Today is the Feast of St Francis Xavier, who is one of my favourite saints. My primary school was St Francis Xavier College, so I was acquainted with him from a very young age. He’s probably the first saint I was aware of, after Our Lady and St Joseph. My confirmation name is Francis — after both Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier.

I’ve read several of his biographies over the years. I discovered one at the Kanabea Catholic Mission in Papua New Guinea, where I worked for five weeks in 2006. I grew a “missionary beard” during that trip, after the fashion of the great Jesuit missionary. Or at least, I tried to.

I didn’t pull it off, really.

I also kept a diary on that trip. Here is the entry on 3 December 2006 — the feast of St Francis Xavier.

I’ve mucked up the novena. I started a day too late, which means that it won’t finish until tomorrow. I guess it will still be St Francis Xavier’s feast day in America . . .

At least I’ve finished reading the book about him. It seems to me that he won over the people he evangelised by his attractive fusion of the local way of life, and the Christian faith he sought to introduce. Xavier’s radical simplicity and poverty permitted him to totally embrace the locals’ customs and food — a practice which the locals had never seen a white man do. His actions earned him intrigue, if not admiration.

Maybe this is a template for evangelisation everywhere. Show your audience you’re just like them, and then challenge them to live the faith you live.

Perhaps an even greater secret to Xavier’s evangelical attraction was joy. Supernatural joy, which naturally arises in anyone who is in love with God. I think it’s closely aligned to gratitude. The author declares “Francis the Thankful” to be Xavier’s most fitting moniker.

I remember we got an article in the seminary about the importance of gratitude in the Christian life. Stephen Rosetti wrote it I think. He linked it to the Eucharist, and suggested any people which calls itself “eucharistic” must consciously foster a spirit of gratitude. I’ll have to fish it out when I get back.

Hmm. I this this is the first time I’ve read this entry since I got back from PNG, so I never did look up that article. I’ll have to search my files tomorrow.

Today was the last day of the national tour of the arm with which St Francis Xavier baptised thousands. Twice — in two different states — I tried to visit the relic and pray before it, but it didn’t work out. I’ll have to visit the Jesu in Rome, and venerate the relic there.

This Korean pilgrim did something similar, and made a film about it. I don’t like his choice of music much, but it’s a good project otherwise.