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Japanese Catholics mark 500th anniversary of Christian missionary

Saint Francis Xavier 1701 Oil on canvas, Kiscelli Museum, Budapest

Roman Catholics in Japan are gearing up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Francis Xavier, the Catholic missionary who brought Christianity to Japan in 1549.

The Nagasaki Archdiocese of the Catholic Church of Japan launched a year of celebrations on 3 December 2005, the feast day of the saint who was born on 7 April 1506.

"Taking this opportunity, I would like to look back over the history of the Church in Japan, particularly in Nagasaki, since when it was started by Xavier and consider how our mission should be in the future, based on the present situation of the diocese," wrote Nagasaki’s Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami in his New Year message issued on 1 January.

In this multi-religious but largely secularised country, Francis Xavier is so famous that his name and his portrait are said to be familiar to young children, who learn about him at primary schools.

Francis Xavier was ordained in 1537 after studies in Paris. There he became acquainted with Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order of priests, and was among the first members of the society. In 1541 Francis Xavier travelled to India at the request of King John III of Portugal and with the blessing of Pope Paul III, intending to evangelise the East Indies. Six years later he decided to go to Japan.

In Kagoshima, where he landed on 15 August 1549, St Xavier’s Cathedral plans to hold concerts to mark the celebration. And in Tokyo, the Kanda Catholic Church, also known as the St Francis Xavier Church, held a commemorative Mass for the anniversary on 3 December last year.

In the northern city of Hirado, which was visited by Xavier three times, a statue of the Madonna of Lourdes is planned to be inaugurated at the city’s St Francis Xavier Memorial Church.

When Francis Xavier left Japan in 1551, about 700 Japanese people had converted to Christianity. He also introduced European products into Japan, including Portuguese wine and spectacles. Francis Xavier died the following year on the Chinese island of Shangchuan, without however having reached his destination of mainland China.


Photo : Saint Francis Xavier 1701 Oil on canvas, Kiscelli Museum, Budapest