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Francis Xavier, Pope Francis and the Missionary Transformation of the Catholic Church

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (

Pope Francis writes of the need for a "missionary conversion" for the whole Church. He shares his dream of a "missionary option". He speaks of the need to put all things in a "missionary key". He challenges the pastors of the Church to engage ministry in a "missionary style". The word missionary runs throughout the entire manifesto entitled The Gospel of Joy. It seems our Pope may have also had Francis Xavier in mind - and heart - on that night when the Holy Spirit encouraged him to choose the name Francis. 

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, a surprise of the Spirit stepped forward on that balcony in St. Peters Square as the successor of the Apostle Peter and our 266th Pope. He surprised observers when took the name of Francis. Immediately the speculation began. After all, there has never been a Pope named Francis. Some surmised that since he was a member of the Jesuit Order, Pope Francis had chosen the name in honor of the great missionary whose memorial we commemorate today, Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits.

The new Pope soon made it clear, in word and deed, that he had primarily chosen the name in honor of the little poor man of Assisi.  What a challenging witness Pope Francis has already become in an age filled with self idolatry. He is demonstrating what the love of preference for the poor - which Catholic Social teaching calls us all to - really looks like. He moves it off of the pages of a book and steps it into reality. In the manner of his namesake from Assisi he has embraced the poor, in all of their manifestations, and challenges each one of us to do the same. 

The humble deacon named Francis Bernadone did what the Lord asked him in the thirteenth century. As a result, both the Church and the world were changed. The Church of Francis of Assisi\'s time is not unlike the Church which Pope Francis now serves. The world of Francis of Assisi\'s time was not unlike the world into which Pope Francis is called to bring the message of the Gospel in its fullness.

Pope Francis has also made it very clear, he is a missionary Pope. He has done nothing but evangelize from the moment he stepped out onto that balcony at St Peters. His words and his actions have set the tone for the whole Church, which he has continually called to mission. He is sending us all out in response to the command of Jesus to go into the entire world and preach the Gospel. (Mk 16:15, Lk. 14:23, Mt. 28:19)

His Apostolic Exhortation, The Gospel of Joy (Evangelii Gaudium) is a missionary manifesto. It presents an assessment of the mission field, an exposition of the means, and a clarion call to engage this age with the Gospel. I suggest he has also given us some phrases which will become significantly important in his papacy.

Pope Francis writes of the need for a "missionary conversion" for the whole Church. He shares his dream of a "missionary option". He speaks of the need to put all things in a "missionary key". He challenges the pastors of the Church to engage ministry in a "missionary style". The word missionary runs throughout the entire manifesto.

It seems our Pope may have also had Francis Xavier in mind - and heart - on that night when the Holy Spirit encouraged him to choose the name Francis. We are at the beginning of a great resurgence of living faith in the Catholic Church. The message of this Pope is precisely what is needed to foment and inspire just such a new missionary age. He calls us all to encounter Jesus Christ and, in that encounter, to be truly converted and begin to live differently. Just when her opponents were ready to count the Catholic Church out, the sleeping giant is being roused in the Holy Spirit for an assignment. 

On December 3 the Western Church remembers the great disciple of Jesus Christ and follower of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier. His missionary voyages to Japan and to India continue to bear extraordinary fruit centuries later as we witness the courageous witness of the Christians of our day in both lands. They should also inspire us to become the new missionaries of the Third Millennium.

St. Francis Xavier arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan, in 1549. Sixty years after he began his missionary work, the Shogun began their violent persecution against the Christians. The evil inflicted in that persecution did not stop those who had heard the Gospel from the mouth of this Saint. In fact, as has been the case throughout the ages, their blood became the seed of the Church in Japan and beyond. Nothing - and no-one- can stop the advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the spread of His Kingdom.

On his Feast, I present this excerpt from one of St. Francis Xavier\'s Letters to Ignatius Loyola. The missionary spirit which it reveals is alive in the Church in this hour. It is alive in the New Ecclesial movements. It is alive in the religious communities which are springing up as new shoots in the One Vine and the renewed ones which are rediscovering their charism. It is alive on the authentically Catholic Colleges and Universities which are forming the new saints, missionaries and martyrs for the Third Millennium. Some of them are new, others are being renewed. It is alive in Pope Francis.

Is it alive in you and me? Do we view our vocation, no matter what our state in life, as missionary? All of us can - and should - burn with the same missionary fire which animated this great saint. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit. We should cry out those words of the great Apostle Paul \"Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel.\" (1 Cor. 9:16)

It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ - preached and lived in its fullness - which is the true liberating message the whole world longs to hear. In Jesus Christ we can all be made new! The West staggers under the lies and deception of an advancing new paganism which offers only the old slavery of sin and despair which has accompanied every culture of death and use from the time the old foe lied to our first parents. It is the Church of Jesus Christ which offers Life and Freedom!

What the West needs - more than anything else - right now - is conversion, the real kind. The kind which comes only through encountering the Savior as He lives His Risen Life in the Heart of His Church for the sake of the world - which He still loves so much that He sends you and me into her midst. Those of us who have the privilege of being Catholic Christians have the highest of obligations. \"To those to whom much is given, much more will be required!\" (Luke 12:48)

Our mission field is our own back yard. The West is pre-Christian - not Post-Christian! Rather than waste any more time bemoaning this fact, rather than join the naysayers, it is time to enter into the new missionary age which stretches out before us. All we need is the intimate personal communion with the Risen Lord Jesus which so obviously motivated St. Francis Xavier and the evangelical courage which is its fruit. It is time to get to work.


Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel
St. Francis Xavier

We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God\'s Law.

I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: \"The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.\"

I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles\' Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.

Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: \"What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!\"

I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God\'s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like - even to India.

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