The Great Followers of Jesus Christ

On December 3, 1552 in the desolate loneliness of the rocky island of Sangchwan, opposite to the port of Canton, at the entrance of China, came the end of a long journey of a man, consumed by high fever and the untiring labours of ten years spent at the service of God and the people of Asia.

Born on April 7, 1506 of the noble and famous Xavier family in the Basque country of Spain, Francis left his father’s castle to complete his studies in the College of St Barbara in Paris, the great centre of learning at that time. He obtained a Master’s Degree in Arts and taught philosophy, dreaming of winning a great name among the famous scholars of the world.

Francis well versed in philosophy; a young, intelligent, gallant and noble Basque had great dreams. However, he was destined to dream different dreams and commit his talents for a greater cause after he met Ignatius of Loyola, another ambitious Spaniard who himself had found God after being seriously wounded in the war.

The young man had little regard for Ignatius who depended on charity to keep his soul and body together. Fr Auger, a contemporary, had himself heard from St Ignatius saying “that the toughest material he had ever handled was the young man, Francis Xavier in the early stages”.
Ignatius had himself once lived on a dream of fame until he lay in hospital with his leg shattered in the battle of Pampalona. He met Francis and soon realized the great potential to do good lying behind this young man.

Ignatius had found the true way of life and was burning with the desire to share his treasure with others. Jesus had said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”(Mt. 16/26). Ignatius repeated these words to Francis, who surrendered after a long resistance. Francis could not resist any longer the power of the Holy Spirit speaking to him through his servant, Ignatius. Francis had let those words repeated by Ignatius sink deeper into his heart. This brought about a transformation in his life and he decided to follow Jesus.

Wealth, fame, power or worldly greatness lost attraction and could no longer  give meaning to Francis’ life. When he realized that there are greater things in life, he put his mind on achieving them. His aspirations also changed the course.

The path to follow, however, was not clear, though Francis had made up his mind to orient his life towards the ever greater glory of God. His sole concern was to find out what were God’s designs for him. It never crossed his mind that it was in the far off East that he would realize his greatest desire of giving his life for God and for  his fellowmen.

Francis Xavier, along with Ignatius and five other students, dedicated himself to the service of the Lord by the vows of chastity and poverty. In November 1536 he set out with his companions for Venice where on June 24, 1537 he was ordained a priest.

While they were in Rome, came the request of King John of Portugal to the Pope to send his messengers to India and it was Fr Francis who was chosen for this special mission.

Fr. Francis Xavier sailed from Lisbon and arrived in Goa on May 6, 1542. His ten years of intense life can be divided into three periods of Missionary activity and organization: (1) In Goa and Fishery Coast up to Kanyakumari (1542-1544); (2) In Molucas (1545-1547) and (3) In Japan (1549-1551). He died four months after he had left for China, after facing a lot of trials, hardships and disappointments.

When he first arrived in Goa, though the Vice-Roy’s palace and that of the Bishop were wide open to him he preferred to live in the servants’ quarters of the hospital, where he spent as much time as possible doing the most menial chores without any shame. To Captain Alvares of the Seppers who was shocked by his way of life, Francis Xavier replied, “My son, every work, however humble, is noble; it is idleness that is ignoble and the root of all evil. You say, I, as a Papal Nuncio, ought to keep up my dignity! But was our Lord losing his dignity when he worked in the carpenter’s shop and the Blessed Virgin when she spun and wove garments for her Son? No; why should I be ashamed when my Master was not? Nothing is shameful but to sin.”

What he did for his Master makes a long story. The long travels, perils, hardships and persecutions etc. were a part of his life. He considered them to be signs of God’s special love for him.

The mortal remains of the man, who spent himself for his Lord, proclaim that the Lord Himself was pleased with the gift Francis made of everything he had. The mortal remains do not look fresh now after 442 years of his death, but who can explain how his body untreated with chemicals or other means and exposed to heat and cold could remain incorrupt? Millions of people have been visiting and venerating his incorrupt mortal remains which is enclosed in a crystal casket in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa.  People find inspiration at the holy and incorruptible  remains of the man who who gave up everything and lived a holy life totally committed Jesus, his Lord and Saviour.. The Church celebrates the memory of St. Francis Xavier on the 3rd of December, every year.

- Br. T.V. Anthony SJ, Pune