18 January 2010

Saint Francis Xavier of Japan

Francis Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in foreign countries, initially in India. Instead of trying to approach Christianity through the traditions of the local religion and creating a nativised church as the Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, did in China, he was eager for change. Francis had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, Francis changed tact by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).

However Francis' mission was primarily, as ordered by King John III, to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. Many of the Portuguese sailors had had illegitimate relationships with foreign women; Francis struggled to restore moral relations, and catechized many illegitimate children.

In Malacca in December, 1547, Francis Xavier met a Japanese from Kagoshima named Anjiro. Anjiro had heard from Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca with the purpose of meeting with him. Having been charged with murder, Anjiro had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his beloved homeland. Anjiro helped Xavier as a mediator and translator for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. "I asked [Anjiro] whether the Japanese would become Christians if I went with him to this country, and he replied that they would not do so immediately, but would first ask me many questions and see what I knew. Above all, they would want to see whether my life corresponded with my teaching."

He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, the father Cosme de Torrès and Brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the "King of Japan" since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Francis Xavier reached Japan on 27 July, 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but it was not until 15 August that he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma on the island of Kyūshū. As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. hosted by Anjiro's family until October 1550. From October to December, 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March, 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism.

Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language. Artwork continued to play a role in Francis’ teachings in Asia.

For forty-five years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytizing in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground as to not be persecuted.

The Japanese people were not easily converted; many of the people were already Buddhist or Shinto. Francis tried to combat the disposition of some of the Japanese that a God who had created everything, including evil, could not be good. The concept of Hell was also a struggle; the Japanese were bothered by the idea of their ancestors living in Hell. Despite Francis’ different religion, he felt that they were good people, much like Europeans, and could be converted.

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God; attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion.

With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful as attested by congregations established in Hirado, Yamaguchi and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he saw the rich merchant Diego Pereira, an old friend from Cochin, who showed him a letter from Portuguese being held prisoners in Guangzhou asking for a Portuguese ambassador to talk to the Chinese Emperor in their favor.

In late August, 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was only accompanied by a Jesuit student, Álvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called António and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died at Sancian from a fever on the 3 December, 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would agree to take him to mainland China.

He was first buried on a beach of Shangchuan Island. In 2006, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, the Xavier Tomb Monument and Chapel on the island, in ruins after years of neglect under communist rule in China was restored with the support from the alumni of Wah Yan College, a Jesuit high school in Hong Kong.
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