04 Dec 2023  |   04:02am IST

Relevance of Francis Xavier in the Modern Context

Francis Xavier set forth to the Indies, by being imbued with Christ’s commissioning, who worked for a righteous society, denounced evil, and showed His love to those on the periphery of the Jewish society. He had briefs that had appointed Xavier Papal legate with the fullest powers throughout the countries of the East
Relevance of Francis Xavier in the Modern Context

Joseph Cardozo

The commissioning words of Jesus, “go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you (Mt 28:19),” has four actions: going out, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. It brings out the essence of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Furthermore, discipleship is spelled out from the four actions. It means making disciples by enabling them to understand that they too are children of God. Mission entails to be sent and Jesus’ perspective on mission is to go out of the narrow confines of one’s community to make disciples of all nations, implying universal responsibility. Kingdom of Heaven, discipleship and mission are interrelated that forms a part of a virtuous circle. 

Francis Xavier set forth to the Indies, by being imbued with Christ’s commissioning, who worked for a righteous society, denounced evil, and showed His love to those on the periphery of the Jewish society. He had briefs that had appointed Xavier Papal legate with the fullest powers throughout the countries of the East. Xavier submissively placed himself at the disposal of the Bishop in Goa, who, in turn, was pleased with “the simplicity and sincerity of Xavier that he asked him to proceed outright with whatever his heart and conscience dictated (Marangoly, 2008).” Though before conversion, Xavier had a worldly understanding of excellence, to gain the whole world for fame yet Ignatius Loyola helped him to discover God and in discovering God, Xavier discovered his own true self. He discovered a new meaning for excellence: to be the presence of Christ to all. 

Xavier’s missionary activity lasted for only ten years but in those ten years, he was a true “disciple” of Christ with the “mission” to be Christ (alter Christus) for others. This made Xavier great, that even today after 500 years we still remember him for his virtuous and self-sacrificing life. The sheer magnitude of the enterprise of serving people that he undertook for the love of Christ staggers the imagination and captures the admiration of men and women of all walks of life. 

During his decade in the East, Xavier’s trademark was his bell. In the city’s Churches, he preached in Portuguese and in his own words Xavier states, “…when I had them fixed in my memory, I went through the whole place with my bell in my hand, gathering all the boys and men that I could, and teaching them twice a day for a month.” Furthermore, the letters of Xavier reveal that he worked all day, prayed during the night and slept for just a few hours. During the day, he belonged to the neighbour by bearing witness to Jesus by preaching and healing through words, while in the night, he belonged to God through prayer.

Xavier fostered his missionary activities with humility to uphold moral reforms, dignity of human persons and faith. In using the psychological insight of a Jesuit and the sympathy of his charity, he responded to defend dignity and grant justice to the people. Xavier bore witness to Christ by attending to the spiritual needs of the people, showed his concern for the wavered Christians, and brought them back to Christ. He upheld social justice by patiently listening to people's problems, disputes, and administered justice to the needy. He possessed “in his mind a clear distinction between right and wrong and ran no risk of compromising with evil.” Xavier used his moral authority for the protection of the natives from the oppression and bad example of the Europeans, “who were leading lives that were a betrayal of Christ and Christianity (Marangoly, 2008).” He bore witness to Christ by writing to Joao III, the King of Portugal, against immorality, social injustice, deprivation of the poor, and laxity of faith.

Xavier served everyone without any discrimination, where he saved Christian brethren, who suffered under the Portuguese rule. He rescued those who faced hardships and whose things were often stolen by the local ruler’s soldiers. He made provisions for those who had deserted by small boats. One can aptly state that “the aim of his mission was to extend Christ’s kingdom. Through his communication and interaction with the people, he tried to build bridges of love (Hilary, 2012).” His proverbial concern for the well-being of children is known through his letter to Mancias in June 1544, Xavier states, “I beg of you to give your first attention to the education of the children.” 

In our recent times, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI states: "not only their (Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier) history which was interwoven for many years from Paris and Rome, but a unique desire, a unique passion ... to give to God-Trinity a glory always greater and to work for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples who had been ignored.” Undoubtedly, Xavier was filled with “great zeal to proclaim the message of Jesus and even at the last moment was ready to go to the unknown world in the East (Hilary, 2012).” 

In the modern context, the relevance of Xavier is noticed in the desire of the faithful to manifest their trust in him and through his intercession, receive favours in one’s life. The compassionate-loving service of Xavier is relevant in the modern context, where we continue to remain passionate about our work, academics and a willing desire to give glory to God by our lives. Furthermore, various spheres of life, whether it be education, catechism, missiology and ecclesiology have a bearing of the life of Xavier in the psyche of the people. As the foremost saint from Navarre and one of the main Jesuit saints, he is much venerated in Spain, India and the Hispanic countries where Francisco Javier, Xavier, Francis or Javier are common male given names. Many churches all over the world have been named in honor of Xavier. The message we can learn from Xavier is to ask the same questions that Xavier continuously asked himself: what boundaries and limitations in my life do I need to transcend and give a new meaning to? How can I be a presence of Christ to others?  How do my everyday decisions and choices reflect the will of God? Like Xavier, imbued with the presence of Christ, we are urged towards excellence by going out in making disciples through teaching and invoking the Trinitarian name. 

(Fr Joseph Cardozo SJ is Assistant to the Provincial of the Goa Province of the Society of Jesus and Superior of the Candidate House, Miramar-Goa)


Iddhar Udhar