Thu 14 December 2017
John of the Cross, Poet, Teacher 1591

Francis Xavier

Sunday 3 December

On December 2nd, the Church remembers the Saints, Martyrs and Missionaries of Asia. On the following day, December 3rd, Francis Xavier is remembered as one of the first missionaries from the west to take the 'good news' to Asia. He was following, therefore, in the footsteps of the apostle Saint Thomas who is traditionally thought to have visited India.

Francis Xavier first went to Goa in Western India in 1541, just thirty or so years after the area had been established as a colony of Portugal. Francis had been one of the original members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) founded by Ignatius Loyola and dedicated to the spreading of the gospel. Not content with ministering solely to the Portuguese settlers, Francis started a mission to the native Indians, deploring the abuse he saw of the poor. In letters home to Ignatius Loyola, he pleaded for more Christians in the west to join him in his missionary work, 'Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians'.

He extended his work over to the south east coast of India and then across the Indian Ocean to Malacca, another Portuguese colony. Further voyages took him to the Spice Islands, which we would know as Indonesia, and then still further to Japan and to mainland China. All this exploration and missionary work completed in eleven years and only three decades since the first circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan.

Francis was daunted neither by the need to learn the languages of those he sought to convert, nor by the diplomacy needed to win over local rulers. And he appealed for all Christians to 'cry out with all their hearts: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like'. After a life of great energy and dedication, he died near Canton at the age of 46. His body was taken back to Goa where he was buried and where he was to be held in great veneration.

Francis Xavier is indeed a saint for us to venerate and admire as we join in the Collect for his day praying that we might have his zeal for our faith.

Richard Allen