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Francis Xavier: An Amazing 10 Years

Some people live life as if in a hurry, and for a few this is true because their lives are short. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was one of these people. His Christian life had an auspicious beginning: he was one of the founding members of the Jesuits. Yet once he became a missionary he lived only about ten years. He believed that God’s Word should be heard by all, and since he lived in a time when "new" lands in the East and West were being discovered by Europeans, this meant traveling where no supporting network existed. Yet Francis was undaunted by this challenge, and in his ten years he accomplished great deeds. Even more, he died right as he was setting out to bring the story of Jesus to an area with little knowledge of Christianity.

Francis was one of the friends of Ignatius Loyola who formed the Jesuits in 1539. One of their mandates was to evangelize in newly discovered lands. One example of this was in the Americas. Many times Jesuit missionaries were the first Europeans to explore lands in both Northern and Southern America continents, along with Central America.

John III, King of Portugal, asked Francis to travel to and evangelize in India. Francis left in 1542 and landed at Goa, on the western seashore of India. His first six months were spent visiting hospitals and teaching children. One way he attracted children was to walk the streets, ring a bell, and invite children to hear about God. He would then lead the group to a church and teach them.

Francis focused on this work with children so as to reach adults. He wrote to a friend: "As it was impossible for me to meet personally the ever growing volume of calls . . . I resorted to the following expedient. I told the children who memorized the Christian doctrine to go to the homes of the sick, there to collect as many of the family and neighbors as possible, and to say the Creed with them several times. . . . In this way I managed to satisfy all my callers, and at the same time secured that the Creed, the Commandments, and the prayers were taught in the people’s homes and abroad in the streets."

After six months, Francis traveled south to work with pearl fisherman. Christianity had been previously introduced to this region, but had greatly declined. Francis spent three years teaching and preaching with considerable success. Francis continued working his way East, pausing at many of the islands to spread the Christian message.

In 1547, Francis became interested in traveling to Japan after meeting a Japanese man named Han-Sir and learning of their lack of knowledge of Christianity. Yet Ignatius (the head of the Jesuits) sent Francis back to Goa. Francis was finally able to go to Japan in 1549, arriving in Japan on August 15th of that year; he was accompanied by a now-Christian Han-Sir. He spent the first year learning the Japanese language. With this knowledge he translated several Christian writings into Japanese (with some help).

Francis had some failures and some successes. He was able to plant several churches and nurture the resulting Christian communities. After two and a half years he returned to Goa, in 1552. He made arrangements to travel to China. He led a group of missionaries and support staff toward China’s eastern shore. While stopping at a small island, Sancian, just off the Chinese shore, Francis became sick and died. His body was taken back for burial to Goa.

In just ten years Francis had evangelized in India, numerous islands in south Asia, and Japan, and was heading for China. His zeal for evangelizing in hostile environments inspired many.

©2004 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved