Francis Xavier, a Missionary Beyond the Borders

Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, SJ

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In a homily delivered in Manila on November 29, 1970, Saint Paul VI stated: “I would never have come from Rome to this far-distant land unless I had been most firmly convinced of two fundamental things: first, of Christ; and second, of your salvation.” He added: “The more distant the goal, the more difficult my mission, the more pressing is the love that urges me to it.”[1] Saint Francis Xavier could have said the same words. For him, too, the motives were Christ and the salvation of the people. Thus he was not afraid to consider the most distant and difficult goal as the most urgent. With this enthusiasm he proclaimed the Gospel in India, in Malacca (Malaysia), in the Moluccas (Indonesia) and in Japan. Only death stopped him when he tried to enter China, his last great missionary dream.

Xavier felt himself to be primarily an instrument in the hands of God. He wrote: “I trust that Christ our Lord will make me understand and grant the grace to use me, this useless instrument to establish His faith among the pagans.”[2] Nevertheless, he knew that this “useless instrument” had been sent onmission by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, at the request of John III, King of Portugal. Xavier established a frank relationship with Ignatius, both by informing him of the obstacles he had to face and by expressing his gratitude for the help he had received.

In fact, together with Simón Rodrigues, Xavier had been sent to Portugal, accepting the invitation of John III, one of the Lusitanian monarchs most eager to seek missionaries for the proclamation of the Gospel in India. Xavier and Rodrigues arrived in Lisbon in 1540; but, while Xavier left for the East in 1541, Rodrigues remained in Portugal, where he became the first provincial of the Society of Jesus, engaging in the formation of young Jesuits, many of whom were sent on mission to the East. Others were sent to America and Africa. For example, in 1549, the same year that Francis Xavier arrived in Japan, six Jesuits, led by Fr Manuel da Nobrega, were sent to Brazil, in what would be the first mission of the Society of Jesus in the New World.

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