May 2020 Print

“In Journeying Often”

St. Francis Xavier in India

By Fr. Therasian Xavier

The Jesuit Fr. Georg Schurhammer’s monumental four volume Francis Xavier: His Life, His Times (Jesuit Historical Institute, Rome 1973–1982) is definitely a ground-breaking event in the study of St. Francis Xavier. Volume I deals with his European days (1506–1541). Volume II is on India (1545–1549). Volume III covers Indonesia and India (1545–1549) while the last Volume is about Japan and China (1549–1552). Each volume has at least 700 pages and reveals the very meticulous and lifelong research of the author. Though there is plentiful history which is a real treat, the spirit that pervades the volumes is very rationalistic and humanistic. Under the guise of “de-mythologizing Francis Xavier,” Fr. Schurhammer removes all supernatural elements from our saint. All the miracles of St. Francis Xavier are called into question and later rejected as “pious exaggeration.”

A Valiant Missionary

St. Francis Xavier had a prodigious success—not because of what nature endowed him with—but because of what grace made him to be. He himself calls his method, a “pedagogy of grace.” Faith is a gift of God; therefore, it is to be obtained by prayer. He was a convincing preacher, thanks to several miracles he performed. At any rate, here is a brief but breath-taking account of St. Francis Xavier’s movement within India. It gives a vivid impression of our Saint’s tireless activity: Like St. Paul he could say, “in itineribus saepe” (II Cor. 11:26). Here we are presenting the chief dates and facts.

1542 AD: On May 6, 1542, St. Francis Xavier arrived at Goa in the “Coulam” with the new Governor Martim Afonso de Sousa and found here the newly founded Saint Paul’s College erected for the training of a native clergy for India. As soon as the monsoon was over, in the beginning of October, he left Goa with three Parava seminarians for the Fishery Coast, where the whole caste of the Parava pearl fishers, about 20,000 souls, had received baptism in 1535-37, practically without any instruction, as nobody knew their Tamil language, and were like sheep without a shepherd. He landed at Manappad, went from there overland to Tuticorin and baptized on the way a small village. In Tuticorin he translated the small catechism and went from village to village teaching it, and baptizing the newborn children and grown-up pagans.

St. Francis Xavier

A Timeline of Activity

1543-44 AD: In October 1543 came the fleet with the governor to the island of Neduntivu and St. Francis Xavier sailed with him back to Cochin and Goa where he made (the Society having been in the meantime approved by the Pope) his solemn profession in the hands of the Bishop Fray Juan de Albuquerque, O.F.M., his great friend, and met the two companions left with the fleet in Mozambique in 1542. One, Paul, he left at the college; with the other, Mansilhas, and some other helpers he returned to the Fishery Coast, via Colombo, where he visited the King of Kotte Bhuwaneka Bahu with a letter of the Portuguese king. The mission work was troubled by the invasion of the Badagas, the Telugu troupes of Vijayanagar, confederated with the Chera kings of Quilon and Southern Kerala against the Pandyan kings of Palayamkottai. Both parties sought for the help of the Portuguese. St. Francis Xavier, as mediator, got this help for the Chera kings who gave in return permission to the Makua fishermen of the coast of Southern Kerala to become Christians. The Makuas, eager to get the protection of the Portuguese like their Parava neighbors, were ready and in one month (November/December 1544), after a summary preparation, St. Francis Xavier baptized the whole caste, 10,000 souls. Before he could baptize the last village, Manakkudi, he got news that the raja of Jaffna had slaughtered his new converts in Mannaar, about 500–600. So he at once sailed to Quilon and from there to Cochin, from where he wrote to Mansilhas to visit the Makua neophytes and to leave a copy of the prayers and a teacher in each village and to baptize those of Manakkudi. Then he went to see the governor in Goa and got from him orders for a punitive expedition against the murderer of the Christians, the King of Jaffna.

1545 AD: On January 20, 1545, he was back in Cochin, where he met a Portuguese merchant, Antonio de Paiva, just returned from Makassar (Indonesia), where two kings had received baptism and had sent for missionaries to baptize their people. Busy with organizing the expedition against the King of Jaffna, St. Francis Xavier sailed to Colombo and from there to Negapatnam, from where the fleet had to start. But here the expedition was postponed until a rich vessel from Pegu with Portuguese merchandise had been rescued—the vessel was stranded at Jaffna and had been confiscated by the raja. So St. Francis Xavier went on pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle St. Thomas in Mylapore and here resolved to sail to Makassar to bring in that harvest. At the end of August he left Mylapore for Malacca with a relic of the Apostle Thomas, which he wore on his breast till his death.

1545-47 AD: He worked in Malacca and, as a priest, had already gone to Makassar, in the Moluccas (Amboina, Uliasser, Seran, Ternate and Halmahere), founding the mission among the Malays and the savage head-hunters. On the way back a Portuguese merchant, Jorge Alvares, just returned from the recently discovered Japan, presented him the Japanese Anjiro and spoke to him of the great door opened to the Gospel in that highly civilized nation.

1548 AD: In Cochin, where St. Francis Xavier arrived Jan. 13, 1548, he met the Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Ceylon, Fray Joam de Vila de Conde, from whom he heard how one of his friars, Fray Francesco de Monteprandone, had baptized the King of Kandy (March 9, 1546) and that the King of Kottê was persecuting the Christians. Besides that, he found that 12 new Jesuit missionaries had arrived from Portugal during his absence. Five of them were working on the Fishery Coast and in Southern Kerala according to the orders he had sent to Goa before leaving India; they were helped by the native priests Coelho, Mauel and Gaspar. He went there from Cochin, convoked them to Manappad, ordered Coelho to translate the big catechism, which he had composed in Ternate, into Tamil and left them an instruction full of missionary wisdom which culminated in the counsel to win the love of the people as true shepherds. Antonio Criminale was confirmed as their superior. From Manappad St. Francis Xavier returned to Cochin and sailed to Goa and from there to Bassein to meet the new Governor, D. Joam de Castro, from whom he got the necessary dispatches for the mission of Ternate and for the missionaries who had to found a college in Malacca. Castro, the hero of Diu, was sick; he asked Francis to remain with him during the monsoon of 1548, for he felt death coming; he died in St. Francis Xavier’s arms in Goa on June 6. Shortly before, on Pentecost, May 20, Anjirô with his two companions had received baptism from the hand of the bishop, and now St. Francis Xavier was preparing his voyage to Japan. As soon as the monsoon was over, the Father went to the south to pay a rapid visit to the Fishery Coast. Before he left Goa six new missionaries had arrived from Portugal, amongst them the Belgian Gaspar Barzaeus (Sep. 4); five more with Antonio Gomes followed during his absence on October 10. In the middle of November, St. Francis Xavier was back in Goa, where Gomes the new rector received the transfer of the College to the Society of Jesus. A Father was appointed to open another college in Bassein, and Father Lancilotto to found a school in Quilon for the Portuguese, the Paravas and the St. Thomas Christians of that place. On his way to Cochin in December 1548, St. Francis Xavier visited the flourishing college for the St. Thomas Christians, which his friend, Fray Vicente de Lagos, O.F.M, had founded in Cranganore, and in the Franciscan Convent of Cochin he met the saintly old bishop of the same Christians, Mar Jakob, and in his letters to the king he recommended both warmly to him.

1549 AD: In the middle of February 1549 he was back in Goa and went to Bassein to get the necessary dispatches for his Japan voyage from the new Governor Garcia de Sá. Back in Goa in March he sent Barzaeus to found a station in Ormuz. Another Father, the fiery old Catalan Cipriano, was destined to open a residence in Mylapore, and on April 15 St. Francis Xavier embarked with Father Cosme de Torres, Br. Juan Fernandez, a Malabar and a Chinese servant and Anjiro with his two companions for Japan. In Japan, where he stayed from 1549 to 1551, he founded missions in Kagoshima, Ichiku, Hirado, Yamaguchi and Bungo. Back in Malacca in December 1551, he found there letters from which he learned that he had been nominated Provincial of the newly erected Indian Province which extended from Africa to Japan, that Fr. Antonio Criminale, S.J., had died a martyr at the Fishery Coast and that Antonio Gomes had dismissed all the Indian boys from the Goa college, making it, against the will of the founders, the bishop and the orders of the king, a school for Portuguese only.

1552 AD: January 24, 1552, St. Francis Xavier landed in Cochin with an ambassador of the King of Bungo. In Goa, where he arrived in February, he met his brethren (10 new missionaries had arrived in 1551 under their leader Fr. Melchior Nunes Barreto) with Barzaeus whom he had recalled from Ormuz. The few weeks St. Francis Xavier remained in Goa were devoted to the reorganization of the mission and to preparation for his voyage to China; for on the way back from Japan he had received letters from Portuguese captives in that country, giving great hopes for the conversion of that people if he went there with a Portuguese embassy. Gomes, disobedient and incorrigible, was dismissed. Barzaeus was made Vice-provincial during St. Francis Xavier’s absence, and the Goa college reopened for Indian boys. On April St. Francis Xavier left Goa for his last voyage. Eight months later, Dec. 3, 1552, God called his Apostle from the lonely island of Sancian to his heavenly reward.

St. Francis Xavier is the great prototype of modern missionaries and the founder of the Jesuit mission in Asia. Always united with God in ardent love, he worked with indefatigable zeal for souls. He ordered his missionaries to study the language of their Indian converts, he prompted the creation of vernacular Christian literature; he labored for the education of native catechists and priests; he founded schools in every village for teaching catechism, and colleges in the chief centers for higher education; by exact coordination and a military discipline he converted his mission into a powerful organization, and through regular correspondence he connected it with the headquarters in Europe and roused enthusiasm there for the Indian mission. Together with his collaborators he brought the mission on the Fishery Coast and in Southern Kerala from 20,000 to 100,000 in 1552.