Jesus asked, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his
life?” (Matthew 16:26a). The words were repeated to a young teacher of philosophy who had a highly
promising career in academics, with success and a life of prestige and honor before
Francis Xavier, 24 at the time, and living and teaching in Paris, did not heed these words at
once. They came from a good friend, Ignatius of Loyola, whose tireless persuasion finally won the
young man to Christ. Francis then made the spiritual exercises under the direction of Ignatius, and
in 1534 joined his little community (the infant Society of Jesus). Together at Montmartre they vowed
poverty, chastity and apostolic service according to the directions of the pope.
From Venice, where he was
ordained a priest in 1537, Francis Xavier went on to Lisbon and from there sailed to the East
Indies, landing at Goa, on the west coast of India. For the next 10 years he labored to bring the
faith to such widely scattered peoples as the Hindus, the Malayans and the Japanese. He spent much
of that time in India, and served as provincial of the newly established Jesuit province of
Wherever he went, he lived with the poorest people, sharing their food and rough
accommodations. He spent countless hours ministering to the sick and the poor, particularly to
lepers. Very often he had no time to sleep or even to say his breviary but, as we know from his
letters, he was filled always with joy.
Francis went through the islands of Malaysia, then up to Japan. He learned
enough Japanese to preach to simple folk, to instruct and to baptize, and to establish missions for
those who were to follow him. From Japan he had dreams of going to China, but this plan was never
realized. Before reaching the mainland he died. His remains are enshrined in the Church of Good
Jesus in Goa.