Wednesday, July 27, 2005

St. Francis Xavier on the 'Ruins of St. Paul'

On our Macau walking tour through the heart of the old city, we naturally bring people to the Mater Dei church, popularly known as the 'Ruins of St. Paul'. It is so named because it was part of the College of St. Paul, built by Jesuits as 'the greatest center for learning in the East' at the end of the 16th century to provide a training ground for priests to convert the millions in China and Japan.

There many things to discuss in the facade, but what makes it particularly interesting is that St. Paul himself does not feature on it! When the Mater Dei church was conceived and plans of it were sent to the Vatican for approval, the fifth tier of the facade was to have two statues flanking the entrance to the church - St. Peter and St. Paul. But in the 16th century, Macau was a long, long way away from Rome, and so when the Jesuits built the church they replaced Peter and Paul with saints from their own order - St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder, and St. Francis Xavier, the greatest preacher of the Catholic church since the time of the apostles! This move by the resident Jesuits indicates both in what high regard they placed these two figures of their movement, and the power and confidence they had in tricking Rome.

We mention this today, because today is the anniversary of St. Francis Xavier's arrival in Kagoshima in 1547. While St. Francis had been in Malacca five years earlier, he had met a samurai that had accompanied the first Portuguese ship to visit Japan back to Portuguese territory. St. Francis had great hopes for converting the Emperor of Japan himself, and set off for Japan in 1547, which is the year he first set foot on the islands. The picture on the right is a stele that celebrates St. Francis in Nagasaki.

I thought today, rather than tell you St. Francis' story in my traditional manner, I would let us see the script for the St. Francis Xavier 'option' you can listen to on our Macau tour near the Ruins of St. Paul. We may also do free 'podcasts' of selected audio options of our walks in future - let us know if you'd be interested!

"“Saint Francis Xavier is the Catholic ChurchÂ’s most famous missionary, considered its greatest preacher since the time of the Apostles. Indeed, the Jesuits venerated their predecessor so highly they saw fit to have his statue along with St. IgnatiusÂ’ framing the entrance to this façade in place of Peter and Paul. His zeal took him on perilous journeys stretching 37,000 miles across the world, performing miracles and converting thousands to Christianity. His death in 1553 on the nearby isle of Samchuan on a mission to reach China has been a source of inspiration to many generations of Jesuits.

St. Francis was born into a Basque noble family in 1506. He was a brilliant student at the University of Paris and a career as a professor stretched before him. However, while there he met fellow countryman Ignatius Loyola and against his familyÂ’s wishes he made the vows of the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1537. When the Pope recognized the Order in 1540, King John III of Portugal asked him and two other Jesuits to sail for Goa; he gladly accepted. The nobleman was soon to be found criss-crossing India, preaching the Gospel wearing just simple robes and with the support of his walking stick.

He moved to Malacca in 1542 and began using it as a base for proselytizing across the Indonesian islands, Sri Lanka and India. He also generated many converts in Malacca, purportedly having performed various miracles, including prophesy, healing the sick and even raising the dead. After a sneak Achinese attack on Malacca in 1547 that left the Portuguese navy decimated, he preached a crusading attack against them. The sailors, swayed by his oratory, departed for battle. Despite expectations of failure, during Mass he fell into a trance and said the battle had been won. The sailors duly returned with news of a great victory.

That same year, St. Francis met with a samurai from Japan. When he heard of the country, he resolved to go there to convert them. He duly arrived in 1549, bearing fabulous gifts, and spent a year learning Japanese. Although he did not succeed in converting the Emperor, he did manage to make many converts across the country, including some daimyo feudal lords. After his success he returned to Malacca and Goa in 1552. He set out the next year for China, but unfortunately was not able to convince a local to bring him to the mainland. After a short illness, he died on the nearby island of Samchuan, within sight of mainland China. When his body was exhumed three months later, it had suffered no decay, and showed no signs of it during its journey via Malacca to Goa, where it is buried. To this day, the body is remarkably well-preserved. His memory is much cherished by Catholics worldwide; particularly in those congregations he started himself."

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