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The Xavarian Mission (1542-1552)

The Xavarian Mission (1542-1552)

Francis Xavier was the herald of a new approach in the field of Mission. He announced a new era in the history of Christianity in India. Pope Paul III (1534-1549) sent him in 1540 as Nuncio in the enclaves of Portugal especially to India. He reached Goa in 1542. He proceeded to the coast of Coromandal in Southeast region of India and started a new mission in Travancore and Pearl Fishery Coast among the Paravas and Mukuvas. 

Christianity in Tamil Nadu spread from Mylapore as its centre and was known to the various Latin Missions. The mission was spread out from Mylapore to Bengal, Burma, Sri Lanka, Malacca and other East Asian countries. The Portuguese were in touch with the Cape Comorin and the East of it from 1506 onward. In 1536/37 a mass conversion of fIshermen took place on the Parava coast of Cape Comorin. 

A large majority of the Fishery Coast was evangelized during this period. The Fishery Coast is better known as Pearl Fishery Coast. It extended from Cape Comorin to the Island Promontory of Rameswaram and from there to Mannar off the coast of Sri Lanka. In 16thcentury it comprised some twenty-two villages, chief among them being Kayalpatam, Tuticorin, Vaipar and Vembar. Portuguese fought a long battle for the sway of the Fishery Coast. By the end of 1537 the entire Parava community had accepted Christianity and, according to Joao da Cruz, they numbered about 80,000 souls and 60,000 in the territories of Vijayanagar.

Diogo Borba and Miguel Vaz who were instrumental in establishing the Confraternity of Holy Faith (Santa Fe) in Goa, were moved by the spirit of evangelization to Southern strip. In 1542 Martin Afonso de Sousa. The 'Father of the Paravas' arrived in India as Governor (1542-1548) with Master Francis Xavier. Miguel Vaz, the vicar general, approached the new Governor for the sad situation of Paravas. Francis got complete information of Pearl Fishery Coast from Miguel Vaz. Francis Xavier saw new converts were left without proper pastoral care. Thus he took up the challenge to instruct them in true faith. He built Churches, baptized the children and appointed his collaborators to teach them catechism.

The Method of Xavarian Mission: 

Francis Xavier who arrived in Goa moved at first to the Fishery Coast in the extreme south of India. The task of Francis was to enrich the Christianity that was born after the mass baptism of 1536 and 1537. He was helped by seminarians who accompanied him from Goa. He translated the most necessary section of the catechism. He went through the whole village with a little bell, and began to teach them twice a day the prayer, the creed and the commandments. On Sundays he explained the articles of faith with the help of an interpreter. During his ministry several other villages on the coast accepted Christianity. 

The whole village of Kombuturai was converted to Christianity during his first journey from Manapad to Tuticorin. People of Virapandianpatnam and Kayalpatnam became Christians in 1543. Beyond Vembar several large villages like Kilakara, Periyapatnam and Vedalai embraced Christianity. On the mainland to the coast of Vedalai and on the Coast of Pamban Island many were converted to Christianity. A chapel was erected at the fishing village of Verkade, near Rameswaram. In 1543 the number of Christian villages on the coast increased from twenty-two to thirty.

Francis Xavier was not a static missionary. He moved from one place to another preaching the Good News and founding communities of believers. He appointed in each village a Kanakkapillai or catechist who would teach children the Christian doctrine twice a day, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. The catechist also acted as sacristan of the Church. The Catechist assembled the people on Sundays for the prayer, baptized the children in case of necessity, and wrote records of them. 

When Xavier left the Fishery Coast there were enough men left behind him to carry on the Mission work. He also arranged necessary financial aid to the missionaries for the maintenance of the catechists of the coast. Francis Xavier left the Fishery Coast and went to work in Malacca and in Moluccas. In January to February 1548 he visited again the Fishery Coast. 

He appointed Fr. Antony Criminali as superior of the mission. After Criminali's death in 1549, Fr. Hentriques took charge of the Mission. In 1551 there were about thirty Churches on the Fishery Coast. The Society of Jesus inaugurated its great mission work with Francis Xavier, one of its founders, in India. Francis Xavier was an outstanding missionary in India. In 1600 a Jesuit province was formed with headquarters in Goa anevangelizationd another province at Kochi. Those two centers of Jesuits directed the Mission of Society in India in the beginning. The sixteenth century records will remain forever known for great conversions and evangelization.

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