Feast of Saint Francis Xavier Date in the current year: December 3, 2019

Feast of Saint Francis Xavier On December 3, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, a well-known Catholic missionary and one of the founders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order). It is an official holiday in the Spanish autonomous community of Navarre, where Francis Xavier was born, and in the Indian state of Goa, where he led a mission.

Francis Xavier was born in 1506 in the Castle of Xavier in the Kingdom of Navarre. His father was finance minister and privy council to King John III of Navarre. However, the family lost their lands when Castile invaded Navarre. Francis’s father lost his property and influence and died when Francis was only nine years old.

At the age of 19, Francis went to study at the University of Paris, where he met and befriended Pierre Favre and later Ignatius of Loyola. On August 15, 1534, Francis, Pierre, Ignatius and four other students made private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the Church of Saint Peter of Montmartre. This day is considered the creation date of the Jesuit Order, although the Society of Jesus was officially founded in 1540, upon receiving papal approval.

One of the society’s missions was to spread Christianity in Spain and Portugal’s new possessions in Asia. When the Portuguese king John III asked for missionaries for the Portuguese East Indies, Ignatius of Loyola appointed Simão Rodrigues and Nicholas Bobadilla. However, Bobadilla fell seriously ill, and Ignatius asked Francis Xavier to go in his place.

And so Francis’s missionary work began. On March 15, 1540, he left Rome for Lisbon to get instructions from the King, and on April 7, 1541, he left Lisbon for Portuguese Mozambique, where he remained until March 1542. After that, he was sent to Goa, than capital of Portuguese India.

Francis Xavier was tasked with restoring Christianity among the Portuguese settlers in India, many of whom hadn’t been particularly religious even before they left their home country. After several months, he also began to preach to the locals. However, converting them was a difficult task because of opposition from Brahmins (a high caste of Hindu priests).

Francis was the founder and first head of St. Paul’s College, which used to be the main Jesuit institution in the entire Asia. He also initiated the construction of 40 churches along the coast. Thanks to his efforts, the number of Christians in Portuguese India grew steadily. Even today, nearly 25% of Goa residents identify themselves as Christians, while the total percentage of Christians in India is slightly above 2%.

In 1545, Francis Xavier left for Portuguese Malacca and spent about three years there. He returned to Goa for a little over a year and then left again, this time for Japan. Finally, in April 1552, he set sail for China. Francis Xavier died from a fever on the Chinese island of Shangchuan in December 1552.

Pope Paul V beautified Francis Xavier in 1619, and Pope Gregory XV canonized him in 1622. In 1927, Pope Pius XI named him co-patron of all foreign Catholic missions, alongside Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

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