Francis Xavier who was born on April 7, 1506, in the Spanish kingdom of Navarre, inherited the proud and passionate temperament of his race. He could show himself both fiery and autocratic even to the end of his life. As a boy he was ambitious and fond of sport, but he had a largeness of heart and generosity of nature which made him capable, once he had been converted, of heroic love and endurance.

Francis' first encounter with Ignatius took place at the University of Paris, where Francis went at the age of nineteen. It took Ignatius some time to win Francis from his worldly ambition, but eventually Francis capitulated and gave himself with his whole soul to the new life which the Exercises of Ignatius opened up to him. He became one of the first members of the Society of Jesus, making his vows with Ignatius and five others on August 15, 1534; he was ordained a priest three years later.

The first object of Ignatius and his companions had been to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but events turned out otherwise. Ignatius was asked by King John of Portugal to send priests to the new missions in India, and his choice fell eventually on Francis. Francis, it must be said, had no particular qualifications for this task, except his one desire to win this vast new world for Christ. He brought with him nothing but his consuming love for God and for the souls of his fellow men. It is noticeable that he never criticized the social, political or ecclesiastical institutions of his time. He accepted the slave trade and the Inquisition alike, apparently without question. Although he complained bitterly of the abuse of power, he never questioned the right of the Portuguese in India and was prepared at all times to make use of it in the interests of the Gospel. Perhaps this acceptance of external circumstances was due to his absolute detachment of heart. He deliberately chose to live in the most complete poverty and refused to accept any of the material conveniences which were offered to him. He could put up with the most appalling conditions on his long sea voyages and endure the most agonizing extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out the poor and the sick and spend his time in ministering to their needs. Yet while he was occupied all day with these incessant labors, he would spend the greater part of the night in prayer. And all this was done with a gaiety and lightness of heart, which remind one of the other Francis of Assisi.

The story of his journeys is an epic of adventure. He arrived in Goa and went on from there to the south of India. There he spent three years, after which he went to the East Indies, to Malacca and the Moluccas, and finally in 1549 he set out for Japan. He died on December 3, 1552, on a lonely island, vainly seeking to obtain entrance into China. Thus in ten years he traversed the greater part of the Far East. When one considers the conditions of travel, the means of transport, the delays and difficulties which beset him at every stage, it is, even physically an astounding achievement. It is even more remarkable when one considers that he left behind him a flourishing church wherever he went and that the effects of his labors remain to the present day.

Many miracles have been attributed to Saint Francis, but the real miracle of his life was the miracle of his personality, by which he was able to convert thousands to the faith wherever he went and to win their passionate devotion.

He died abandoned with but one companion, without the sacraments or Christian burial. Within a few weeks his body was recovered and found to be perfectly incorrupt. It was brought to Goa and received there with a devotion and an enthusiasm which showed that the people had already recognized him as a saint. He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1619 and canonized together with Saint Ignatius by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. He is now the patron of all the missions of the Catholic Church.

Adapted from "Saint Francis Xavier", Catholic Information Network