A Navarrese In Yamaguchi (3/7)

Jose M. Vara, S. J.
Yamaguchi: Xavier Memorial Church, 2000

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Xavier on the pulpit
Xavier, the preacher

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These were the three countries evangelized by Xavier in the seven-year period since his arrival in Goa on May 4, 1542 through his departure from Malacca to Japan on the 24th of June, 1949. Xavier's activity spanned much of the Portuguese trading empire, a string of enclaves and coastal fortresses stretching from Mozambique on the eastern coast of Africa to Ternate in the Moluccas, part of today's Indonesia.

There were three important cities serving as meeting places for the Portuguese fleets: Goa (administrative capital of the empire), Cochin (commercial hub in the southwest coast of India) and Malacca (a coastal town now part of Malaysia). Mail to and from Europe used to be processed in those places, and traders engaged in their businesses there before sailing off to the next trading station. Those three towns became for Xavier an important field of missionary work.

It is still true, however, that Xavier did not restrict his stay to those Portuguese enclaves. For a whole year (Oct.1542 - Sept.1543) he evangelized the Paravas of the Fishery Coast to the east of Cape Comorin, and the following year the Makuas on the southwestern coast of India. In 1545, after a three-month stay in Malacca he travelled to the Moluccas archipelago, evangelizing Amboin, Ternate and the Moro Islands during 1546 and the first half of 1547.

Beneficiaries of Xavier's apostolate were in the first place the Portuguese and their families. His work was also centered on the newly baptized Christians, without disregarding new requests for baptisms, very numerous at times.

Xavier's spiritual care of the Portuguese, which had already started on his voyage from Portugal to India and was further pursued during his six-month sojourn in Mozambique, reached a climax in Goa, complying with the wishes of King Joao III and the local bishop, the Spaniard Juan de Alburquerque. The Portuguese certainly were brave soldiers and Christians of solid faith, but quite often their morals were not so solid. Many of them were living far away from their wives who had been left in Portugal, the immense majority were single, and almost without exception their main concern was to make as much money as possible in the shortest possible time and then return to Portugal. Such being the case, the sixth and seventh commandments proved to be too much of a hurdle for them. There were also the casados, the Portuguese married to native women. Their wives had received baptism just before marriage, and it must be said that the religious instruction of both the ladies and their children was practically null. Their evangelization became Xavier's first priority.

The level of religious instruction in the natives newly baptized was if anything even lower. The Paravas, fishermen of pearls in the Fishery Coast to the east of Cape Comorin, had requested baptism en mass, looking for protection from the Portuguese against their Hindu and Moslem oppressors. Their request had been granted in 1536-1537, but they had received baptism without any previous instruction and their knowledge of Christianity was limited to the fact that they were Christians and little more. The newly baptized in the Moluccas--Amboin, Ternate and the Moro Islands--found themselves in a similar situation. Xavier made of the Fishery Coast his favourite field of work. He visited the Christians there on four different occasions and provided them with Jesuit missionaries. These missionaries did not limit themselves to pouring the water of baptism, but, first with the help of interpreters and later by preaching in the local languages, instilled in the Paravas a deep faith, a faith they would later testify to, even to the point of martyrdom. Mass conversions are also a fact in Xavier's missionary endeavour. The Makuas, fishermen living on the coast of Travancore to the west of Cape Comorin, came to hear of the missionary work of Francis in the Fishery Coast. Oppressed as they were by their local lords, they also decided to call Xavier, asked for baptism and placed themselves under Portuguese protection. In the two months Francis stayed with them he baptized more than ten thousand, but he was not satisfied with pouring the water of baptism, he also prepared them for the sacrament with solid and careful catechetical instruction. This gives us a lead to tackle a new topic in Xavier's life: the way Francis imparted his missionary instruction.


To be baptized means for an adult to believe in Christ the Saviour, to accept his teaching and to oblige oneself to keep his commandments. The catechist is, so to speak, an angel sent by God to initiate the catechumen in the Christian faith. For this initiation to be effective, it has to be attuned to the cultural milieu of the recipient.

Xavier's catechumens in India did not require any elaborate apologetics in order to embrace the faith. Generally speaking, they were already--or at least, they wanted to be--Christians, and Xavier's catechesis consisted of a summary instruction, pruned of any unnecessary complexities, and of helping them memorize an elementary catechism.

The Portuguese catechism of Francis (and its translation into Tamil and Malay) started with the sign of the Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and Gloria, the Salve Regina, and a few more prayers. Very often Xavier applied some popular tunes to the words to make them easier to memorize. The piece de resistance was without doubt the sung Credo, followed very often by a dialogue between the catechist and the audience on each article of the Christian faith: "Do you all believe in the only true God, all-powerful, eternal, immense, infinitely wise?" To which the audience, with their hands crossed on their breasts had to answer in unison: "Yes, father, we believe in that by the grace of God." Before an audience without books, and very often illiterate, Xavier reveals himself as an exceptional catechist, a psychologist in his own right and a leader of masses. Could all this sufficiently explain his missionary success? The only possible answer to this must be in the negative.


Francis was a Navarrese that exuded conviviality. A sportsman with many friends in Paris, always amenable to all and unassuming in the court of Lisbon, the smile always on his lips and a kind word in his mouth, his personality irradiated magnetism.

Xavier was a new Paul, made all things to all in order to win even a few, and children, the sick, soldiers and slaves were the first to notice it. Xavier's Portuguese became "Negro-Portuguese" when he spoke to slaves and mestizos. He had himself invited by people who had lost contact with the Church and managed to bring them back to the Father's house without hurting or humiliating them. With the authorities, both secular and ecclesiastical, he showed the deep respect and co-operation inculcated by Ignatius in his "Rules to feel with the Church". Always miles apart from any kind of self-interested servility, when dealing with the authorities he was only trying to win their support for his missionary work.

Xavier certainly was a simpatico Navarrese. Jesus too, "who did everything well", had a very attractive personality. And yet, it was not that attractiveness that redeemed the world, but his Cross and Resurrection. In the same way, it was not the appeal of his human talents that made of Paul "the Apostle of the Gentiles", but his sharing in the Cross of Christ and the joyful anticipation in his Resurrection. To become credible, faith might sometimes derive support from the miracles and prophecies of the evangelizer, but first and foremost it will root itself in his testimony of life, in his total dedication to the service of God and on his youthfulness of heart, born of a firm belief and hope in the resurrection.

From the time of his conversion Francis was a man marked by the Cross. Since his departure from Lisbon--and later in Goa, Cochin and Malacca--he was always at the bedside of the sick, lepers and the dying, always ready to hear their confessions and administer the Sacraments. He often stayed for the night in hospitals, used to live on alms, on occasions barefoot and always poorly dressed. And at the same time, he was cheerful and smiling, ready to share a joke, with a heart always young and "risen", always on his way to the joy of eternal life.

The enigma of Xavier "always nailed to the cross and always risen" can only find adequate explanation in his intimate relation with God, in his life of prayer. The same as Paul, who was taken up to the third heaven and saw there things he could not put into words, Xavier too in his nights of prayer, full of God's joy, could not help crying aloud: "It is enough, my Lord, it is enough."

In contrast to his namesake Francis of Assisi, miracles in the life of Xavier were not a routine occurrence. His outstanding biographer Georg Schurhammer denies historical basis to most of the miracles and prophecies attributed to Francis, but considers historically proved the resurrection of a man in the Fishery Coast and the prophecy of a naval victory by a Portuguese fleet against the Achenese pirates of Sumatra. He also gives probability to the Franciscan "little flower" of a crab giving back to Xavier the crucifix he had lost to the sea during a storm.

Portuguese, Indian and Malays, traders, soldiers and slaves, all of them were able to see in Xavier not only a dedicated missionary always ready to serve, but also "the holy priest", a man always nailed on the cross and always risen. And it was this picture of Xavier that gave healing power and efficacy to his catechism.

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