to the biographies as Anger, Angero or Anjiro), who fired him with zeal for the conversion of Japan. But he first revisited India and then, returning to Malacca, took ship for Japan, accompanied by Yajiro, now known as Paul of the Holy Faith. They reached Kagoshima on the 15th of August 1549, and remained in Japan until the 20th of November 1551. On board the "Santa Cruz", the vessel in which he returned from Japan to Malacca, Xavier discussed with Diogo Pereira, the captain, a project for a missionary journey to China. He devised the plan of persuading the viceroy of Portuguese India to despatch an embassy to China, in whose train he might enter, despite the law which then excluded foreigners from that empire. He reached Goa in February 1552, and obtained from the viceroy consent to the plan of a Chinese embassy and to the nomination of Pereira as envoy. Xavier left India on the 25th of April 1552 for Malacca, intending there to meet Pereira and to re-embark on the "Santa Cruz."

The story of his detention by the governor (officially styled captain) of Malacca -- a son of Vasco da Gama named Alvaro de Ataide or Athayde -- is told with many picturesque details by F. M. Pinto and some of the Jesuit biographers, who have pilloried Ataide as actuated solely by malice and self-interest. Ataide appears to have objected not so much to the mission as to the rank assigned to Pereira, whom he regarded as unfit for the office of envoy. The right to send a ship to trade with China was one for which large sums were paid, and Pereira, as commander of the expedition, would enjoy commercial privileges which Ataide had, ex officio, the power to grant or withhold. It seems doubtful if the governor exceeded his legal right in refusing to allow Pereira to proceed; in this attitude he remained firm even when Xavier, if the Jesuit biographers may be trusted, exhibited the brief by which he held the rank of papal nuncio, and threatened Ataide with excommunication. On Xavier's personal liberty no restraint was placed. He embarked without Pereira on July 16th, 1552. After a short stay at Singapore, from where he despatched several letters to India and Europe, the ship at the end of August 1552 reached Chang-chuen-shan (St. John Island) off the coast of Kwang-tung, which served as port and rendezvous for Europeans, not then admitted to visit the Chinese mainland.

Xavier was seized with fever soon after his arrival, and was delayed by the failure of the interpreter he had engaged, as well as by the reluctance of the Portuguese to attempt the voyage to Canton for the purpose of landing him. He had arranged for his passage in a Chinese junk, when he was again attacked by fever, and died on December 2nd, or, according to some authorities, November 27th, 1552. He was buried close to the cabin in which he had died, but his body was later transferred to Malacca, and from there to Goa, where it still lies in a magnificent shrine. He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1619 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1621.

In appearance Xavier was neither Spanish nor Basque. He had blue or grey eyes, and fair hair and beard, which turned white through the hardships he endured in Japan. That he was of short stature is proved by the length of the coffin in which his body is still preserved, less than 5 feet 1 inch. Many miracles have been ascribed to him; an official list of these, said to have been attested by eyewitnesses, was drawn up by the auditors of the Rota when the piocesses for his canonization were formed, and is preserved in manuscript in the Vatican library. The contention that Xavier should be regarded as the greatest of Christian missionaries since the first century A.D. rests upon more tangible evidence. His Jesuit biographers attribute to him the conversion of more than 700,000 persons in less than ten years; and though these figures are absurd, the work which Xavier accomplished was enormous. He inaugurated new missionary enterprises from Hormuz to Japan and the Malay Archipelago, leaving an organized Christian community wherever he preached; he directed by correspondence the ecclesiastical policy of Joćo III and his viceroy in India; he established and controlled the Society of Jesus in the East. Himself an ascetic and a mystic, to whom things spiritual were more real than the visible world, he had the strong common sense which distinguished the other Spanish mystics, St. Theresa, Luis de Leon or Raymond Lull. This quality is nowhere better exemplified than in his letters to Caspar Baertz (Barzaeus), the Flemish Jesuit whom he sent to Hormuz, or in his suggestions for the establishment of a Portuguese staple in Japan. Supreme as an organizer, he seems also to have had a singularly attractive personality, which won him the friendship even of the pirates and bravos with whom he was forced to consort on his voyages. Modern critics of his work note that he made no attempt to understand the oriental religions which he attacked, and censure him for invoking the aid of the Inquisition and sanctioning persecution of the Nestorians in Malabar. He strove, with a success disastrous to the Portuguese empire, to convert the government in Goa into a proselytizing agency. Throughout his life he remained in close touch with Ignatius of Loyola, who is said to have selected Xavier as his own successor at the head of the Society of Jesus. Within a few weeks of Xavier's death, indeed, Ignatius sent letters recalling him to Europe with that end in view.

Father: Juan de Jasso (Spanish privy councillor)
Mother: Maria de Azpilcueta y Xavier

    University: University of Paris

    Religious Mission
    Canonization 1621
    Society of Jesus
    Risk Factors: Malaria


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