In a recent address to Italy’s National Missionary Congress, Pope Francis stated that all Christians and “not just the few” are called to intensify their missionary spirit and go out to proclaim the joy of the Gospel. For some of us, the Holy Father’s comment may beg the question – how exactly do we achieve this? Perhaps the feast of St. Francis Xavier provides the answer – just do what God asks you to do.
Francis Xavier was born into an aristocratic family during a time of great political upheaval in Spain, especially in the Basque region where his family lived. When he went to Paris to study it was with the intention he would return to Spain to take part in the politics of the day. But God had other plans.
In Paris, Francis Xavier roomed with Ignatius Loyola and Pierre Favre who became the founders of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and their influence clearly touched his soul. Though the young Francis resisted God’s call to become a priest, he eventually admitted his vocation and began his mission to save the lost.
On 15 August 1534, in a small chapel in Montmartre, he joined Loyola and five others, making private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and vowed to travel to the Holy Land to convert infidels. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on June 24, 1537. He celebrated his first Mass in Vicenza after forty days in prayers.
Soon after, Francis Xavier became an accidental “Apostle to the East.” His companion Nicholas Bobadilla was selected by Ignatius Loyola to go to India, but at the last moment Bobadilla became ill and Francis Xavier took his place. He became the first Jesuit missionary in the history of this new religious community, and eventually became known as the “Apostle of the Indies,” and the “Apostle of Japan”. In 1927, Pope Pius XI named St. Francis Xavier, along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, co-patron of all foreign missions.
Cross Catholic Outreach shares this great call to carry the Gospel into the world today. Francis Xavier sought to see the face of Christ in all he met. He recognized the simple fact that faith without charity is not faith at all and that to be a bearer of God’s Word to the world means that one must address the needs of body and soul together.
-Fr. Bernard Olszewski