Video excerpts for each site were recorded in 2015

This morning we left Bilbao and headed to the Castle of Xavier (Javier) in Navarre. Dating back to the 10th century, the castle 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. Taking advantage of the backdrop of Javier, Fr. Malone related the history of Ignatius and his experiences in studies at Paris, particularly the early formation of the 1st companions who would later become the Society of Jesus.

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.

St. Francis Xavier is quite possibly the most famous Jesuit of all time, more than St. Ignatius or even Pope Francis.

St. Francis Xavier is quite possibly the most famous Jesuit of all time, more than St. Ignatius or even Pope Francis.

Francis Xavier was born on April 7, 1506. Across the plaza from the Castle of Xavier there is a simple church with the baptismal font in which Francis Xavier was baptized. 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. His hair had turned white. He was dead at the age of 47.

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.

Photo Gallery (click to scroll)

Reflection by pilgrim Tracey Jones

Mothers are in my thoughts today. Yesterday, during our faith sharing, Fr. Lingan suggested that perhaps Ignatius’ devotion to Mary was in part due to the loss of his mother in early childhood. Today we discussed other occasions when children departed from their mothers not knowing if they would have contact with them again, including Francis Xavier and his mother. Fr. Matt told a story about Fr. Brit, a British Jesuit who was sent to Guyana waving from the back of the boat as he looked at his mother on the dock. I recalled my great aunt who went to China in the 1920’s as a missionary and died there leaving a bereft mother and brother at home in Tennessee. I also thought about the mothers of soldiers deployed overseas. The list could go on and on.

This is the same chapel in which young Francis Xavier would have prayed. Legend says that as the Saint was dying on Shangchuan Island the crucifix bled.

This is the same chapel in which young Francis Xavier would have prayed. Legend says that as the Saint was dying on Shangchuan Island the crucifix bled.

Ignatius often spoke of indifference and the willingness to give up anything to obey God. He even sent his close friend, Francis Xavier, to India knowing that it was unlikely that he would ever see him again. As a mother I must ask myself if I would be willing, like St. Mary, to give up my child or children. Would I be able to wave from the dock or say goodbye to my child leaving for college or a foreign country with the full knowledge that it may be the last time I would talk to him or hold her? When we said goodbye to our daughter as she was deployed overseas we did not worry because we thought she was going to a fairly safe place in a non-combat unit. But today, the families and friends of three soldiers stationed at her base are mourning the loss of their sons. Perhaps she is not so safe.

Sometimes God asks a lot of us. So many mothers that have gone before us have had the faith and strength to give their children to God. I give thanks to God for those gifts and the difference they have made in the lives of so many people.

Further Reading

James Martin, S.J., reflects on the deep friendship of Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and Peter Favre:

The mode of friendship among the early Jesuits flowed from Ignatius’s “way of proceeding.” For want of a better word, they did not try to possess one another. In a sense, it was a form of poverty. Their friendship was not self-centered, but other-directed, seeking the good of the other. The clearest indication of this is the willingness of Ignatius to ask Francis to leave his side and become one of the church’s great missionaries. Keep reading here.

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Peter Schineller, S.J., reflects on the smiling Christ crucifix in the castle’s chapel:

One relatively unknown way of imagining Jesus on the cross comes from a crucifix, probably from the 13th century, found in the chapel of the castle of St. Francis Xavier, in northeast Spain. His suffering is clear: Jesus is stripped, arms outstretched, head crowned with thorns; he is nailed to the wood. His face is unusual, however, not wracked with pain, but peaceful and serene. The sculpture is called “the smiling Christ.” Shocking! . Keep reading here.