Francis Xavier

John Florens | Dec 31, 2022

Table of Content


St. Francis Xavier, born Francisco de Jasso Azpilicueta Atondo y Aznáres (Xavier, April 7, 1506 - Sanchoon, December 3, 1552), was a Navarran Catholic missionary, pioneer and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. The Roman Catholic Church considers him to have converted more people to Christianity than any other missionary since St. Paul, earning him the epithet "Apostle of the East. He carried out his missionary activity in the East, especially in Portuguese India and Japan. He is the patron saint of missionaries, of the Diocese of Registro (SP), also one of the patron saints of the Diocese of Macau and is co-patron of Navarra together with Saint Firmino of Amiens.

He was beatified under the name Francis of Xavier by Pope Paul V on October 25, 1619 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, at the same time as Ignatius of Loyola. On December 14, 1927 Pope Pius XI proclaimed Francis Xavier, together with Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, universal patron saint of the missions. His feast day is December 3.

Francis Xavier was born in the family castle in Xavier, in the Kingdom of Navarre, on April 7, 1506, according to the record kept by his family. Son of aristocratic Navarrese families, he was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso (minister of finance at the court of King John III of Navarre) and María Azpilcueta y Aznárez, mistress of the palaces and villas of Azpilcueta and Xavier, sole heiress of two Basque noble families of Navarre. His name is correctly spelled Francisco de Xavier, not Francisco Xavier, since Xavier comes from the name of the land from which the family originates. Nor Francisco Javier, since that is the Castilian spelling. Also, Francisco de Xavier carried out his apostolate in Portuguese territory and that is the Portuguese pronunciation of the same word.

In 1512, Castilian and Aragonese troops, commanded by Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Duke of Alba, attack the Kingdom of Navarre. Francisco's family is on the side of the resistance to the foreign invader, but the conquest is consolidated in 1515, when Francisco is eight years old. After a Franco-Navarian reconquest attempt in 1516, in which Francis' brothers take part, the wall, gates and two towers of the family castle are destroyed, as well as the moat which is covered, the height of the message tower halved and the family's properties confiscated. Only the family residence inside the castle is spared. Francis' brothers are imprisoned in the dungeons and sentenced to death, but are granted amnesty and released.

During much of this troubled period, Francis was not at home. Francisco's father had died when Francisco was only nine years old, and his mother, wanting her son to study, sought to send him to university. However, despite the good Castilian universities, such as Salamanca and Alcalá, Francisco's mother naturally did not wish to instruct him in the invader's schools, so at the age of fourteen she sent him to the College of Santa Barbara in Paris, directed by the Portuguese Diogo de Gouveia.

At Santa Barbara College, Francis of Xavier was prepared to take university entrance exams, completing studies in philosophy, literature and humanities. It is also here that he learns to master the French, Italian and German languages. It was here that he spent his entire period in Paris, first as a student and later as professor of philosophy at the College of Beauvais. He is said to have been a great success among his classmates because he was a very intelligent, lively, easy-talking, well-built, and handsome young man. It is reported that in a competition among students on the island of the Seine he was crowned champion in the high jump.

It was during this period that he met Ignatius of Loyola, who dreamed of forming a company of apostles for the defense and propagation of Christianity in the world. At first the relationship between Ignatius and Francis Xavier was not at all easy, for both had antagonistic objectives, but Ignatius convinced Francis Xavier with the following phrase: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?" (Mk 8:36), which Francis Xavier adopted as his motto. Francis Xavier agrees to participate in spiritual exercises directed by Ignatius and later becomes one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus.

On August 15, 1534, Ignatius of Loyola, together with Francis Xavier, Peter Fabro, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laynez, Nicolas Bobedilla and Simon Rodrigues, made vows of chastity and poverty in the Saint-Denis Chapel in Montmartre, Paris, placing themselves at the Pope's disposal to be sent wherever there was the greatest need, and in this way they were founding, still unknowingly, the Society of Jesus, a religious congregation dedicated to teaching, conversion and charity.

While yearning for the pope's recognition, which will only happen in 1541, the group leaves for Venice with the objective of reaching the Holy Land. There, on June 24, 1537, Francis of Xavier was ordained a priest. The group leaves for Rome, where Francis serves for a brief period.

In Rome, Francis of Xavier feels very upset by the conquest of the Kingdom of Navarre by the Kingdom of Castile. It is at this time that the king of Portugal Dom João III, through his ambassador Pedro Mascarenhas, makes successive appeals to Pope Paul III to send him missionaries to spread the Christian faith in the territories discovered by the Portuguese. Dom João III is enthusiastically advised by the director of the College of Santa Barbara, Diogo de Gouveia, to call the cultured and intelligent young men of the Society of Jesus to the Kingdom of Portugal and thus asks the Portuguese ambassador in Rome to sound out the group. Ignatius of Loyola chooses Simão Rodrigues and Nicolau Bobadilla for this mission, but Bobadilla falls ill and Francisco is named his substitute, and arrives in Portugal in 1540.

Francisco de Xavier left Lisbon for India the following year, on April 7th, accompanied by two other Jesuits, Francisco de Mansila and Paulo Camarate. They set sail aboard the S. Diogo, the flagship of the five ships of the fleet commanded by Martim Afonso de Sousa, who was to take over as governor in India.

In August, they anchored off the island of Mozambique. Due to the large number of scurvy patients in the fleet, which prevented the regular continuation of the voyage, the ships remained there for six months. Francis dedicated his time to helping and treating the sick. Having put to sea again, the ship docked in Melinde. There, Francisco de Xavier immediately managed to convert a few Africans, and forcibly wished to remain there. Martim Afonso de Sousa did not authorize this, as it was contrary to the King's instructions.

The ship Santiago anchored in Goa, the then capital of the Portuguese State of India, on May 6, 1542.

It is known from the letters to Ignatius of Loyola that Francis Xavier's first impressions of Goa were very favorable. He was excited by the number of Indians who spoke Portuguese, the number of churches and the number of converts. However, as he got to know the city better, he realized that many of the converts still practiced Hindu cults in parallel and that many Portuguese were also setting a bad example, defending Christian virtues but not practicing them. Strategically, he thus decided to dedicate himself initially to leading the Portuguese back to the true faith, and only later began his work of conversion.

When he started his conversions, he dedicated himself first to the children and only later to the adults. All his remaining time was spent visiting prisons, caring for the sick in the Royal Hospital, and the lepers in St. Lazarus Hospital. It was there that he began to write a catechism that was translated into several Asian languages.

First mission

On September 20, 1543, he left on his first missionary action for the coast that the Portuguese called the "Fishing Coast", on the east coast of southern India, north of Cape Comorim, the territory of the Parava people. Fishing was very popular in this region, a practice that was not well regarded by the Hindu religion, which disapproves of killing animals. The fishermen of the region were, therefore, very receptive to the Christian religion, which did not criticize them for their profession, used a fish as one of its symbols, and whose first apostles were fishers who became "fishers of men.

He lived in a cave in the rocks by the sea at Manapad, catechizing Para children intensively for three months in 1544. He then concentrated on converting the king of Travancore to Christianity, and also visited Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Dissatisfied with the results of his activity, he went even further east in 1545, planning a missionary journey to Macáçar, on the island of Celebes (present-day Indonesia). Francis took some of these parabas with him to Goa, where he put them through seminary studies and they in turn became missionaries.

As the first Jesuit in India, St. Francis used unorthodox methods; he did not attempt a gradual but immediate conversion, and did not focus his early efforts on converting the upper classes (although he had some contact with them), concentrating on converting the lower classes first.


In October, he docked at the also Portuguese Malacca. Having been forced to wait three months for a boat to Macáçar, he gave up this objective and left Malacca on January 1, 1546 for the Amboina islands, where he stayed until mid-June.

He then visited other of the Moluccan islands, including Ternate and Morotai. Shortly after Easter of 1546, he returned to the islands of Amboina and then to Malacca. During this period, frustrated by the elites in Goa, St. Francis wrote to King John III of Portugal asking that an Inquisition be set up in Goa. This Inquisition, to which the king was resistant, as he had been to its presence in Lisbon, would only be installed eight years after Francisco de Xavier's death.

Francis de Xavier's work inaugurated permanent changes in the islands that make up eastern Indonesia, and he became known as the "Apostle of the Indies" when, between 1546 and 1547, he worked in the Molucca Islands, laying the foundation for a permanent mission. He baptized thousands of people. After he left this region, his work was continued by others, and by the 1590s there were between 50,000 and 60,000 Catholics in the region, especially in the Amboina Islands.

In December 1547, in Malacca, Francisco de Xavier met the adventurer and future writer Fernão Mendes Pinto, who was returning from Japan and brought with him a Japanese nobleman named Angiró, a native of Cagoxima. Angiró had heard about Francisco in 1545 and had traveled from Cagoxima to Malacca in order to meet him. Angiro had been accused of murder and had fled Japan. He opened his heart to Francis, confessing to him the life he had led so far, but also the customs and culture of his beloved homeland. Angiró is baptized by Francis Xavier and adopts the Portuguese name Paulo de Santa Fé. Angiró was a samurai and, as such, would become a most valuable mediator and translator for a mission to Japan that thus became closer and closer to reality.

"I asked Angiró if the Japanese would become Christians if I went with him to their country, and he replied that they would not do so immediately, but that they would first ask me many questions to find out what I knew. Above all, that they would want to know if my life would correspond to my teaching."

Return to India

Returning to India in January 1548, he spent the next fifteen months making various trips and taking administrative measures in India. Due to what he considered a non-Christian lifestyle on the part of many Portuguese, which hindered his missionary work, he traveled to the southeast. He left Goa on April 15, 1549, stopped in Malacca and visited Canton, China. He was accompanied by Angiró, Father Cosme de Torres, Brother João Fernandes and two other Japanese men who had studied in Goa to serve as interpreters. He also took with him numerous gifts for the "king of Japan", since he intended to present himself before him as a representative of Christianity.


They reached Japan on July 27, 1549, but it wasn't until August 15 that they were allowed to dock at Kagoshima, the main port of Satsuma Prefecture on the island of Kiushu. He was given a friendly welcome and stayed with Angiró's family until October 1550. Between October and December of that year he resided in Yamaguchi. Just before Christmas, he left for Kyoto, but was not allowed to visit the emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551, where the daimyo of that province gave him permission to preach. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of the catechism made with Angiró.

Francis had a strong impact in Japan, being the first Jesuit to go there on mission. He took with him paintings of the Virgin Mary and the Virgin with Jesus. These paintings helped him to explain Christianity to the Japanese, since the communication barrier was enormous, as Japanese was a different language from all the ones the missionaries had encountered so far.

The Japanese did not turn out to be easily convertible people. Many were already Buddhists. Francis Xavier had difficulty explaining to them a concept of God according to which God created everything that exists. In their eyes, God would then also be responsible for evil and sin, something that was for them an incomprehensible action on God's part. The concept of Hell was also difficult to explain, since the Japanese could not stand the conception that their ancestors could be in an eternal Hell from which it was impossible to free them. Despite the religious differences, Francis de Xavier would have felt that the Japanese were a good people, like the European peoples, and that they could therefore be converted.

Xavier was welcomed by the monks of the Shingon school for using the word "Dainichi" to describe the Christian God. After learning more about the nuances of the word, Francis switched to using the word "Deusu", from the Latin and Portuguese word "Deus". It was at this point that the monks realized that he was preaching a rival religion. However, Francis always respected the people who welcomed him, having learned Japanese, stopped eating meat and fish, and greeted the lords with deep bowing, and in some circumstances even dressed in Japanese costumes, all to be better accepted.

With the passage of time, Francis Xavier's mission in Japan could be considered very fruitful, having succeeded in establishing congregations in Hirado, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier continued to work for more than two years in Japan, writing a book in Japanese on the creation of the world and the life of Christ, until the arrival of the Jesuits who came to succeed him, whose establishment he supervised.

Back in India

This is when he decides to return to India. During this trip, a storm forces him to stop on an island near Canton, China, where he had already been. He meets the wealthy merchant Diogo Pereira, an old friend from Cochin, who shows him a letter from Portuguese prisoners in Canton, asking for a Portuguese ambassador to intercede on his behalf with the Emperor.

Later in the trip, he stops again in Malacca on December 27, 1551 and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On April 17 he sets sail with Diogo Pereira aboard the ship Santa Cruz, on his way to China. He introduces himself as the representative of Christianity and Pereira as the ambassador of the King of Portugal. It is shortly thereafter that he realizes he has forgotten his certificates confirming him as the representative of the Catholic Church in Asia. Back in Malacca, he is confronted by Captain Álvaro de Ataíde de Gama, who now had full control of the port and refuses to recognize him as representative of the Catholic Church, and who demands that Pereira resign his title of ambassador. The Captain then appoints a new crew for the ship and orders that the gifts for the Emperor be left in Malacca.

Back in Goa, Xavier did not give up and was busy sending the many groups of new Jesuits to India to establish missions. He also took care of the direction of St. Paul's College in Goa, which trained catechists and Asian priests, and promoted the translation of religious books into local languages.

Despite his intense activity, Francis Xavier cherished the dream of going as a missionary to China, where the entry of foreigners was forbidden. He left on April 14, 1552, convinced that he would be able to infiltrate secretly and win the Chinese over to Christianity. He disembarked on Sanchoon Island and, while negotiating with a Chinese merchant who promised to take him with him, he was attacked by violent fevers.

St. Francis Xavier died on December 3, 1552, on a humble wicker mattress, hugging the crucifix that his old friend Ignatius of Loyola had once given him.

He was first buried in Sanchoão, but in February 1553, his remains, found incorrupt, were transported from the island and temporarily buried in St. Paul's Church in Malacca. An open grave in the church still shows today the place where St. Francis Xavier was buried. After April 15, 1553, Diogo Pereira came from Goa, removed Xavier's body and on December 11 of that year, Xavier's body was taken to Goa. His body is today in the Basilica of the Good Jesus of Goa, where it was placed in a glass and silver box on December 2, 1637, and became a place of pilgrimage.

A bone from Xavier's right humerus was taken to Macau, where it is kept in a silver reliquary. This relic was destined for Japan, but religious persecution in the region led to it being kept at the Church of the Mother of God in Macau, the ruins of which are now known as St. Paul's Ruins. Today, it is at St. Joseph's Church in Macau that this sacred relic of St. Francis Xavier is deposited.

Many churches have since been erected in Xavier's honor, many of them founded by Jesuits. A relative of his, João de Azpilcueta Navarro, was a famous Jesuit missionary in Brazil. Saint Francis Xavier is featured on the Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Lisbon.


  1. Francis Xavier
  2. Francisco Xavier
  3. ^ "Notable Lutheran Saints". Archived from the original on 16 May 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  4. ^ Attwater 1965, p. 141.
  5. ^ a b Neill 2004, p. 160: "By another route I have written to your highness of the great need there is in India for preachers... The second necessity which obtains in India, if those who live there are to be good Christians, is that your highness should institute the holy Inquisition; for there are many who live according to the law of Moses or the law of Muhammad without any fear of God or shame before men".
  6. ^ Rao 1963, p. 43.
  7. ^ "How did St. Francis Xavier shape Catholicism? | Britannica". Retrieved 12 July 2022. However, his actions in India were not without controversy, as he was involved with the establishment of the Goa Inquisition, which punished converts accused of continuing to practice Hinduism or other religions.
  8. Posteriormente Inácio chegou a afirmar que Francisco Xavier fora "a argila mais rebelde que teve a oportunidade de moldar"[2].
  9. San Francisco Javier
  10. Wiesław Aleksander Niewęgłowski: Leksykon świętych. Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2006, s. 194. ISBN 978-83-247-0574-0.
  11. a b Cieślak 2005 ↓, s. 9.
  12. a b c Cieślak 2005 ↓, s. 12.

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