Happy Feast Day!

Our community was named after Francis Xavier. An early publication about our community profiled a text written by Louis Mendigal, that gives an image of St Francis Xavier on his trip from Italy to India, and makes a connection between Francis Xavier’s missionary zeal and the foundation of the Xaviere sisters. We publish this text below, on the occasion of the Feast Day of St Francis Xavier, December 3.

It is 1541, and Francis Xavier is en route to India. 1541, a date that will have a great significance in the history of the Church and the world.

You would be mistaken if you thought that, during this seemingly interminable journey to the Far East, Francis Xavier stood at the helm of the ship, dreaming of new converts to Christianity and so focused on these mysterious, faraway lands, that he became oblivious to his immediate surroundings.

Xavier was not a dreamer, but a realist who had better things to do than to allow himself to be carried away by romantic notions. The narrow, rocking vessel that buffeted him and jostled him about during weeks and months at sea, was the home of sailors. These were men who, alternately, laboured like convicts or slept like logs, overcome by exhaustion; who toiled or ate voraciously; who fought and cursed for no reason — because suffering often brings out the worst in even the gentlest lamb — or bickered during their unending card games while the ship lay motionless in the still air, a time when card-playing and boredom were the only choices the men had.

Men — work-weary and crook-backed, brutalised by this harsh, servile life. Sailors — mercenary and joyless men for whom nothing mattered other than the anticipation of some sleep, or a bowlful of foul-smelling, rancid gruel. Occasionally, in their infrequent ports-of-call, they would engage in drunken debaucheries, bloody fights and illicit liaisons and forget their prolonged and constant misery, the invasive vermin and oft-deadly typhus.

They were children of God, redeemed men. Yet who would be able to see, beneath their rough exteriors, the wondrous likeness of God?

These were the men of whom Francis Xavier was thinking, these men so near to him. Rather than being caught up in grandiose schemes and living in a pipe dream, this descendant of a noble Spanish family, this Sorbonne professor, still in the rapture of youth, became a sailor to earn the right — having first won their hearts — to speak to his fellow sailors.

He lived their harsh life — climbing ladders, scraping his hands on the rough ropes, eating from the common porringer, heaving the capstan like a seasoned sailor and, during calm seas, playing cards. Therefore, between games or between high winds, he spoke of Christ to these men whose confidence and esteem he had earned, and who did not know — or had forgotten — that there is a God who loved them enough to die for them.

I truly believe that it was there, on the forecastle of that old ship, which, at times, the sea would shake like a straw, or leave drifting, that the Xavières were born.

 But no one knew anything about it — not even me, not even you — until 1925. No one, but God.

 Louis Mendigal

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