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December 3, 2005

St. Francis Xavier

Apostle to the East
Co-patron of the Missions
Patron of the Missionaries and Adorers of the Precious Blood
Patron of the Apostleship of Prayer
feast day, December 3

Francesco de Jassu y Xavier was born in 1506 in the Basque region of Navarre. Instead of following his older brothers into military service, he went to the University of Paris when he turned eighteen. After he finished his master's studies, Francis served as a professor. He hoped to complete a doctorate in philosophy and eventually be ordained a priest. As a member of the nobility, he aspired to a prestigious position as canon of the cathedral in Pamplona.

Francis and his friend Pierre Favre acquired an unusual roommate in 1528, a former soldier who had experienced a remarkable conversion while recovering from serious wounds -- Inigo de Loyola. Though Francis first resisted Loyola's enthusiasm, he became one of Ignatius' original company. They made religious vows in 1534 and made their way to Venice. They served in hospitals while waiting for an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Francis, along with Ignatius and several others, was ordained in 1537. Since the wars with the Turks continued to make their pilgrimage impossible, Ignatius and his followers left Venice and offered their services to the pope as missionaries.

The Society of Jesus was officially approved as a religious order in 1540. Ignatius immediately sent Francis to Portugal, since King Joao III was eager to have the Jesuits serve as missionaries in the Portuguese colonies in Asia. After spending a winter in Mozabique, Francis set sail for India.

The story of his journeys is an epic adventure. He arrived in Goa in May 1542 and went on from there to Cape Comorin in the south of India. Here he spent three years working among the pearl fishers, or Paravas. From there he went on to the East Indies, to Malacca (a major city on the Malay Peninsula) and to the Molucca Islands (south of the Philippines, now part of Indonesia). In 1549, he set out for Japan. He died on December 3, 1552, on the island of Sancian, off the coast of China near Canton.

Thus in ten years, he traversed the greater part of the Far East. When one considers the conditions of travel, the means of transport, the delays and difficulties which beset him at every stage, it is, even physically an astounding achievement. It is even more remarkable when one considers that he left behind him a flourishing church wherever he went and that the effects of his labors remain to the present day.

Many miracles have been attributed to Saint Francis. He is said to have possessed the gift of tongues, to have healed the sick and even to have raised the dead. That he possessed the gift of prophecy seems to be certain, but he can hardly have possessed the gift of tongues. The evidence is, on the contrary, that he had to rely throughout on interpreters to translate his message into the different languages he required. The real miracle of his life, as has been said, was the miracle of his personality, by which he was able to convert thousands to the faith and win their passionate devotion.

The body of Saint Francis was brought back to Goa. His tomb is in the church of the Bom Jesu, the Good Jesus. It is perfectly preserved!

Francis Xavier and Saint Gaspar del Bufalo

Saint Gaspar's family lived near the Jesuit Church of the Gesu in Rome, where there is a shrine to Saint Francis Xavier, including his right arm. When Gaspar was about eighteen months old, he contracted smallpox. Fearing that her son would be blind even if he lived, Gaspar's mother prayed at the shrine of Saint Francis. Her prayers were answered! Gaspar's lifelong devotion to this great missionary led him to place the community under his patronage.

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at December 3, 2005 8:10 AM

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