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Francis Xavier

1506-1552. Jesuit missionary to the East Indies and Japan. Son of an aristocratic Spanish-Basque family, he was born at the castle of Xavier in Navarre. He studied law and theology at the University of Paris, where he met and befriended Pierre Favre and Ignatius Loyola.* Together with five others, Favre and Xavier became Loyola's associates in the founding of the Society of Jesus in 1534. The society vowed to follow Jesus in poverty and chastity, and to evangelize the heathen. It was in the latter activity that Xavier excelled and earned fame as an outstanding missionary pioneer and organizer.

He was ordained in Venice in 1537, and in 1539, at the request of John III of Portugal, he was appointed papal legate and sent to evangelize the East Indies. He arrived in Goa in 1542 and spent three years preaching to and serving the sick. He was very successful in evangelizing the pearl fishermen of SW India, who were baptized in thousands. He extended his missionary activity to Japan, where he arrived in 1549, accompanied by Hachiro whom he met at Malacca and converted. He studied the Japanese language and within two years established a flourishing Christian community of 2,000 but he was driven out by Buddhist monks while his community endured great persecutions. He paid a short visit to China, but returned to Goa in 1552 and worked at the Goa college. During the same year he left for China, was refused entry, and died on the island of Sancian. His body was brought back to Goa and lies enshrined in the Church of Jesus the Good.

The success of Xavier's evangelization has not exempted his methods from criticism. He has often been accused of lack of understanding of oriental religions-a situation which he did little to remedy. His use also of the Inquisition has detracted from the glory of numerous conversions. He seems also to have made use of the government of Goa in proselytizing. Nevertheless, his outstanding missionary work aroused much interest in overseas missions in Europe. More than 700,000 conversions have been attributed to him by the Jesuits; Pius X conferred upon him the name “Patron of Foreign Missions.” He was canonized in 1622.

See J. Brodrick, St. Francis Xavier, 1506-1552 (1952).