Reflections On Xavier

Commemorating 450th Anniversary of Xavier's arrival in Japan

Thomas Eceizabarrena, S.J.

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Xavier Castle
Castle where Xavier was born

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(1) Xavier Castle

Xavier Castle existed on the easern edge of the Kingdom of Navarre from as early as the 13th century. Like other castles of the Iberian Peninsula, it was strategically located for the struggle against the Muslim invaders.

In the 14th century the grandfather of Francis Xavier took possession of the castle, so the mother of the saint, Dona Maria, was born there. When she married Juan de Jassu the castle was part of her dowry. Francis, the youngest of the six children, was also born in the castle in 1506.

In 1512, the Spanish army took control of Navarre, in its war against France. Many citizens, among them the family of Xavier, opposed the move, but three years later (1515), after seven centuries as an independent kingdom, Navarre became part of Spain.

To prevent new revolts in Navarre, the defences of Xavier Castle, like many others, were torn down in 1516, leaving only a small part of the building as living quarters for the family.

Until the mid-19th century it continued to be an ordinary residence. In 1880 the Duchess of Villahermosa, who owned the property, resotred the castle and donated it to the Jesuits. She built a church on the eastern part of the castle and established a minor seminary of "apostolic school" for the formation of candidates to the Society.

In 1815 the first Jesuit community started living in the castle. In 1901, the new bascilica was inaugurated. In 1904 the minor seminary was opened.

Soon afterward, the Jesuits moved into a new house outside the castle. About thirty years ago, the castle was restored to resemble the original as closely as possible. The seminary was closed not too many years ago and the large buildings were put to use for meetings, retreats, etc.

The castle receives a growing number of pilgrims every year, now many thousands, from all over the world--including Japan.

(2) The Name of Xavier

The name "Dominus Franciscus de Xabier" appears on the list of new professors at Paris University in the year 1529. During the past 450 years so many versions of his name have been circulated that it is worth devoting a few lines to it.

Xavier's Baptismal Font
Xavier's Baptismal Font

Franciscus was the Christian name he received at his baptism, which probably took place the very day of his birth, 7 April 1506. Taken from the Saint of Assisi, it was rather rare in the family. At times his family also called him Francis.

Xabier is the name of the house where he was born. The name in Basque is Etxaberri, from etxe(=house) + berri (=new). It appears written in a great variety of forms, such as Exavierre (1217), Chavier (1516), Xabierre (1523), Chamer (1536), Chavy res, etc.

The Saint pronounced it Xa (=sha)Bier, as Basques pronounce it even today. de: used in almost all Basque names (e.g., de Loyola, de Anchieta, de Araoz, etc.), indicates origin or provenance (in Spanish) and is joined to the name of the house or town of origin. Francis did not take the name of his father (Juan de Jassu) or of this mother (Maria de Azpilcueta) but that of the house in which he was born (de Xabier). Of the five brothers, he was the only one born at the castle. His brother Michael, lord of the castle after the death of their mother, was the only other one to carry the name of Xabier. The Name Xavier around the World:

During the past 450 years, depending on the period and the nation, this name has been pronounced and written in many ways, often in accommodation to the language of the country in question. Thus one can find: Xabier, Xavier, Jabier, Javier in Spanish; Xavier in Portuguese, French, English, etc., Xaver in German; Saverio in Italian and Xaverius in Latin, etc.

The Name Xavier in Japanese: The name in kana has varied according to the language from which it was borrowed. We have found as many as 30 different ways of writing the name in Japanese. Nowadays the form most often used is zabieru. It is a form adopted by school textbooks, encyclopedias, newspapers and reviews. Until recently the Catholic Church frequently used zaberio in prayers, songs, etc., the transcription of the Latin form. Yamaguchi Church still uses the form sabieru, a veritable apax legomenon!

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(3) Xavier's Student Life

 We all know the outline of Xavier's life in Paris: he arrived there in 1525 and studied philosophy at the College Sainte-Barbe, where he had a room, for four years. Pierre Favre came to Paris the same year and shared the room with him. Ignatius de Loyola came to Paris four years later, in 1529. In 1530 both Xavier and Favre gained the title of Master of Arts, and in October, Xavier started teaching as Regent at the College de Beauvais. The tuition fees he received from the students helped him to study theology.
He obtained recognition of his noble title in 1531 to help him obtain a benefice in the diocese of Pamplona. In 1533 he surrendered to Ignatius and gave up his dreams of advancement.
Loyola and Xavier in Paris
Loyola and Xavier in Paris

He and his six companions, the first members of the future Society of Jesus, consecrated themselves to God by vow at Montmartre in 1534. In 1536 he ended his theology studies. Most people know less of the daily life of students at the University of Paris in Xavier's time. The university had superior faculties of theology, law and medicine and an inferior faculty. At Sainte-Barbe a normal day was more or less as follows:

  • 4:00 The bell: rise
    Morning prayers
  • 5:00 1st lecture
      The students sat on benches, not on the floor as in earlier times.
  • 6:00 Compulsory Mass
    Breakfast: a piece of bread and water (sometimes wine).
  • 8:00-10:00 classes
    "Repetitions," questions, etc.
  • 11:00 Lunch:
      Frugal, with meat (fish on days of abstinence), vegetables and fruit. They ate with their hands. There was some reading at table, too.
  • 12:00 Admonitions, review, tests, etc.
  • 15:00-17:00 Classes, repetitions
  • 18:00 Supper.
      After supper there was a review of the classes of that day, etc.
  • 20:00 Night prayers in the chapel.
  • 21:00 Lights out.

It was a very heavy schedule, without much time for recreation, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays after classes, there was some free time for amusement and taking walks, etc. On Sundays there were no classes, but public debates, sermons of famous preachers, vespers, etc.

Also there were many free days for Church festivities and scheduled ho lidays, especially the summer vacation, which was very long. During these long vacations students who lived reasonably close could go home, but the others remained at the college. Xavier had left home in 1525, and never saw his castle again.

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(4) Xavier: The First Secretary of the Society

It is easy to imagine Francis Xavier crossing the world with a cross in his outstretched right hand, or as an outstanding student of Paris University, but it is hard for us to imagine him spending hour upon hour as a secretary at a desk. Yet, this is precisely what he did from June 1539 through March 1540.

The nine companions of Paris, after finishing their studies, decided to go to Venice, where Ignatius was already waiting for them. In November 1536 they started on a journey of three cold months crossing enemy territories (Germany and Switzerland) before they reached Venice in January 1537. There while waiting for a chance to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem they spent their time taking care of the sick. They spent three additional months on a pilgrimage to Rome. On their return to Venice they were ordained priests and said their first Masses―all except Ignatius, who would celebrate his in Rome later.

Since they were unable to go to the Holy Land, they decided to go to Rome and put themselves at the disposal of Pope Paul III. Their apostolic work in the Eternal City was so striking that they were called to various other cities.

As they were about to part ways after deciding that they would form a religious body (as a result of the famous "Deliberatio Patrum"), Ignatius demanded an intensive exchange of letters: those remaining in Rome had to write to Rome every week; those farther away, each month. Those remaining in Rome would take charge of receiving and answering such correspondence. In June 1539 Francis Xavier alone was left with Ignatius and it was up to him to answer the letters that kept coming. He was therefore the first official secretary of the Society of Jesus. His health, which was then not so good, obliged him to remain in Rome.

None of the letters written by Xavier at that time is extant, but several of those of his companions (Favre, Bobadilla, Lainez and Araoz) are still available. Ignatius kept contact with his companions through Xavier.

In one of the letters we still possess, Francisco Estrada takes Xavier to task for not answering his letter, but excuses his silence, attributing it to cold hands in the freezing winter and urges him to warm them up at the fire so as to be able to use his pen "without trembling." Xavier's job consisted in writing news of the various companions and keeping them all in close communication with each other. It seems that his regular and calligraphic handwriting as well as a predisposition inherited from his father inclined him to the detailed report so typical of a good secretary. This was the beginning of what would eventually become a great epistolary apostolate.

Francis and IgnatiusXavier before Loyola

  The very year of his death, 1552, he wrote to Fr. Barzeo, "Wherever Brothers of the Society reside you should write that every year they should take special care of writing to our blessed Father Ignatius. . . ."

As secretary, a few days before his departure for Lisbon and India, he received a sealed envelope from Simon Rodriguez containing his vote for the election of the future General. This was one of the last things Rodriguez himself did before leaving for Lisbon.

Until 14 March 1540, the very eve of his departure for Lisbon and India, Xavier continued in his post of secretary of the Society.

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(5) Xavier: Ten Months in Portugal

Xavier had only one day of preparation for his trip to Lisbon. On 15 March 1540 he joined the entourage of the Portuguese Ambassador and travelled to his destination by land. Simon Rodrigues had already left, but by sea. It took Xavier two months to pass through Italy, France, and Spain before reaching Lisbon at the end of June.

Xavier preaching
Xavier with Crucifix
King John was very much pleased with the work of the two Jesuits and of the young men who soon joined them. Xavier gave retreats (this was his forte) and preached in the churches. After three months in Lisbon he left for Palma and Almeirin. Several letters of those months give an account of his activities. (It is interesting to note that of the eight autograph letters that still exist, five were written during this time.)

Xavier had not been in Lisbon a month when he wrote to Rome: "Many of those whom we know here are striving to prevent our departure for the Indies, since it seems to them that we would do more good here--through confessions, private conversations, Spiritual Exercises, administering the sacraments, exhorting individuals to frequesnt confession and communion, and preaching--than we would if we were in the Indies." (6, 7) In another letter he states: "We do not see any difficulty with respect to the construction of buildings here, one for a college and others as residences for ours. The people would be delighted to erect houses for us here if there were persons to live in them." (7, 3) It is no wonder that they wanted to keep them in Portugal.

A relative of Francis Xavier, Martin de Azpilcueta, fourteen years his elder, was then professor of canon law in Coimbra. His reputation had extended to the whole of Europe and he was known as "Doctor Navarrus." He tried his best to convince Xavier to quit the newly founded Society, concerning which he harbored not a few prejudices. Since he could not get him to do that, he invited him to Coimbra, promising that after they had both retired from teaching, he would go with him to the Indies.

There still exist two letters that Xavier wrote to the Doctor from Lisbon. "With regard to giving an account of my affairs, especially with respect to my way of life," he says in one of them, "I would be most happy to have the opportunity of seeing you, since no one here could better inform you about them than I myself. . . . As for what your Grace states in your letter with respect to the many things that are said about our way of life, it is, as frequently happens, of slight account, illustrious Doctor, to be judged by men, especially by those who pass judgment on something about which they have no previous knowledge." (8, 2).

They never met, but later on Doctor Navarrus was to become a great friend and benefactor of the Society.

Simon Rodrigues was retained in Lisbon. Xavier was the only Jesuit aboard the five Portuguese ships that sailed for India on 7 April 1541, which happened to be his 35th birthday. With Xavier went two young men: Micer Paulo, an Italian priest who later joined the Society, and Marsilhas, a Portuguese who was ordained a priest in Goa. Before his departure Xavier was happy to learn about the official confirmation of the Society of Jesus, which would prompt him to write three years later from Cochin: "Among the many graces that God, Our Lord has granted me in this life, and continues to grant me every day, is one which I greatly desired to see fulfilled during my lifetime, that is, the confirmation of our rule and way of life." (20, 14)

(6) Xavier at Sea

I wonder how many miles Xavier actually traveled before reaching the Far East, or how many days of his life he spent aboard ships.

He left Lisbon on the Santiago the day he turned 35, 7 April 1541, probably his first time at sea. It took over a year to reach Goa on 6 May 1542. Francis Xavier was sea-sick soon after departure. Storms could wreak havoc, but the lack of wind could strand the five ships in a calm sea as happened after crossing the equator off Guinea.

Illness was rampant; many died. Xavier declined to eat at the Governor's table, preferring to beg for food, which he cooked himself. When offered a servant to enhance his prestige, he had answered that credibility and authority come from washing on one's own knees and cooking one's own stew without the help of anyone, still giving oneself fully to the service of neighbors.

Xavier preaching
Xavier with Crucifix
Fr. Micer Paulo and the future Jesuit Mansilhas helped him care for the sick, while he concentrated on caring for their souls.

During their six months' delay at Mozambique, he writes, "Many people got sick . . . and some eighty died. We spent all our time at the hospital taking care of them." (c15, n.3) So many became ill that Francis Xavier left Paulo and Mansilhas on the island to attend to them when he embarked for Goa a journey of another two months.

Xavier did not say Mass on board ship. It was forbidden, because of violent movements of the ship and frequent vomiting from seasickness. Only late in the 17th century was Mass on ship allowed. "Dry Mass" on Sundays had readings, a sermon and the Lord's Prayer, but no consecration. The ships had an official chaplain except when another priest, such as Francis Xavier, was on board. He heard the confessions and cared for the dying.

Years later Dr. Saraiva wrote, "I came from Portugal on the ship on which Father Master Francis sailed and saw him perform numerous works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. . . . He was never idle for a moment in performing works of Christian charity and instruction, and he did all this with great cheerfulness. All looked upon him as a virtuous and upright man, and I also regarded him as such."

(7) Francis Xavier in Goa

After two months sailing from Mozambique Francis Xavier arrived at Goa on 6 May 1542. The Portuguese had already been there 32 years. Its position on the west coast of India blocked the spread of Islam from the north into the Hindu south. The beautiful city with 14 churches including the Franciscan cathedral with prominent spires must have astonished Xavier. The Portuguese lived there with 20,000 native Christians.

Xavier Mausoleum in Goa
Xavier Mausoleum in Goa
   Xavier soon approached the poorest and sickliest. As a papal nuncio he was offered a residence which he turned down, preferring a hut close to the hospital. His worn out cassock was literally falling apart. They made him a new silk one, too luxurious for this taste. He accepted a cassock without sleeves or cincture, slightly open at the collar made of black cotton, but not new shoes. The old ones would do.

   He soon realized how much Christian and human formation was needed. He recalled the Sorbonne whose chapel, he wrote to Ignatius, was half the size of the college chapel under construction in Goa. The college was one of his first undertakings. Within six years he expected to have 300 graduates of various languages and races. He hoped they would "multiply the number of Christians." (c.16.2)

The founder and first rector of the college, former Franciscan Fr. Diego de Borboa, pressed Xavier to accept the college. Xavier had other plans, but Jesuits who came later took charge of the school. The King donated it to the Society in 1551 with the name St. Paul.

Xavier's most important letters were sent either to or from Goa, the Church's Rome of the Orient. His first stay was only four months, but he returned on later visits and always kept it and St. Paul's college in his heart. In Goa, Xavier first encountered Japan; Yajiro and two other Japanese were baptized on 20 May 1548. Xavier wrote his first letter from Japan to Goa in 1549, and in April 1552 while back in Goa he wrote his last letter to Ignatius describing the type of Jesuits that should be sent to Japan.

The pride of Goa, even today, is the body of the Saint which in March 1554 was transferred to a chapel of the college and finally to the church of the Bom Jesus where it is greatly venerated.

(8) Seven Years on the Seas and Islands (1542-1549)

It is not easy to follow Francis Xavier's continuous crisscrossing of the equator. His letters speak of the Paravas in the south of India (1543), Cochin on the western coast of India and Sao Tome on the eastern (1544), Malacca (1545), Amboina (1546), Islands of the Moor (1547), back to Malacca and Cochin (1547), without forgetting Goa, where he returns several times to take care of the Jesuits who keep arriving from Europe and of the new recruits to the Society in India, as well as to read his letters―mostly from Rome―that keep him in contact with the "Societas amoris." "I received many letters from Rome and Portugal. They gave me, and still give me, so much consolation, and I have read them so many times, that it seems to me that I am there, or that you, dearest brothers, are here where I am, if not in body, at least in spirit."

A certain Franciscan of Goa used to complain that "Father Francisco travels too much." Xavier would have insisted that if he did not visit those places in person, he would not be aware of their needs. However, although his travels by sea and land during those seven years add up to several thousand kilometers, we know from his letters that he would reside several months in each place and always found someone to replace him when he left.

One of the most important events in the life of the saint was undoubtedly his meeting with Yajiro, the first Japanese he knew. A fugitive after having committed homicide, Yajiro was urged by the Portuguese to go with them to Malacca to see the "holy Father". Yajir followed their advice. But when he got to Malacca, he found that Xavier was then in the Moluccas and he was unable to meet him. So he started on the road back to Japan, but was forced by a storm back to Malacca.

  This time he did see Francis. It was in the first week of December 1547. The saint was performing a wedding when his friend Jorge Alvarez showed up with the Japanese. About this first encounter he would write to Rome: "Together with some Portuguese merchants a Japanese named Angero . . . came to visit me with great desires to know about the things of our law. . . . If all the Japanese are as eager to know as is Angero, it seems to me that this race is the most curious of all the peoples that have been discovered." (doc. 59, 15-16)

Xavier with Yajiro
Xavier Preaching With Yajiro
A little later he writes to Ignatius: "I have, with much interior satisfaction, decided to go to this land [Japan], for it seems to me that a people of this kind could by themselves continue to reap the fruit which those of the Society are producing during their own lifetime." (doc. 70, 8)

On 20 May, the feast of Pentecost, the bishop baptized Yajiro and his two companions at the Cathedral of Goa. They were the first Japanese to be baptized.

During this year Xavier was truly busy: he visited Bassein, Cochin, Comorin, where he was received with enormous enthusiasm, and Goa where he put quite a few things in order.

On 15 April 1549, Xavier, Cosme de Torres and Juan Fernandez, together with the three Japanese, sailed from Goa for Japan. They stayed for a month in Malacca; and when they left, the whole town, led by Capitan Pedro da Silva, went to bid goodbye to Xavier, who, with his companions, was sailing on a 250-ton junk. It would take them almost two months to reach their destination, Kagoshima.

(9) Xavier Gets to Know the Japanese

The only five letters we know Xavier he wrote from Japan were all written in Kagoshima on 5 November 1549. He stayed in Kagoshima for a whole year and in Japan just over 2 years.

Of all these letters the one addressed to his companions in Goa is the longest and most significant. He offers such detailed information about the Japanese that one wonders how he came to know them so well in a mere three months.

In fact, as early as December 1547 he had requested information on Japan from his friend Jorge Alvares, who had been in Japan in the previous year as captain of a Portuguese nao (ship). The report is long, detailed and generally accords with the reality. Alvares pays special attention to geography, natural resources, buildings, customs. he also brought Yajiro to Malacca and introduced Xavier to the first Japanese he ever met. Xavier forwarded Alvares's report on Japan to Rome together with a long letter of his own in January 1548.

A little later, also at Xavier's request, Father Lancilotti wrote another account in Italian of what Yajiro told him. Xavier translated this report into Spanish and sent it to Ignatius together with a letter he wrote in January 1549 from Cochin. It speaks exclusively of the religious life of the Japanese (sects, bonzes, monasteries, etc.). Governor Garcia de Sa had also asked Lancilloti to write also about the political and military aspects of Japan, which he did in a new report, based also upon conversations with Yajiro.

Clearly, Xavier knew much about Japan and its inhabitants even before his arrival, but his first letter form Kagoshima, sometimes called his Magna Carta because of the range and depth of its contents, is different from all the previous reports. Xavier lays his soul bare. He is more attentive to the persons he meets than to their circumstances. "The people with whom we have conversed so far are the best we have ever discovered, and it seems to me that among the infidels we will find no others to excel the Japanese." (90,12) He is overjoyed at the hope that many of them will become Christian:"That you may give great thanks to God our Lord, I want you to know that this island of Japan is very well disposed to our holy faith." (90,20) On the basis of what he has observed, he makes detailed suggestions concerning the spiritual, intellectual and even physical preparation of those who would come to Japan.

That was the only time Xavier wrote during his stay in Japan. Only in 1552, when he was back in India, did he write at length about the two years he had spent in Japan. He tells his companions in Rome about his experiences after Kagoshima, in Miyako, Bungo, and, above all, in Yamaguchi. He exhorts them to send many companions to Japan, where they will encounter both many difficulties and great spiritual consolations. He ends with these lines that reflect his deepest soul:   

"There is so much to write about Japan that one would never come to an end. . . . With this I come to a close without being able to do so, since I am writing to such loved and cherished Fathers and Brothers of mine and about such friends as are the Christians of Japan."

Xavier in Japan
Xavier in Japan
More than all the previous reports, it was these letters, so full of life and fire, copied over and over, read in universities, convents, and royal courts, that made Europeans aware of a people and culture they had not known existed and that moved quite a few young men to follow in the steps of Xavier.

(10) Presents for a Daimyo: Xavier in Yamaguchi

One day in June 1950, when I was a young scholastic working in Yamaguchi under the veteran Fr. Domenzain, the secretary of the governor came to visit us. He had heard that Fr. Arrupe―then master of novices in Nagatsuka―was returning to Spain for the first time since the end of the war. (He was going to Rome to represent Japan at the congregation of procurators.) The good man was bringing us a present to be taken to Spain: a table clock of rather ordinary quality. He told us: "Francis Xavier was the first to bring to Japan a mechanical clock. Let them see in Spain that now Yamaguchi also produces them".

Xavier himself, in one of the letters he sent to Rome from India (96,16), wrote:"We returned again to Yamaguchi, where we gave the duke of Yamaguchi some letters we had brought from the governor and the bishop, and also a present which he had sent him as a token of friendship. The duke was delighted with the present and the letter". In a later letter he refers to "several very precious objects" of an estimated value of 200 cruzados.

When his visit to Miyako (Kyoto) proved unsuccessful, Xavier decided to return to Yamaguchi and to treat Ouchi Yoshitaka as he had intended to treat the emperor. Dressed in silk robes, as befit an ambassador from the governor of India, he made his appearance before the daimyo. Through various Japanese and foreign sources we know in some detail what kind of presents Xavier offered Yoshitaka. Xavier's retinue of thirteen was welcomed with great joy by the daimyo as well as by the other members of the court. Mention is made of a clock (one of wheels "of great workmanship," records Frois); and in the history of Yoshitaka's reign (Yoshitaka-shi), written three months after his death in 1551, more concrete details are given:"A chime which indicated the twelve hours independently of the length or shortness of day and night" (in contrast to the sun-clocks, which were the only clocks the Japanese were familiar with). A musical instrument, probably a harpsichord, and a richly engraved musket with three barrels. A pair of lenses, which the Yoshitaka history calls "a mirror with which even old people see clearly." A telescope or, to quote the history once again, "two mirrors with which even distant things are clearly seen." To the above mentioned objects we must add precious brocades and Spanish clothes, beautiful pieces of cut-glass, Portuguese wines, books, paintings, teacups, etc.

The daimyo, in reciprocation, "offered us many things, but we refused to accept any of them, even though he tried to give us much gold and silver" (96, 16). The saint continues:"We then told him that if he wished to grant us a favor, all that we wanted was that he would give us his permission to preach the law of God in his lands and that those who wished to accept it might do so." The daimyo not only granted the requested permissions but also "gave us a monastery, like a college, so that we might stay there." The people of Yamaguchi have good reason to take pride in the fact that it was in their city that the formal preaching of Christianity in Japan began.

At the end of the 19th century, Pere Villon, of the Missions Etrangeres de Paris, after years of research discovered the exact spot where Xavier erected his first Jesuit residence; and in 1926 a commemorative monument was built there. If you go to Yamaguchi, visit not only the modern church dedicated to Xavier, but also the site where the saint received as a grant from Ouchi Yoshitaka "a monastery, like a college, so that we might stay there." There you will find a monumental stone cross with a Xavier medallion at its center that will take you back in imagination some 450 years.

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(11) Death of Francis Xavier

(Father Arrupe described the death of the saint in the epilogue to the translation of Xavier's letters he edited for publication by Iwanami Bunko for the 400th anniversary of Xavier's arrival in Japan in 1949. This will make a fitting conclusion to these articles for the 450th anniversary.)

The Death of Xavier

 On 13 November the Portuguese on Shangchuan burnt down their huts and sailed eastward, taking with them Xavier's last letter.

Shangchuan suddenly became very lonesome. All that remained were the Aragao junk, which was supposed to go to Siam, and the nao Santa Cruz. A cold wind was blowing in from the north and there was no more food. Xavier had to send faithful Antonio to the Portuguese several times to ask for bread. The Chinese merchant failed to show up by 19 November as he had promised. Nor did he show up on the 20th or the 21st. Then Xavier woke up sick one morning. At Antonio's insistence he was moved to the nao Santa Cruz, where he could receive better medical care and where there was no danger of starving. But the rolling of the boat worsened his condition and he had to be taken back to shore. Seeing that his face was red with fever, Aragao took him into his own hut. The next day he bled him, which, of course, did no e good. Moreover, Xavier's appetite disappeared and his breathing became labored. Still, he lay there quietly without complaint about his suffering.

Later, the high fever made him delirious, but his face remained serene, his shining eyes turned to heaven as they had often done when he preached. For five or six hours of delirium he spoke in a loud voice in several languages, using all the strength that still remained. Antonio could only understand his Latin "Iesu, miserere mei" and the holy name of Jesus repeated again and again.

dying Xavier
Xavier dying
On the eighth day, a Sunday, Xavier became unconscious and no longer spoke. When he regained consciousness on Thursday, it was only to repeat again and again: "Jesus, have mercy on me; Holy Mother Mary, remember me."

Friday night he got worse. Since Antonio thought that Xavier had entered his final agony, he kept him company the whole night. The ice-cold wind made its way unhindered into the poor straw-thatched hut, while Xavier lay there quietly, his eyes fixed on the cross that Antonio had brought him. As dawn was about to break, this faithful Chinese lit the candle of the agony and put it into Xavier's hands. Thus did Fr. Francis Xavier breathe his last, apparently without any pain and calling again and again on the holy name of Jesus. This was at two o'clock in the morning on 3 December 1552.

A Jesuit Priest from the Basque region and retired Professor of Sophia University, Fr. Tomas Eceizabarrena, S.J. wrote this series of articles in 1999, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of St. Francis Xavier's arrival in Japan. The series was originally published in the Japan Province Jesuit Newsletters over a period of one year. Questions, comments, or queries about this article? Contact Fr. Eceizabarrena at:

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