Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - Today's general audience was dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of the missions. Continuing the cycle of catecheses dedicated to the "passion for evangelization", Pope Francis first stressed that Saint Francis Xavier is considered by some to be the greatest missionary of modern times. "But it is not possible to say who is the greatest, who is the least - he explained -, because there are so many hidden missionaries who, even today, do much more than Saint Francis Xavier… A missionary is great when he or she goes. And there are many, many priests, lay people, women religious who go to the missions…even from Italy. This is incredible – to leave your own country to preach the Gospel. This is apostolic zeal. This is what we really need to cultivate. And looking at these men and women, we learn".
Retracing the life of the Jesuit missionary, the Holy Father recalled that the meeting with Ignatius of Loyola was decisive for him: he left everything to become a missionary. After his priestly ordination he was sent to the East. At that time, the journeys of the missionaries to the Orient meant "they were sent to unknown worlds", "he went, because he was filled with apostolic zeal", said the Pope. "He was the first of a numerous band of passionate missionaries to depart, ardent missionaries of modern times, ready to endure immense hardships and dangers, to reach lands and meet peoples from completely unknown cultures and languages, driven only by the powerful desire to make Jesus Christ and his Gospel known".
In just under eleven years of mission, in order to get to India, he spent three and a half years on ships; then from India to Japan and "carried out an extraordinary work".
He arrived in Goa, India, and Francis Xavier set up his base, but did not stop there. He "went on to evangelize the poor fishermen of the southern coast of India". He felt he needed to go beyond India, and courageously set sail for the Moluccas, the most distant islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Here "he translated the catechism into their local language and taught them how to sing the catechism, he entered through song". "We understand his feelings from his letters", explained Pope Francis, who quoted one of these passages: “Dangers and sufferings, accepted voluntarily and solely for the love and service of God our Lord, are treasures rich in tremendous spiritual consolations. Here, in a few years, someone could lose their eyes from so many tears of joy!” (20 January 1548). He cried for joy when beholding God’s work".
One day, in India, he met someone from Japan who spoke to him about his distant country, where no European missionary had ever ventured. Francis Xavier decided to depart as soon as possible, and arrived there after an adventurous journey on a junk belonging to a Chinese man. "His three years in Japan were quite difficult, due to the climate, opposition and his ignorance of the language. Here too, however, the seeds planted would bear great fruit", recalled the Pontiff, who continued: "A great dreamer, Xavier, in Japan, he understood that the decisive country for his mission in Asia was another: China. With its culture, its history, its size, it exercised de facto dominance over that part of the world. Even today, China is a cultural center with a vast history, a beautiful history". He returned to Goa, and shortly afterwards embarked again, hoping to enter China, but he died on an island, the small island of Sancian, in front of the Chinese shoreline, waiting in vain to land on the mainland near Canton. "On 3 December 1552, he died in total abandonment, with only a Chinese man standing beside to watch over him. Thus ended the earthly journey of Francis Xavier". "He was only forty-six years old, he had spent his life zealously in the missions. He left Spain, a highly developed country, and arrived in the most developed country at that time – China – and died at the threshold of great China, accompanied by a Chinese man. It is highly symbolic, highly symbolic".
In the concluding part of the catechesis, Pope Francis stressed that the intense activity of Francis Xavier "was always joined with prayer, the union with God, mystical and contemplative. He never abandoned prayer because he knew that is where he drew his strength. Wherever he went, he took great care of the sick, the poor and children. He was not an “aristocratic” missionary. He "always went with the most in need…He specifically went to the “frontiers” when it came to care. And there, he grew in greatness". Pope Francis then invoked Saint Francis Xavier to give us some of his zeal "to live for the Gospel, to proclaim the Gospel". Addressing the many young people of today who are concerned, he invited them, like Francis Xavier, to look "at the horizons of the world, look at the people who are in such need, look at how many people are suffering, so many people who need Jesus. And have the courage to go. Today too, there are courageous young people". "May the Lord grant us the joy to evangelize, the joy to bear this message, which is so beautiful, which makes us, and everyone, happy". (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 17/5/2023)