A SAINT FOR ALL
*Fr.Ivo da Concei?ao Souza
Since my childhood I have heard about the devotion of the Goans for
St.Francis Xavier. When I was seven-years old, I remember having kissed the
feet of St.Francis in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa with great
devotion. Every year people flock for the novena and for the Feast of
St.Francis. Both literate and illiterate people do admire him. People from
Goa and from neighbouring states, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Parsees,
or Christians come to pay him homage. Young and old people have devotion for
him. Although he was a son of his times and of his milieu, St.Francis
continues still to inspire our people today. He is a 'model of holiness' in
so far as he followed his Master, Jesus of Nazareth and worked for the
society of that time according to his vocation and convictions. We are happy
to have his yearly Feast. He continues to be known as "GOENCHO SAIB".
St.Francis Xavier is the Patron of the East. He was an apostle of the
Gospel, a founder of Christian communities.
Francisco de Jassu Xavier was born on April 7, 1506, in the Castle
of Javier (Xavier), in the kingdom of Navarre (now a province of Spain), of
a noble family. His parents were Don Juan de Jassu y Alondo and Dona Maria
de Azpilcueta y Aznarez de Sada. At the age of 19, Francis studied classical
languages (Latin and Greek), Rhetoric and Poetry, and Philosophy in the
University of Paris, and was staying at the College of Santa Barbara, in
Spain. He obtained Licenciate in Letters and Philosophy on March 15, 1530,
and in the same year he lectured on Aristotle in the nearby College of
Dormans-Beauvais, and took the Master's Degree.
As a student, he was well known as a high-jumper. But he was like a ship
without a rudder. As he himself revealed to his host in Mylapore, Fr.Gaspar
Coelho, in May-August 1545, he was in a bad company of classmates given to
"debauchery", but he abstained himself from contact with women due to fear
of "loathsome ulcers", which he saw in the master and pupils. He was also
careful in matters of faith, threatened by Lutheranism.
On August 15, 1534, in the chapel of Saint-Dinis, on the slopes of
Montmartre, in Paris, Francis together with Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Favre,
Simon Rodrigues de Azevedo, James Laynez, Alphonsus Salmeron and Nicholas
Bobadilla dedicated their life to the service of Christ, with the vows of
chastity, poverty and obedience. They went to Venice and wished to visit the
Holy Land, but could not make it. Francis was ordained priest in Rome on
June 24, 1537, and celebrated his First Mass in Vicenza, together with his
companions, barring Ignatius of Loyola who offered his Mass on Christmas Day
of 1538. They placed themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father. When the
King of Portugal, Dom Joao III, asked Paul III to send priests to India,
Francis was called to Rome. He was sent to Lisbon and from there with the
Brief of Paul III he was appointed the "Apostolic Nuncio" of Indies.
On Abril 7, 1541, Francis Xavier embarked in Lisbon on his trip to Goa,
where he arrived on May 6, 1542 by ship. During the journey, he was very
compassionate and ready to help. After getting down on the banks of the
river Mandovi, he went to the Convent of St.Francis in Old Goa to greet the
Bishop of Goa, D.Frey Juan de Albuquerque. He explained that he had been
sent by the Pope and the King of Portugal to work for the "salvation of the
unbelievers". He was a victim of the belief that the unevangelized
("gentios") would perish unconditionally. He showed him the papal letters
accrediting him as an Apostolic Nuncio.
His Apostolic Method:
After his arrival to Goa, Francis wrote so enthusiatically to Rome: "After
four months and more (of voyage from Mozambique) we reached India, Goa (I
mean), a city entirely of Christians, cosa para ver, (Epistulae Xavierii, I,
124, n.5), a most remarkable thing--a thing to be seen". "It has a monastery
with many friars of St.Francis, a very fine Cathedral with many canons, and
many other churches. There is reason for giving many thanks to God our Lord
on seeing how the name of Christ is flourishing so well in such distant
lands and among so many infidels" (EX, I, 121).
The Governor Martim Afonso de Sousa requested him to reside in his Palace,
but Francis preferred to stay in the Royal Hospital ("Hospital Real"), where
he dedicated himself to the sick and lepers of the Hospital of St.Lazarus.
He was preaching and catechizing in the church of the Rosary. Penitents
crowded to Francis for confession in the chapel of the hospital. In the old
Cathedral of the Bishop, Francis baptized his neophytes. On weekdays, in the
afternoon, Francis visited prisoners of the Prison ("Cadeia", situated in a
place in front of the Cathedral and the Palace of the Vice-Roys), taught
them how to confess, and ordinarily heard them afterwards in general
The town was cosmopolitan, with about two lakhs of inhabitants. There
were people from many lands: Europe, Africa, Ceylon, Malaya and China. Many
of them were Christians, mostly ill instructed in their faith and shallow in
its practice. Unfortunately several Portuguese in Goa had concubines and
slaves at their disposal. There was a lot of injustice in the courts,
corruption, and usury. Francis mixed up mainly with the Portuguese adults,
indigenous children and slaves.
Francis devised a new method to attract and instruct the people. He
went up and down the streets and squares with a bell in his hand, calling
children and adults for instruction. He began by singing the lessons, which
he had rhymed (in his Catechism, prepared by a seminarian of St.Paul's
College), and then made the children sing them, so that they might be better
memorized. Afterwards he explained each point in the simplest way, using
simple, easy words.
Francis worked for a short time in Goa, around 18 months, but to his
glory we must mention the College of St. Paul, where the clergy was trained.
There were already in 1556 one hundred and ten boys in fourteen different
national groups from all over Asia and Africa, including a few Portuguese
boys. There were boys from Malabar, Kanara, the Deccan, Gujarat, Bengal and
Pegu. There were Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, Malaccans (a veritable
pentecostal multitude). He was concerned in preparing the indigenous clergy
of good quality.
After five months and ten days of apostolate in Goa, Francis was
told by the Governor Martim Afonso de Sousa (1542-1545) to proceed to
Fishery Coast (Cape Comorin/Kanya Kumari). Towards the end of September of
1542, he took with him Francisco Mancias and two Indian students of the
College of St.Paul and landed at Manappad in October 1542, and then went to
After spending one year and three months in the Fishery Coast and
coming back to Goa on January 14, 1544, he went at the request of Pe.Mestre
Diego de Borba to reside at the College of St.Paul ('Seminary of Holy
Faith'). In April 1545, he left Goa for Mylapore, where he wrote the
Catechism in Tamil. In 1548 he was appointed Administrator of the College of
St.Paul. On April 14, 1549, he left for Japan. He came back to Goa to deal
with urgent matters in February of 1552. He went to Malacca on April 15,
He would come back about seven times to Goa, but always on
business and hurriedly. He remained in all a little more than 18 months in
Goan soil. In the time of Francis there were two chapels, one of St.Antao
and the other of St.Jerome. The Saint used to walk between them in
meditation and ecstasy. On one of these occasions, according to a legend, he
was heard saying while contemplating the Lord consoling him: "Satis, Domine,
satis" ('Enough, Lord, enough'').
He died in the island of Sangchwan (Sanchian), at the gate of
China, after he became sick since November 21, 1552, with high fever. He
reportedly desired his bones to be taken to Goa, which was the springboard
of his missionary activity. Although four sacks of lime were used in order
to hasten decomposition, it was found after two and half months, on February
17, 1553, that blood was coming out.
On March 14, 1554, his coffin was brought, through the river
Mandovi, to the Church of Our Lady of Ajuda, and on the following day the
body of Francis was taken to the Church of the College of St.Paul. After the
canonization of Padre-Mestre Francis in 1622, his body was taken to the
Church (raised to the category of Basilica in 1946) of Bom Jesus. Gregory XV
canonized him on March 12, 1622.
Francis Xavier is venerated as a Saint all over the East. Why is he
so revered and honoured? Surely because of his generosity in sacrificing
himself for the people during the short span of his life of forty-six years,
seven months and twenty-six days, of which he had spent ten years, and seven
months, minus four days, in Asia. He worked for the education and uplift of
the poor and downtrodden of the East, from India to Japan. It was at Malacca
that Francis came to know about Japan, as he himself states: "When I was in
the city of Malacca, some Portuguese merchants of high standing brought me
great news of certain very large islands recently discovered to the East,
called the islands of Japan. In the opinion of these men, there would be
better opportunities for the increase of our holy Faith there than anywhere
in India, because the people have an eager desire for knowledge and
instruction, which is not the case with the Indians" (Epistulae Xavierii,
I.391-392, quoted in P.Rayanna, The Life of St.Francis Xavier, p.116). He
could see the difference between the Indians and the Japanese. He found the
Indians, particularly the "Brahmans", cunning, exploiting the poor people,
whereas the Japanese were simple and more responsive (cf. The Letters and
Instruction of Francis Xavier, trans.by M.Joseph Costelloe, Sj, p.69, in a
letter written to companions living in Rome from Cochin, on January 15,
1544; G. Schurhammer, Francis Xavier. His Life, His Times, II, 406-410;
Monumenta Missionum Societatis Jesu, Epistulae St.Francisci Xavierii,
Aliaque Eius Scripta, I, 160-167).
Pius XI declared him in 1927 the Patron of the missionaries of the
world. His 'sacred relics' are kept in a silver casket on an artistically
carved marble mausoleum in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. St. Francis Xavier is
the symbol of unity among peoples. We do believe that he delivers Goans from
calamities through his intercession.
There are some misunderstandings regarding the Saint: Francis Xavier
contributed immensely to the evangelization of Goa by ushering in the Jesuit
Society and bringing to us his missionary zeal. But it cannot be said that
he was the first one to bring faith to our land, as the hymn Dev Amkam Zai
goes: "Bhavart amcho nhoi aycho kalcho, / ponn Sam Fransisk Xavieracho".
There have been here known and unknown harbingers of faith. Francis had no
special gift of languages, but he worked hard to learn Konkani and Tamil.
Francis Xavier was totally dedicated to his work, determined and firm in his
convictions. He availed himself of his sharp mind, his ambition and his
organizational skills for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. People of
different creeds, races, cultures, rich and poor, young and old, come
together on the occasion of his novena and feast and live as a family. May
we grow in the Spirit through his example as a community of love!