Never underestimate the influence of your child’s heroes. Sixteen-year-old Francis Xavier moved to France from northern Spain, enrolling in the University of Paris and gained a reputation for being “charming, witty, urbane, athletic, musical, good-looking, successful with women, and somewhat vain … a complete worldling until one day he met … Ignatius Loyola.”*

Loyola sought reformation within the Roman church. Loyola’s convictions so affected Francis that for the rest of his life he knelt when writing to Loyola or reading a reply. Together the two men established the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—in 1534.

In the late 1530s Loyola and Xavier set off as ministers to Venice where they preached and worked in hospitals. Then with the blessing of Pope John III, Xavier left Europe as a missionary to the Orient. Arriving in India in 1542, he walked throughout the countryside, wearing poor clothing, incessantly ringing a little bell, and calling the inhabitants to turn from paganism to Christ. He focused on the children, advising a coworker, “I earnestly recommend to you the teaching of the children … since the grown-ups have no hankering for Paradise.”

Xavier journeyed on to Japan where he laid aside his rags, put on expensive clothing, and publicly debated Buddhist monks. Numbers of Japanese entered the Christian faith, but Xavier felt that the key to winning Japan was to first win the Chinese; so he set off for China. Waiting for an audience with the Chinese emperor and permission to preach, Xavier developed a fever, weakened and died on December 3, 1552.

Francis Xavier is the father of modern Catholic missions. He started life spoiled, but became one of the most courageous figures in missionary history. He laid the groundwork for the Catholic evangelism of the Orient and did it all in just a ten-year period.

Such is the power of a hero.

Wise friends make you wise, but you hurt yourself by going around with fools. You are in for trouble if you sin, but you will be rewarded if you live right. (Proverbs 13:20-21)

* Robert D. Linder, “Francis Xavier,” in Great Leaders of the Christian Church, ed. by John D. Woodbridge (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), p. 234.

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec 3.

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