Saint Francis Xavier was one of the most significant Jesuit missionaries of modern time. He is known for having baptized 30,000 people. Xavier was canonized in 1622; his feast day is December 3.
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Xavier was born 1506 in Northern Spain. He was the third son of a high official at the court of Navarre, and, as was common among younger sons of Nobel birth, destined for an education in theology. Essentially, Xavier was obliged to enter the clergy, but no one would have guessed the impact he would have on the Asian world. He began his theological studies at the University of Paris in 1525. At this time he met Ignatius Loyola who would be the single most influential man in his life. Loyola was looking for a group of men who would join him in his apostolic service to Christ. Xavier became a part of that group. Together they were ordained priests in 1537, and shortly after helped establish the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. From this point on Xavier's life was devoted to missionary work.
In 1541 King John III of Portugal sought ministers to spread Christianity to the Asians in his dominions. Loyola assigned Xavier the task. His missionary work can be categorized into four major areas: India, Malacca, Japan, and China.
Xavier arrived in Goa, India in 1542. The following two years he spent among primitive pearl fishers on the Indian coast. Despite of language difficulties he educated and baptized thousands. He founded schools and made efforts to train ministers among the natives, which was an unusual tactic during the 16th century.
The years of 1545-48 Xavier spent breaking new ground for the Jesuits and the Catholic Church in the Malacca area. Before returning to the Indian mainland he founded mission stations among the tribal peoples who lived there.
While living in Malacca, Xavier befriended a Japanese Gentleman whose interest in Christianity inspired a journey to Japan in 1549. However, the Jesuit code of humble poverty repelled the Japanese. Xavier's interest in China peaked from the difficulties he faced in Japan. It became evident that he would be more effective if he could gain converts in China first, for the Japanese got much of their wisdom from China. He believed that the Japanese would be more open to Christian doctrine if the Chinese had already accepted it. Therefore, Xavier began his attempts to enter China. Unfortunately, China was closed to foreigners during the 1540's. Xavier died from disease on an island off the coast of China while waiting for a Chinese merchant to smuggle him into the country.
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Edited by: P. Magnus Hillbo
Researched by: Letitia M. Gautreau
Written by: Karla Youngren
March 5, 1997
Text copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.