December 3rd 1552 - Francisco de Xavier
† on the island Sanzian
He came from a Basque noble family and was born on April 7th 1506, Tuesday of the Holy Week, on the Castle Xavier, a defiant castle in the Kingdom of Navarra.
His father, Dr. Juan de Jassu, belonged to the most outstanding and most influential personalities of the country. In 1470 he had acquired the doctor degree in Canon Law at the University of Bologna. He chose then the political career, and was since 1495 president of the royal council. In that function he stayed usually in the not far (approx. 50 km north-west) apart Pamplona. When he died in 1515, Francis was still not ten years old. His ancestors had been free hereditary farmers in Jassu, a Basque village in Nether-Navarra, beyond the Pyrenees, by St Jean-Pied-de-port.
His mother († 1529), Dona Mary, was the hereditary daughter of the royal upper chamberlain. Because of their beauty she was much courted. She had also brought into the marriage the Castle Xavier where she was born. After the death of her father Martin in the year 1502 she got also the palace Azpilcueta at the northwest border of the kingdom.
The Castle Xavier, documented for the first time in 1217, was lonely situated, but in a strategically important place. That is testified also by relicts from the Roman time. At the beginning of the eleventh century the Arab Moors had achieved control of the country. From the close Leyre had also taken place step by step in bloody fights of the 'Reconquista'.
On Castle Xavier a religious spirit prevailed. The five children were educated faithfully and piously. Magdalena, the oldest, had - as court lady of Queen Isabella - declined splendid proposals of marriage. She became a nun in the severe nunnery of St Clare in Gandía. There she died in 1533 as abbess in the repute of holiness.
The other sisters and brothers were Anna, Miguel and Juan. Nine years later took place the birth of the youngest child, who founded the fame of the house for all times: Francisco. At that time his mother was already almost 42 years old.
Francis stayed in the castle up to his parting in autumn 1525. After a ride of nearly three weeks over Roncesvalles, Bordeaux and Orléans he arrived in Paris, in order to begin there at the Sorbonne his academic studies.
In Paris he lived in the students' hostel of St Barbara, like Peter Faber, who was of the same age, and by whom Francis became acquainted with his compatriot Ignatius. Both originated from the Basque Country. Castle Loyola and Castle Xavier do not lie far apart from each other. Both students belonged to the aristocracy and were shaped by the distinguished Grandezza of the Spaniards. Although Ignatius was about 15 years older, both of them were and remained connected by a friendship that was deeply rooted in Christ by the pilgrimage vows of the first companions on the Montmartre (1534), and the ordination three years later in Venice (1637).
On May 15th 1540 Xaver said good-by to Ignatius, in order to work in the Far East as a pioneer of Christianity. Over Loreto and Genova he travelled to Spain, where he on the parental castle bade farewell to his brothers and sisters and prayed at the grave of his deceased mother. His father had died already when Francis was at the age of nine only.
Xaver visited also the Castle Loyola and reached in June 1940 Lisbon. Here he met with Rodrigues who was likewise destined for India. Since still another longer waiting period lay ahead up to the sailing of the royal fleet, both dedicated themselves to the pastoral care - with so much favourable response that King Johann III wanted to keep the two in Portugal. But Ignatius left him only Rodrigues, and determined as replacement a Father from Camerino, who as a priest had entered the Society of Jesus in Rome only one year ago.
So Xaver was the only one from Ignatius' original group who left Europe. He was strong and impulsive, and inspired as leader and official superior the approximately forty Jesuits who at the time of his death already lived in India.
The royal fleet consisted of five ships. Xaver travelled on the flagship. In his bag he had a document which proved him as papal legate. On May 6th 1542, after more than one year, the ship reached the port Goa at the west coast of Hither India, which was since 1510 a Portuguese colony.
Xaver worked there in the whole coastal region. In the year 1549 he set out to the mission in Japan and created there a Christian community. Three years later, by the attempt to bring Christianity also into the forbidden China, he died at daybreak of December 3rd 1552 on the island Sanzian near Canton. An icy-cold wind was blowing. The island Sanzian lies before the gates of the Chinese realm which Francis had wanted to conquer for Christ. It was not granted to him.
From the arrival in Goa up to his death his hectic pioneer work took only ten years and seven months. He died of pneumonia a lonely death in a miserable hut, without Brethren and without extreme unction, only 46 years old. With him were his Chinese companion Antonio, one Portuguese, and two mulattos. On the following day they lowered the body into a fast dug pit, strewed a few bags lime over it, and rolled a large stone on the grave.
Xaver's body was transferred in March 1554 to Goa and solemnly buried there in the College Church. Thousands of people were present.
The small Chinese Antonio, who had during Francis' dying held the poor death candle for the Saint, wrote in a letter which is kept in the archive of the Society of Jesus in Rome: 'Xaver died with the name Jesus on his lips, in great silence and peace, and his chastened soul went home to taste its creator and lord.'
Ignatius and the brothers in Rome received the message from the death of the great apostle only one and a half year later. More than half a century later Father General Aquaviva let bring the Saint's right arm to Rome, with which he had baptized and blessed uncounted people. That large relic is kept on Xaver's altar in the Order Church Il Gesù.
Xaver worked only about two and a half years in Japan. He hoped and dreamed to be able to connect the educated class of Japan with the large universities in Europe, particularly Paris.
When the Japanese said to him that the most educated people in the world was the Chinese, he decided to go there. When he left Japan he had converted some thousand Japanese to Christ. In the twenty years after his death the number had risen to approximately 30.000. The Society of Jesus regarded Japan as its most promising mission field in the Far East.
In the year 1927 Pope Pius XI pronounced Xaver as patron of all missions of the church.
[back to Otto Syre's SJ-Calendar]