FEAST OF ST. FRANCIS XAVIER
Fr. Lawrence Maniyar S.J.
When Francis Xavier landed in Goa on May 6, 1542 as the Pope’s Nuncio and the Portugal King’s Legate his thick clothes were in tatters and stained. So he asked the in-charge of the local hospital who was on his monthly visit, for a sleeveless light black cassock. Knowing the status of Xavier, the hospital in-charge gave him a silk one. He refused to accept it and so the man gave him a cotton one as was requested. Xavier wore this cotton cassock for the next 10 years until his death. His daily routine was to visit the patients in the local hospital in the morning, at noon he would visit the prisoners in the local jail, and in the evening he would teach catechism to the children, women and men in the street corners of Goa. This in nutshell shows the way of life Xavier lived for the next 10 years. When Ignatius was trying to decide in Rome what type of poverty Jesuits would have and what type of ministry they would be engaged in, thousands of miles away in India Xavier was living out the spirit of Ignatius about whom Xavier wrote “one entire life would not suffice to repay the great debt which I owe him.”
Xavier was born in a minor noble family in the kingdom of Navarre, youngest of the five children. His teenage years were not happy years. His father passed away when he was nine; the very next year the King had sent soldiers to knock down the tower of the Xavier castle; properties were confiscated and his brothers were put in prison because his brothers fought in a war against the King. It was in this situation Xavier went to the University of Paris to study for priesthood.
Xavier registered himself for Theology and Philosophy in this scholastic university to prepare for priesthood. He easily made friends with other students who were known for hard drinking and womanizing. He would frequently jump over the college walls to enjoy the night life outside, in spite of strict night curfew. He was not certainly a model student or a good seminarian. One day one of his drinking buddies was hanged for murder and a professor who was his friend contracted syphilis and died. This experience made Xavier to look up to Ignatius, 15 years senior in age. He responded positively to Ignatius, forgetting the family feuds between the Xaviers and the Loyolas. Soon he was one of the seven at Montmartre even though he had not yet made the Spiritual Exercises because of the lectures in the college where he was teaching Philosophy.
Xavier was approached by Ignatius to take the place of Bobadilla to go to India along with Simon Rodrigues. His immediate response was “Well then, here I am.” The very next day he accompanied the Portuguese Ambassador to Lisbon to catch the ship to India. Since then he never met any of his family members; after placing the hand on the plough he never looked back. In Asia he never made use of the two documents he brought from Europe, one making him the Pope’s Nuncio and the other King’s Legate. He refused to live in the Bishop’s house in Goa and he always challenged the Portuguese priests and the government officials. From the first day in Goa he was an evangelist, not a moral reformer.
Xavier was an explorer and a scout, in the spirit of Magis and of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. He always kept his ears and eyes, mind and heart open to save more souls. As soon as he reached Goa the Confraternity of the Holy Faith handed over the newly opened St. Paul’s College to him. But when he heard about the 22 Catholic villages stretching along the south-east coast of India for 170 KM with a population of 20,000, he could not stay in the College. He moved from one village to another, teaching catechism and baptising, even though the climate was severe, work was gruelling, and the culture was mystifying. It was in these villages he began his missionary work.
Xavier prayed for three months over his trip to Japan, a country ruled by sixty feudal Lords and unknown to the West. He first went to Yamaguchi and then to Kyoto to meet the Emperor. When he realized that the Emperor was just a puppet and had no real power, he returned to Yamaguchi with a changed strategy. He put on his best clothes and met the Lord of Yamaguchi with many gifts. He adopted the principal of ‘Conversation before Conversion.’ He talked on non-religious topics like Geography, Climate, Mathematics and Science. He called Buddhist writings as Scriptures, a word used in Europe only for the Bible. Many nobles became Christians. Thus he began an authentic non-European Christianity in Japan.
Xavier heard about the Kingdom of China while in Yamaguchi. The burning desire to convert China was so strong that he landed in Shangchuan island, six miles from the mainland China. He had agreed to pay a Chinese merchant two tons of pepper[!!] to take him to the main land. This merchant never came and Xavier never entered mainland China. Failing mission behind him and the unknown potential before him, Xavier died on December 3, 1552 in the straw temporary small chapel, alone but the Chinese servant.
Xavier was an unusual superior; he was not a conventional one. He let himself be guided by his spirit and instinct. He did not push his men from behind, he did not rule from his desk. He went ahead of them like a leader. The year Xavier died in Shangchuan, a boy was born in Macerata, Italy and his parents named him Matteo Ricci. 30 years after the death of Xavier, Ricci was in Macao learning Chinese and spent the next 27 years in China, the last 10 years in the Forbidden City [Emperor’s Palace]. He and his followers worked as mathematicians, linguists, architects, and geographers. Xavier’s exploration and scouting did not go waste. All over the world parishes, schools, colleges, and universities are named after Xavier. Even there is a Charles Francis Xavier Professor X in the fictional X-MEN. Xavier by his life and work has taught us the ways for the expansion of heart, opening of the mind and for the discovery of love in Jesus.