Written by Sherry
Thursday, 03 December 2009 09:44
Today is St. Francis Xavier's feastday and there is no better way to celebrate than to spend some time in St. Francis Xavier's World via this wonderful website sponsored by the Government of Navarre, Spain - Xavier's birthplace. Follow his travels around the world, see pictures of the places and people he knew. The website is designed for students and would make a wonderful resources for home schooling parents or CCD teachers.
Or read one of his letters. Xavier wrote 190 letters of which 108 have come down to us. During his lifetime his missionary letters were the talk of Catholic Europe. They were read by Pope Paul III and the cardinals of the Curia in Rome as well as the ordinary citizens of Portugal who had the letters read to them in their churches and, of course, by his brother Jesuits.
Here are some of the most fascinating excerpts from a letter Xavier wrote from India to the Society of Jesus in Rome in 1543.
"As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms. The fruit that is reaped by the baptism of infants, as well as by the instruction of children and others, is quite incredible. . .
For my part I desired to satisfy all, both the sick who came to me themselves, and those who came to beg on the part of others, lest if I did not, their confidence in, and zeal for, our holy religion should relax, and I thought it wrong not to do what I could in answer to their prayers.
But the thing grew to such a pitch that it was impossible for me myself to satisfy all, and at the same time to avoid their quarrelling among themselves, every one striving to be the first to get me to his own house; so I hit on a way of serving all at once.
As I could not go myself, I sent round children whom I could trust in my place. They went to the sick persons, assembled their families and neighbours, recited the Creed with them, and encouraged the sufferers to conceive a certain and well-founded confidence of their restoration. Then after all this, they recited the prayers of the Church. To make my tale short, God was moved by the faith and piety of these children and of the others, and restored to a great number of sick persons health both of body and soul. How good He was to them! He made the very disease of their bodies the occasion of calling them to salvation, and drew them to the Christian faith almost by force!
I have also charged these children to teach the rudiments of Christian doctrine to the ignorant in private houses, in the streets, and the crossways. As soon as I see that this has been well started in one village, I go on to another and give the same instructions and the same commission to the children, and so I go through in order the whole number of their villages. When I have done this and am going away, I leave in each place a copy of the Christian doctrine, and tell all those who know how to write to copy it out, and all the others are to learn it by heart and to recite it from memory every day.
Every feast day I bid them meet in one place and sing all together the elements of the faith. For this purpose I have appointed in each of the thirty Christian villages men of intelligence and character who are to preside over these meetings, and the Governor, Don Martin Alfonso, who is so full of love for our Society and of zeal for religion, has been good enough at our request to allot a yearly revenue of 4000 gold farlams for the salary of these catechists. He has an immense friendship for ours, and desires with all his heart that some of them should be sent hither, for which he is always asking in his letters to the King . . .
There is now in these parts a very large number of persons who have only one reason for not becoming Christian, and that is that there is no one to make them Christians. It often comes into my mind to go round all the Universities of Europe, and especially that of Paris, crying out everywhere like a madman, and saying to all the learned men there whose learning is so much greater than their charity, "Ah! what a multitude of souls is through your fault shut out of heaven and falling into hell!"
Would to God that these men who labor so much in gaining knowledge would give as much thought to the account they must one day give to God of the use they have made of their learning and of the talents entrusted to them! . . ."
Here is a picture of his body - famously incorrupt, if dry and brown- and brought out every 10 years for the faithful to venerate.
Xavier died alone on an island a few miles away from the next new country he was trying to reach: China.
His body was covered with quick lime to assist decomposition and then shipped back to Goa in India. When the casket was opened in India, his body was found to be utterly fresh and life-like.
One of the really amusing tales comes from 120 years later when the Calvinist Holland controlled Goa. A Dutch sea captain opened Xavier's casket in the middle of the night to see whatever was left of this famous man. He and his small group of conspirators were stunned to find Xavier's skin still fresh and rosy and his hair still curling. Understandably, the Calvinist sea captain converted on the spot.
The best description we have of Francis Xavier's appearance is the one written 120 years after his death - by one of the men who carefully examined his body in the middle of the night.