America Media is going on an Ignatian pilgrimage to Spain, from Nov. 1 to 10, with Editor in Chief Matt Malone, S.J., and Senior Editor Ed Schmidt, S.J., as our guides. They’ll walk in the footsteps of St. Ignatius and visit Loyola, Aranzazu, Xavier, Manressa, Montserrat and Barcelona, seeking to find God in all things.
Here Matt Malone, S.J. offers a reflection from Javier, the birthplace of St. Francix Xavier. Visit our special pilgrimage web site to follow their trip, watch videos, and submit prayer requests.
The Castle of Javier in Navarre dates back to the 10th century and was the birthplace and childhood home of Saint Francis Xavier, who was a classmate and roommate of Ignatius of Loyola when they studied at the University of Paris. Francis Xavier, along with Peter Faber, another classmate and roommate, were among the first Jesuits. (They had the experience of living in a “triple” while in Paris!) St. Peter Faber was canonized by Pope Francis on Dec. 17, 2013. Across the plaza from the Castle of Xavier is a simple church with the baptismal font in which Francis Xavier was baptized.
Francis Xavier was born in the Castle of Javier on April 7, 1506. He was born to an aristocratic family of the Kingdom of Navarre, the youngest son of Juan de Jasso, privy counselor to King John III of Navarre, and Doña Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. Francis lived with his family until 1525 when he went to study at the University of Paris. Francis was an excellent student (he was first in his class), was the university’s long-jump champion, and was clearly ambitious. As a nobleman, he had hopes of securing a high position in the church for himself.
As his roommate and friend in Paris, Ignatius spent four years trying to persuade Francis to make the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius is said to have posed the question, “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Francis was whole-hearted at whatever he did, and when he finally made the Spiritual Exercises, he gave himself completely to the following of Christ.
Francis was ordained a priest in Venice at the age of 31. Shortly after the Society of Jesus was officially approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, the King of Portugal asked the pope for two priests to go to the Indies. The pope turned to the Jesuits. Ignatius wanted to send another Jesuit, but when that man became ill, he turned to Xavier. From start to finish, Francis Xavier’s time as a missionary was only about 10 years. He was dead at the age of 47. His hair had turned white. In those 10 years, he was able to receive letters from his Jesuit friends back in Europe only 5 times! He wore the signature from one of Ignatius’s letters, along with his vow formula and the signatures of his other distant Jesuit friends, in a packet around his neck. In the last letter he sent to Ignatius in 1552, shortly before his death on an island off the coast of China, he wrote:
Among many other holy words and consolations of your letter I read those last which said “completely yours, without my ever being able to forget you at any time, Ignatius.” Just as I read those words with tears, so I am writing these with tears thinking of the time past and of the great love which you always showed me and still show toward me…
Back in Rome, Ignatius, too, missed his dear, old friends and longed to see them again. He managed to see all of them except Xavier. His letter, asking Xavier to return, reached its destination two years after Xavier’s death. A century later, on the same day in 1622 (March 12), Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier were declared saints of the church.