St. Francis Xavier

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit, one of St. Ignatius Loyola’s closest friends and an original founding companion of the Society of Jesus, is most honored by the Catholic Church, other Christian churches, and the Jesuit order for his missionary accomplishments particularly in India, Southeast Asia and Japan.

His missionary travels took him to many places around the world. In fact, Xavier was the only original companion to leave Europe. He traveled from Rome to Lisbon, Portugal and then to India. Along the way, he assisted in many previously established missions; including those in Mozambique and Melindi (Kenya) Africa, Socotra (an island off the coast of Somalia), and Goa and other communities in the southern coastal areas.

In 1549, Xavier began the first Christian mission in Japan where he served in the country for over two years. In 1552, he set sail to begin the first Christian mission in China. When he arrived, however, he was not allowed to disembark on the Mainland. For three months, he waited on an island off of Canton while trying to gain entry into the country. He died on the island of an acute illness at the age of forty-six. Xavier was canonized by Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, at the same time as Ignatius Loyola.

St. Xavier ranks among the greatest missionaries in Christian history. Historians place the number of baptisms at roughly 30,000 people; lore cites numbers up to 100,000. Today, such missionary accomplishments may be challenging to appreciate in light of present day plurality, cultural relativism, and global engagement, yet a great deal can be learned from Xavier in the way he conducted his life and work with meaning and purpose. Three qualities of Xavier are highlighted which are noteworthy in today’s modern world.

ENTHUSIASM
Xavier was known to have conducted his life’s work with great vitality and zeal. For instance, when Loyola asked Xavier to join an expedition to the Far East he was “overjoyed”. Even descriptions of how he moved capture his gusto – “he walked with a joyful, calm face” and “everywhere he went he went with laughter in his mouth”.

PASSION-DRIVEN ACHIEVEMENT
Xavier set high standards for himself and had ambitious plans for the future. He was a man of quick perception and sound judgment. And while he was fervent, he was known to be so without losing a realistic grasp of the facts. Yet, his goals were not to be “the best” or “first”, but rather to make an impact. He was driven by a passion, and an internal energy. He passionately pursued extra-ordinary yet realistic challenges. What motivated Xavier to set high standards was his drive to help others in a way that he believed was beneficial to all persons on earth. Xavier conducted his work in the spirit of magis; a Latin term meaning “more” and used by Loyola to underscore good character in service to others.

OPENNESS TO THE INFLUENCE OF OTHERS
The third quality is associated with Xavier’s personality, including how he related to others as well as himself. It goes beyond enthusiasm and passion. Xavier was known to be a charismatic man. He had a “dashing and robust personality” and has been described as “astounding”, “decisive”, “cheerful”, “vivacious”, “practical”, “prudent”, and a “keen, ambitious” boy in school.

Today, he would be described as a “people person”. He was successful because of his ability to mix easily with persons of various social-classes, races, and beliefs. Xavier understood people. He learned the languages and adopted the indigenous dress of the peoples he served. Xavier had a deep sense of cross-cultural understanding, and appreciated that God’s presence was already present in all cultures, peoples, places and things. His appreciation is noteworthy because it was not always true of his beliefs. It grew out of his experiences.


Here’s a song from ‘AMDG: A World is not enough’, hymn of St. Francis Xavier, by Cristobal Fones SJ. I had the opportunity to sing this song when I was at Xavier’s College, Mumbai on the feast day in 2009 with my dear friend Sydney, accompanied by the talented twins, Rex and Glen and directed by the very vivacious and versatile Virgil! 🙂

When the world shuts the sun in darkness
When all dreams are swallowed
Deep beneath the sea
When no one is so caring to dare crossing the ocean
That corners the poor and the broken
Rise my light, my Jesus
Set me soaring, flying
Let me trust your promises,
Let me do your will

Chorus:
JESUS, FIRE IN MY HEART
MY HEART, AFLAME IN LOVE FOR THE WORLD
FEEL NO LIMITS, SEES NO BOUNDARIES ONLY GOD, MY HOPE
FEEL NO LIMITS, SEES NO BOUNDARIES ONLY GOD, MY HOPE

Even if I gained the whole world
It’s nothing to me if it takes me not to you
May no tides pull me under, no dark swell engulf me
In lifting my gaze to your star
There in the eyes of the hungry,
I see you looking back to me
And your love fills up my soul, now my soul sets sail

Jesus, you give joy to your people
Jesus, you free them, giving pardon and your peace
It’s such love that impels me, embracing a people
That longs for your kingdom to come
All is yours, you’ve given me.
None is mine, but all is grace
In your hands, take all of it
You’re my land, my sea

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