More than ten weeks after his death, the body of Francis Xavier was found uncorrupted, flesh colored, and had no odor of death. To this day, his body remains without blemish or sign of decay.
Xavier was born in Spain’s Basque country in 1506, and before he was 24, he was a Master of Arts with a license in philosophy. When he was 37, he entered the University of Paris with another esteemed individual: Ignatius Loyola. However, Xavier was not impressed with Ignatius’ “affectation of humility and asceticism.” A friend of Xavier’s, Peter Faber, encouraged him to engage with Ignatius’ study of Spiritual Exercises, and upon completion of the program, Xavier was transformed. These three, Ignatius, Faber, and Xavier, founded the Society of Jesus.
Upon leaving University, Xavier traveled to the Portuguese colony of Góa in 1542. He learned the language well enough to communicate at an elementary level. However, “what Xavier found in Góa was European corruption and degeneracy, ethical and moral chaos, and the whole facade of imperialism and rapacity.” He found his efforts fruitless in converting the people to Christianity; so, changing his approach, he became a nurse in a local hospital and became acquainted with the foundations of human interaction including idiomatic language and communal habits and behaviors. Encouraged by responses, he found a bell and walked through the streets ringing the bell. At random points of his meandering, he stopped, addressed the crowds who followed him in their curiosity, prayed the Our Father and Hail Mary very simply in the native language, and repeated his practiced phrases of the stories of the Nativity, Calvary, and the Ten Commandments. In this way he moved across the country of Southern India and became a legend.
In 1549 he traveled to Japan and remained in a Buddhist monastery for a period of time. Fully engaging with the Japanese sensibility of honor and respect, he again transformed his “strategy” for evangelism so that he blended and became a part of the Japanese culture as much as he could. So strongly were his efforts and sincere his approach that the ruler of Kyoto presented Xavier with an abandoned Buddhist monastery in order for him to work and engage with the community. As a result, more than 500 were baptized in his time there.
Hearing of the need of Christianity in China, Xavier planned a secret entrance into the country. The intricate plan was arranged and all parties agreed to their participation to smuggle Xavier into China. However, the Chinese merchant who had previously agreed to collect Xavier from a Portuguese ship backed out and abandoned Xavier on the empty Chinese beach. Exhausted from the grueling weeks of travel and exposed on the frigid beach, Xavier was found by a poor Portuguese merchant. Xavier endured excruciating fever and bodily spasms and found peace on December 3, 1552 when he passed peacefully away.
To this day Xavier’s body remains intact and his relics are enshrined at the Church of the Good Jesu in Góa, Portugal.
*Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy, Fr. John-Juilian, OJN.