Commemorating Xavier's 1549 arrival

News from The Japan Times (October 1999)

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Zealous Xavier
KAGOSHIMA -- This year marks the 450th anniversary of the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier, a Spanish missionary who introduced Catholicism to Japan; as the site where he chose to land, Kagoshima is hosting an array of events commemorating him.

Born in 1506, Xavier became a Jesuit priest in 1537. In 1541, he left from Lisbon on a mission to Asia and preached in India and Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka. In Malacca, he met Yajiro, a Japanese from the Satsuma domain, part of today's Kagoshima Prefecture.

After hearing Yajiro's descriptions of his homeland and the Japanese people, Xavier decided to continue his mission in Japan. He and Yajiro reached Kagoshima on Aug. 15, 1549.

After being granted permission by Satsuma lord Shimazu Takahisa to preach Christianity, Xavier stayed on in Kagoshima for nearly a year. Over 100 people in the area are reported to have been baptized by him.

His followers included a Satsuma samurai who adopted the Christian name Bernardo and was later sent by Xavier to Europe, becoming in 1555 the first Japanese to meet the pope. This was about 30 years earlier than the well-known visit of four junior Japanese envoys in 1585.

"Because of such strong connections (between Xavier and) Kagoshima and its people, there are many historic sites for visitors to follow in Xavier's footsteps," said Hidehiro Kurano, head of tourism promotion at the Kagoshima Prefectural Government.

To commemorate Xavier, his mummified right arm was brought from Rome.

The arm was last on display in Japan in 1949 -- the 400th anniversary of his landing. It was on public display again last weekend at St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church in the city of Kagoshima, where a commemorative Mass was celebrated Monday.

Xavier's arm will also be taken to nine cities, including Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture, as well as Yamaguchi and Oita, other sites where he pursued his missionary work.

Xavier left Japan in 1551 -- a little more than two years after he arrived -- to set off on a new mission. He died in December 1552 at the age of 46 en route to China after visiting Cochin and Malacca.

Since his death, his mummified body, which now lies in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India, has been venerated for its miraculous preservation.

The right arm was severed at the elbow in 1614 and sent to Rome as proof of Xavier's preservation. It has been kept in a golden reliquary in the Church of Gesu. (S.K.)

Copyright (C) 1999, The Japan Times. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission (cf. Mark Thompson mail 06 Jan 2000 17:21:20). This excerpt is taken from

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WallPaper: Embossed image of "Xavier preaching in Kagoshima" by Yugo Akuzawa, Nagasaki, 1972

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