When Pope Francis visited Japan last November as part of a seven-day Asian tour that began in Thailand, he confessed a long-ago desire to be sent to the Land of the Rising Sun as a missionary during his early years in the priesthood. The state of his health at the time, however, prevented him from fulfilling this dream.
“Ever since I was young, I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands,” he said. “Many years have passed since that missionary impulse, whose realization has been long in coming. Today the Lord gives me the opportunity to come among you as a missionary pilgrim in the footsteps of great witnesses to the faith.”
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The Holy Pontiff’s desire to be assigned to Japan was inspired by another Francis, the Spanish missionary Francis Xavier, who converted many to the faith when he arrived at Kagoshima, Japan, on August 15, 1549.
But who is this Francis who landed in Japan 470 years before his namesake? To honor the saint whose feast day is on December 3, here are a few things you should know about him:
He co-founded the Society of Jesus.
As student from the University of Paris, Francis shared a room with his fellow Basque native, the former soldier Ignatius of Loyola. Having recently experienced a life-changing conversion, Ignatius banded Francis and five others together to form the Society of Jesus, a religious order whose members are called Jesuits. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected pope.
He’s the Patron Saint of Japan.
Task to spread Christianity around the world, the missionary Francis traveled extensively. He established the faith in parts of India, Southeast Asia, and Japan, where more than 500 locals embraced their new religion.
He leaves a lasting legacy.
En route to China to convert more to Christianity, he reached Shangchuan Island in September 1552 but took ill and died three months later at the age of 46. His remains were eventually laid to rest where his missionary work all began, in Goa, India.
Beatified by Pope Paul V in 1619 and canonized (together with his friend, Ignatius of Loyola) by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, Francis Xavier is responsible for the conversion of 30,000 people, thus making him the Patron Saint of Missionaries, too.
What can we learn from this tireless servant of God? To pursue our dreams and what is important to us steadfastly and with Him at the heart of all our plans.
“In this life,” said Francis Xavier, “we find our greatest comfort living in the midst of danger, that is, if we confront them solely for the love of God.”