Saint Francis Xavier
by Fr. Santos Mena, SJ
The following article was written by Fr. Santos Mena, SJ, and printed in the November 1993 issue of 64 Xavier Street.
December 3 is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the patron of Xavier School.
Francis Xavier was born on April 7, 1506 in the castle of Javier, Navarre, Spain. He was the youngest son of an impoverished nobleman, who had died while Francis was still a child. Francis grew up with the clear determination to repair the damage to his family's fortunes. His plans envisioned dreams of earthly ambition. In the end, instead of becoming a wealthy patron to tenants and soldiers, he became the patron of missionaries. Thus God restored for all ages the family's honor by making him a legend and a saint.
On May 6, 1542, more than two years after Xavier had left Rome, the slumbering caravel Santiago finally edged into Goa, the capital of the Portuguese East Indies.
In the span of ten years of missionary work, Xavier had traveled more than one hundred thousand kilometers or three times the distance around the globe, and had made thousands of converts to the Church. From his own letters we know that just in one month, he had instructed and baptized ten thousand persons.
But the dream which was gradually taking place in the back corridors of Xavier's mind was China, a world of its own, a small universe of pagans, full of promises, but walled off from Christ. He sailed for the uninviting little island of Shan Chuan, just six miles off the Chinese coast of Fuchian province, where he was felled by a treacherous fever. Xavier died on December 3, 1552, at the age of 46.
Xavier's dream of evangelizing China was fulfilled thirty years later when the Italian Jesuit, Fr. Matteo Ricci, dressed in silk and carrying an array of scientific instruments, was welcomed as a Jesuit mandarin and missionary at the imperial court of Peking.
Fr. James Brodrick, SJ, in his Life of Francis Xavier, sums up the saint's life: "God be praised for great men's delusions, for where would the world be without them? Columbus suffered from them, and Magellan, and Galileo and Newton. And so, too, did St. Paul, whose China was Spain. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what a Heaven for? `Delusions' is not the right word at all, but `dreams', and the dreams of Francis, as the subsequent history of Japan and China proved, had a way of becoming startlingly true."
Note: If you would like to know more about the life and works of St. Francis Xavier, two video documentaries are available: "In the Footsteps of Francis Xavier," a 2 1/2 hour docudrama, and "The Crab, the Cross, and St. Francis Xavier," a shorter animated document. Both videotapes are available in Jesuit Communications Foundation Website: www.ignaciana.org/jescom.
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