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St Francis Xavier the great missionary


St Francis Xavier News Story
National Pilgrimage of Grace: Students carry the Holy Relic into St Francis Xavier College in Canberra. Photo: Catholic Voice Canberra.

Originally published in Catholic Outlook November 2012

By Virginia Knight

The co-founder of the Society of Jesus, St Francis Xavier, is considered one of the Church’s greatest missionaries. In his short time in ministry he travelled across the world to bless and baptise many thousands of people and continues to influence us today as an inspirational example of a missionary and evangeliser.

Born in Navarre in Spain on 7 April 1506, Francis Xavier began his travels for Christ in 1529, when he met Ignatius Loyola who was working to establish the Society of Jesus. Under his influence Francis underwent a religious and spiritual awakening which changed the direction of his life.

On 15 August 1534, with Loyola, he was one of seven who took a vow of chastity in a small chapel at Montmartre, Paris, and vowed to devote his life to the spread of the Gospel and Christianity; a vow he was to take very seriously. He left for Venice in 1536 tending the sick in the hospitals and was ordained on 24 June 1537.

Missionary journeys

A year later he was in Rome and in 1541 began his missionary journey in earnest, preaching the Gospel message and converting people to Christianity.

From 1542 to 1545 he preached to the people of India, and later was to establish missions, so that his work might be sustained. Francis Xavier continued his travels, baptising tens of thousands throughout Portugal, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan.

Leaving Japan in 1552 he returned to Goa in India and set about his next mission to China, which was to be his last. While on this journey he was taken ill and died in a makeshift hut on the island of Sancian (now Shangchuan) on 2 December 1552. He was canonised by Pope Gregory XV on 13 March 1622 and his feast day is celebrated on 3 December.

The saint’s relic

In 1614, the lower part of his right forearm was removed, the body part chosen as he had used it on so many occasions, to bless or baptise those he had converted to Christianity.

It was enshrined in a silver reliquary, which is usually housed in the Francis Xavier Chapel of the Church of the Gesù. The saint’s other remains are interred in the Jesuit church in Goa, India.

Australia’s patron

When Australia was still considered mission territory, St Francis Xavier was one of our missionary patrons, along with St Therese of Lisieux.

For this reason, many parishes, cathedrals and schools were named in Xavier’s honour, along with a number of Jesuit ministries. His story was a popular part of catechesis and his intercession was sought for the needs of the country.

This changed to some extent when Australia was no longer considered mission territory (as recently as 1976). But the connection of St Francis Xavier to the life of the Church in our country continues, along with affection for him in the hearts of Australian Catholics.


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