I have prepared a short essay on the life and missionary activities of St FrancisíŽ Xavier. As you will see, St Francis visited many times Malacca (the city we are going to visit, and where we will hold our EV Concert (7th Dec) and have our two day retreat (Dec. 8th-9th), before going to Vietnam. The body of St Francis was buried in Malacca for a while before his last journey to Goa. It is a touching and inspiring adventure. I pray that it will touch and inspire all those who want to walk in St FrancisíŽ footsteps.
Love. Fr Yan
Oct 2, 2004
St Francis Xavier (1506-1552)
|1. His life at
April 7: Francis' Birth.
|1525||Francis at the
18-year-old Francis leaves his ancestral home and is on the way to France for studies in the world-renowned University of Paris.
He secures his licentiate in 1528. But besides his academic results, the most providential circumstance in Paris are Francis' special friends at the College: his roommates. One of them is Ignatius of Loyola, who after his own conversion is very influential on Francis' conversion.
the first seven "Jesuits"
In the Church of Montmartre in Paris, Francis is one of the first seven who under the leadership of Ignatius of Loyola, make the vow to serve Jesus in poverty and chastity. The Society of Jesus is born. It is the 15th of August.
|1537||Francis is ordained
In Venice, Francis together with Ignatius and the other six companions are ordained priests.
is sent to India.
It is interesting to see how Francis was sent to India.
King John III of Portugal had repeatedly petitioned the pope Paul III for the dispatch of Jesuits to the East Indies, which were under the king's protection (the padroado). The pope asks Ignatius to assign two Jesuits, which Ignatius promptly does.
But one of them falls sick and cannot go. Ignatius, who was also sick in bed, asks Francis to replace the sick companion and go to India. Francis accepts immediately and together with Fr Simon Rodriguez leaves for the Far East as the first Jesuit missionaries there.
On 7 April, 1541, Francis embarks in a sailing vessel for India,
together with the new Portuguese governor of India. Francis has the backing of both the Portuguese King and of the Pope, who has named him his Nuncio for the Far East.
After a strenuous and dangerous voyage (the ship makes a stop of a few months at Mozambique), finally Francis lands at Goa on May 6, 1542.
By then, the Portuguese had already been in Goa 32 years. The beautiful city with 14 churches including the Franciscan cathedral with prominent spires must have astonished Xavier. The Portuguese lived there with 20,000 native Christians.Francis spends the first five months in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. One of his first missionary activities in Goa is with children. He goes through the streets ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the word of God. When he has gathered a number of children, he takes them to a certain church and there he explains the catechism to them. In that year, a new institute named College of St Paul has been established in Goa for the priestly formation of local candidates. Francis is requested to hold the rectorship of this College. But after a short while, Francis leaves the post and begins to further his missionary area.
In October 1542, Francis sets for the pearl fisheries of the extreme southern coast of India, desirous of restoring Christianity, which, although introduced years before, has almost disappeared on account of the lack of priests. He devotes almost three years to the work of preaching to the people of Western India, converting many, and reaching in his journeys even the Island of Ceylon. Many are the difficulties and hardships which Xavier has to encounter at this time, sometimes on account of the cruel persecutions from some of the local authorities, but more often because of the Portuguese soldiers, who far from seconding the work of Francis, retard it by their bad example and vicious habits. While doing this missionary work in the Southern part of India, Francis has the chance of paying homage to the tomb of St Thomas the Apostle, near Madras (it is the year 1545). He spends the day preaching and caring for the sick and praying at the Apostle's tomb during the night.
Francis is searching for his method of evangelization. He believes that the traveling missionary is in the best position for reaching out to many people.
A certain Franciscan priest of Goa complains that "Father Francis travels too much." Francis' answer is that if he did not visit those places in person, he would not be aware of their needs. However, although his travels by sea and land during the first seven years of missionary work around Goa and Malacca (1542-1549), add up to several thousand kilometers, we know from his letters that he normally will reside several months in each place and always find someone to replace him when he leaves. Goa remains Francis' point of reference. Often he returns to Goa to see new companions from Europe and to read the letters mostly from Rome that keep him in contact with his friends. "I received many letters from Rome and Portugal. They gave me, and still give me, so much consolation, and I have read them so many times, that it seems to me that I am there, or that you, dearest brothers, are here where I am, if not in body, at least in spirit."
first visit to Malacca.
From Goa, Francis goes to Malacca, which is another important Portuguese port in Malaysia. Francis visits Malacca (sometimes just passing through) five times. Before he has actually arrived in Malacca for the first time, his "fame" among the poor in India has preceded him in Malacca and a large crowd of people and local dignitaries are at the waterfront to receive him. He must have been naturally surprised at the nature of the welcome and it is reasonable to assume that later he discovered that it was the sailors trading in the region of the Spice Islands who had informed the people of Malacca about the "holy father" from Europe.
Another event (related to Francis' fame) that happened in Malacca a bit later, was the coming of a Japanese, named Yagiro, who having heard of the "holy father" from a Portuguese friend, George Alvarez, wishes to meet the great man and to be baptized by him. Yagiro is he first Japanese whom Francis meets. He is a sanurai from Kagoshima. Francis remains enthusiastic about Yagiro's curiosity, good common sense and charming personality. In one of his many letters to his superior in Rome, we find these words: "If all the Japanese are as eager to learn as Yagiro, they will be the most remarkable of all races in the world." When Francis asks Yagiro whether many Japanese would desire to become Christian, if he were to go with him to Japan, Yagiro replies, according to the record preserved, that "the Japanese would not at once accept the Christian faith, but would first ask Francis questions, examine his answers and, above all, try to see if his conduct was in conformity with his teaching. If his answers satisfied them and if they found nothing blameworthy in his conduct, all the nobility and the intellectuals, and even the Emperor would be willing within one year to receive baptism, for they are people guided only by reason."
After having heard the request of Yagiro (he wants to be baptized), Francis teaches him the truths of Christianity. The Japanese catechumen is very attentive and Francis obtains from Yagiro much information about Japan. Francis' zeal is aroused by the idea of introducing Christianity into Japan. He resolves thereby to go eventually to Japan, to evangelize the people, the nobles and the king himself. But for the time being the affairs of the Society demand his presence at Goa. Although Francis is working round the clock (in two years he visits all the surrounding area of Malacca), he still finds time to translate all the simple prayers and instructions into Malay. He has found that there is a confusion of languages in the islands of the East but discovers that all can understand a little Malay. Francis calls new fellow priests to Malacca, which becomes a strong Evangelization centre in the area. It is claimed by some that during these expeditions Francis landed on the island of Mindanao, and for this reason St. Francis Xavier has been called the first Apostle of the Philippines. But although this statement is made by some writers of the seventeenth century, and in the Bull of canonization issued in 1623, it is said that Francis preached the Gospel in Mindanao, up to the present time it has not been proved absolutely that St. Francis Xavier ever landed in the Philippines.
Francis takes with him Yagiro, the Japanese man he has met in Malacca and returns to Goa. Besides Yagiro, there are two more Japanese students at the College of St Paul. On 20 May, the feast of Pentecost, the bishop of Goa baptizes Yajiro, who takes the name of Pablo de Santa Fe, and his two companions at the Cathedral of Goa. They are the first Japanese to be baptized. Francis sees in all these events the hand of God, who is leading him to Japan. In one of his letter to his superior in Rome, Ignatius, Francis writes: "I have, with much interior satisfaction, decided to go to this land [Japan], for it seems to me that a people of this kind could by themselves continue to reap the fruit which those of the Society are producing during their own lifetime."
Before leaving though, he has to settle a few problems. During the seven years of Francis' missionary work, other Jesuit missionaries have arrived at Goa, sent from Europe by St. Ignatius; moreover some who were born in India or in the Far East have been received into the Society. In 1548 Xavier sends these missionaries to the principal centres of India, where he had established missions, so that the work might be preserved and continued. He also establishes a novitiate and house of studies.
Francis always encourages cultural activities. He advises Fr Henriques to compile a Tamil grammar for the study of the local language.
On 15 April 1549, Xavier, Cosme de Torres (a Spanish priest whom Francis had met in the Maluccas islands) and Juan Fernandez, together with the three Japanese, sail from Goa for Japan. Both the Viceroy of Goa and the Bishop of Goa give Francis letters of introduction for the Japanese Emperor.
The students and priests at St Paul's College give them a very emotional and warm send off.
They pass through Malacca and stay there for a month; and when they leave Malacca, the whole town, led by the Portuguese Governor (who gives Francis many precious gifts for the Japanese Emperor), goes to bid goodbye to Francis, who, with his companions, is sailing on a Chinese junk. It would take them almost two months to reach their destination, Kagoshima, the birthplace of Yagiro.
August 15: Francis lands
in Kagoshima (Japan).
returns to Goa.
Together with the two Japanese companions, Francis leaves Japan and returns to Goa. He is accorded a royal welcome at the College of St Paul. Here domestic troubles await him. Certain disagreements between the superior who has been left in charge of the missions, and the rector of the college, have to be adjusted. This, however, being arranged, Xavier turns his thoughts to China, and begins to plan an expedition.
|1552||April: From Goa
Francis leaves for China accompanied by Fr Cago, Bro. Alvaro Ferreira, the Chinese Antonio de Santa Fe and the Indian helper Cristovao. During this journey, Francis revisits the missions of Cochin and Malacca. From Singapore they plan to go to the island of Sancian on the coast of China. Both Francis' friends and opponents try to persuade him to cancel this journey to China. But Francis is adamant and in the autumn he arrives in a Portuguese vessel at the small island of Sancian near the coast of China. The original plan of Francis was to go to China as an ambassador of Spain. But this plan never materialized due to the strong opposition of some Portuguese officials. Now he is alone on this small island and he has either to obtain permission from the Chinese authority or to be smuggled into China. At last a Chinese merchant is found who has promised him the needful ship but, after receiving the 200 cruzados of pepper agreed to, the merchant disappears. Suddenly Francis becomes ill with fever and with no proper care available on the desolate isle, he is to die like Moses, in sight of the land of promise at the age of 46. Only his faithful Chinese Antonio is with him to the end. Antonio lays the dying Francis in a makeshift hut. In these wretched surroundings, the Chinese Antonio de Santa Fe, sees that the moment has come. He puts the crucifix into the hands of dying Francis. Early in the morning of December 3, Francis sleeps for ever in the peace of Christ, worn out and white haired from his strenuous life, at the young age of 46. Antonio seeks the assistance of the crew of the Santa Cruz,(a Portuguese ship) anchored just off Sancian at that time, and placing the body in a rough wooden coffin filled with lime (to accelerate its decomposition), buries him on Sancian. After Francis's death, the Santa Cruz remains in Sancian for two and a half months. Before it sails for Malacca, Captain Jorje Alvaro dispatches a Portuguese to open the grave and see the state of the body so that if it could be moved he would take it back with him. It was found that the body was still in a perfect condition. Immediately arrangements are made to transport the body to Malacca.
of Francis'body (from China to Goa)
It is late at night on March 22nd, 1553, when the Santa Cruz reaches Malacca harbour and the corpse is taken to a house situated at the spot where the clock tower stands today. The local clergy examines the body and they find, to their surprise, that it has been preserved incorrupt. The following day a great procession is organized and with candles in their hands, the people of Malacca accompany the body to the chapel of Our Lady of the Mount, on top of the hill where St Paul's church stands today. The body is buried there in the middle of the choir, enveloped with a shroud, as it is the custom of those days. It is recorded that a plague that had been causing many deaths a day at that time, comes to an abrupt end on that very day of the funeral. An opportunity of sending the body of St Francis Xavier to Goa arose with the arrival from Japan of a Jesuit Brother, Peter de Alcacova, going to Goa to secure new missionaries for the already flourishing missions of Japan. On December 11th, 1553, once more the body of Francis is afloat on the sea. It is carried to the ship on a decorated sampan. All Malacca escorts the "holy father", bidding an eternal farewell to the apostle, to whom, during his life, most of them had scarcely listened. The coffin is placed in a cabin with silk hangings all round, in the midst of lighted candles and burning perfumes.
Final rest in Goa.
The boat carrying the body of Francis calls at Ceylon and Cochin and arrives at Goa on the evening of March 15th, 1554. The next day the whole population accompanies the coffin to the cathedral. The coffin is opened. After sixteen months the body is still fresh. During the next three days and three nights the people are allowed to see again the holy man whom God had sent them. Thousands of men and women kiss his feet and many miracles are wrought through the intercession of Francis whom death itself seems to have respected.
The body of Francis is still enshrined at Goa in a silver casket, which is an exemplary model of a combination of Italian and Indian art. It is placed in a Chapel in the Bom Jesus church (now a Basilica), which formerly belonged to the Society of Jesus. The tomb of St Francis still attracts thousands of pilgrims of all nationalities and religions. Hindus have a special veneration for the "man of God". Every ten years (the number of years Francis lived in the Far East) a public exposition of the body of St Francis is held in the Basilica. In 1614 by order of Claudius Acquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus, the right arm of Francis' body was severed at the elbow and brought to Rome, where it is venerated until today in the church of the Gesu' (which belongs to the Jesuits).