St. Francis Xavier

On December 3rd, we celebrated the feast of a great Jesuit saint. He should receive much credit for the establishment of the Christian faith in many parts of Asia, especially India. His indefatigable zeal in preaching the Good News earned him the title, “Patron of the Missions.” He is St Francis Xavier.

As a young man, he nurtured great ambitions to become an illustrious professor in the European academic circle. To that end he went to Paris where he enrolled himself at the university and lived the life of a typical university student. It was there that he met St Ignatius of Loyola who was in the process of creating the Jesuit Order. Recognizing the great potential of the young man, Ignatius challenged him with Jesus’ own words: “Francis, Francis, what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his very soul?” At first Francis ignored him but those words kept ringing in his ears. Eventually Francis yielded and joined the first band of Jesuits.

Chosen to head the first group of missionaries to the East, Francis arrived in 1542 at the shores of Goa which was then a Portuguese colony. He spent the following three years studying Tamil, an ancient language that happens to be my native tongue too. He learned a few prayers in Tamil: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Hail Holy Queen, and the Creed. He also memorized one sermon in Tamil that he delivered everywhere. It spoke of heaven and hell, and who goes where. In 1545 the saint travelled on foot from Goa to the southern tip of the Indian peninsula braving wild animals and brigands on the way. He baptized thousands of people and legend says that his right hand would ache at the end of the day. He catechized children and adults, and regularized numerous marriages.

Next, he evangelized the island of Sri Lanka. He also traveled to the Molucca Islands where he preached to the natives. Eventually he carried the gospel to Japan. However, his real desire was to preach in China. Unfortunately he died from a tropical disease before he could reach the mainland. His body was brought back to India and today it is venerated in the Church of Bom Jesus in Goa. His arm – the arm that baptized thousands and thousands of people – is kept in the Jesuit church in Rome.

When you study the life of St Francis Xavier, you cannot but marvel at his great zeal for the Lord and His message. He sacrificed everything to fulfill the vocation that God had given him through St Ignatius. He embraced the people to whom he preached and became one with them. He was untiring in doing the Lord’s work. In one of his letters to St Ignatius from India, he wrote the following words:

So, since I came here, I have had no rest. I have been going from village to village and every child not yet baptized I have baptized. So I have brought redemption to a very great number of children, who, as the saying goes, cannot tell their right hand from their left. But the children would not let me say my office or eat or rest till I had taught them some prayer. It was then that I really began to feel that of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Even though I have visited many parts of India, until recently I had never been to Goa. Luckily one of my brothers, John, was transferred to Goa a few years ago and so I got to visit the former Portuguese colony. Goa is famous for its beautiful, white sand beaches that are visited by tourists especially from Europe. However, for me the real attraction was the church where lies the body of St Francis Xavier. I prayed there for you. I also prayed for myself.

Let us all pray that God will raise up missionaries to re-evangelize Europe that has given us so many great saints and missionaries. Let us pray for all ordained ministers in our country that they will be tireless like St Francis in preaching the gospel and in celebrating the sacraments. Please pray for vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and lay ministries in the Church. All of us need to be filled with the tremendous zeal that fired the heart of St Francis Xavier and bring the Good News of Jesus’ birth to everyone.

Just this week we bid good-bye to one of our great presidents, George H W Bush, a true statesman, who dedicated over seven decades to public service. With no exceptions, everyone praised him for his spirit of service, integrity, honesty and humility. Let us pray for our country that God will continue to grant us leaders after the example of this great and humble president. Let us hope and pray that the great virtues he embodied and taught will not be lost in our political and civic life.

May this Advent season bring you closer to the Lord! Let us eagerly await His coming!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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