Francis Xavier SJ
Francis Xavier SJ (1506-1552)

Francis Xavier SJ

St Francis Xavier SJ

In art, St Francis Xavier is often depicted holding a crucifix aloft to represent the zeal he felt for bringing Christ’s Gospel to those who had not heard it. Like St Ignatius Loyola, he originally had worldly ambitions, but on meeting Ignatius in Paris at the age of 19, he realised the power of the Spiritual Exercises and studied instead for the priesthood. He became one of Ignatius’ first Companions and took vows of poverty and chastity with Ignatius at Montmartre in 1534. He was ordained three years later.

Shortly afterwards, King John of Portugal asked Ignatius to send missionaries to India, and Francis was chosen for the task. He arrived in Goa in May 1542, from where he travelled to south east India and worked for three years among the pearl-fishers there. He visited the sick in the hospitals and preached, going through the streets ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the Word of God. When he had gathered a number, he would take them to a certain church and would there explain the Christian faith to them.                     

From India, Francis sailed to the East Indies, before deciding in 1549 to set out for Japan. In his first year there, he learnt Japanese and translated some basic documents about the faith into local dialects. Wherever he went in Asia, Francis left behind flourishing Christian communities which survive to this day.

In total, Francis spent ten years working as a missionary in Asia; some have called him the greatest missionary since Saint Paul. His final ambition was to preach the Gospel in China but this was not to be. He was taken ill and died on 3 December 1552, on an island off the coast of China. He was canonised with Ignatius in 1622.