|St. Francis Xavier, S.J.|
For centuries, in the late middle ages, the spread of Christianity in Asia had been held up by the wide-spread conquests of the Moslem power. The followers of Mahomet were the fanatical enemies of Christianity, in the long wars of the Crusades; and for centuries, they lay across all the land routes to the east. But in the last decade of the fifteenth century two events occurred which allowed the current of Christian missions to flow again. In 1492, Columbus discovered America and in 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and thus opened up the sea approaches to the east. These two discoveries threw open to Christian zeal vast fields, white to the harvest, and resulted in a wonderful outburst of missionary activity. The ships which Spain and Portugal sent out to the west and to the east, in addition to their complements of sailors, soldiers, merchants, and adventurers, carried zealous and intrepid missionaries. Francis Xavier is the acknowledged leader of that army. He was the spearhead in the most widespread and sustained missionary effort in the history of Christianity. By his heroic example and his burning letters, he drew the attention of Catholic Europe to the vast multitudes so suddenly revealed as waiting for the good news of the gospel. His courage, zeal and enterprise, have made him the symbol and inspiration of all foreign missionaries. The Holy See created him the patron of foreign missions. His heroic achievement, and his devotion to a high ideal, have been generously recognised even by historians who do not share his faith. His career has been called one of the most heroic efforts of human history.