December 3, 2017 — Today marks the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, SJ, one of the first Jesuits, considered by some to be the greatest missionary since the time of the Apostles. Next month, St. Francis Xavier’s right arm — a precious relic usually housed in the Church of the Gesù in Rome — will be traveling to 14 cities across Canada.
It was Ottawa’s Archbishop, Jesuit Terrence Prendergast, who had the idea to bring the relic to Canada.
“The Jesuit order is all about missions confided to us by the Holy Father and living out our charism in service to the church,” Archbishop Prendergast said. “Xavier lived that dramatically.”
St. Francis Xavier was born in Navarre, Spain, on April 7, 1506. After completing studies in Spain, he traveled to Paris in 1525, where he befriended Peter Faber and Ignatius Loyola. The three men, along with future Jesuits James Lainez, Alfonso Salmerón, Nicholas Bobadilla and Simón Rodrigues, professed vows of poverty and chastity in Montmartre on Aug. 15, 1534.
Xavier and Ignatius were both ordained on June 24, 1537. In April 1541, Xavier sailed to India on a dangerous voyage, landing at Goa in May 1542 to evangelize the people of the East Indies. He spent the first five months preaching and ministering to the sick. He then journeyed to the southern coast, aiming to restore Christianity. He devoted almost three years to preaching to the people of Western India, converting many.
Xavier embarked for Japan in June 1549, where he devoted the entire first year to learning the Japanese language. During his stay in Japan, Xavier heard much about the Chinese and saw it as his next opportunity to spread the Gospel. He sailed to China in 1552, landing at the small island of Shangchuan off the coast. Before reaching the mainland, however, he became ill and died on the island on Dec. 3, 1552.
He completed a staggering amount of missionary work in just 10 years, earning him the titles "Apostle of the Indies" and "Apostle of Japan." He was canonized with St. Ignatius in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV and named the patron saint of all foreign missions by Pope Pius X.
His body is still enshrined at Goa in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. In 1614, by the order of Jesuit Superior General Claudio Acquaviva, his right arm was severed at the elbow and taken to Rome, where an altar was made to display it in the Church of the Gesù.
Today, his name adorns many schools, parishes and Jesuit communities worldwide, including Xavier High School in New York City and Xavier University in Cincinnati.
The relic will travel to 14 cities in Canada. Learn more about the pilgrimage here: cco.ca/relic