Pope Francis: Share the Gospel with Zeal Like St. Francis Xavier

Pope Francis at his general audience on May 17, 2023 (left) and a painting of St. Francis Xavier in the Church of the Gesù in Rome (right). | Daniel Ibanez/Creative Commons

In a world in which there are “so many people who need Jesus,” St. Francis Xavier is an exemplary model of how to live and share the Gospel with zeal, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

The pope dedicated his entire general audience on May 17 to sharing the story of the daring 16th-century saint who risked his life to travel to what was then considered the “unknown ends of the world.”

Pope Francis said that St. Francis Xavier is considered “the greatest missionary of modern times.”

One of the first Jesuit priests, Xavier brought the message of Christ to India, the distant islands of the Indonesian archipelago, and Japan.

“The love of Christ was the strength that drove him to the furthest frontiers, with constant toil and danger, overcoming setbacks, disappointments and discouragement; indeed, giving him consolation and joy in following and serving Him to the end,” Pope Francis said.


“May St. Francis Xavier, who did great things in such poverty and with such courage, give us some of this zeal, this zeal to live the Gospel and proclaim the Gospel,” he added.

“To the many young people today who have some restlessness and do not know what to do with that restlessness, I say, look to Francis Xavier, look at the horizon of the world, look at so many people in need, look at so many people who are suffering, so many people who need Jesus.”

Pope Francis at his general audience in St Peter’s Square on May 17, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Pope Francis noted that Xavier’s dream was to evangelize China, but he died while on the way to realize his dream.

“In Japan, Xavier, the great dreamer, understood that the decisive country for the mission in Asia was another one: China. With its culture, its history, its size, it exercised de facto dominance over that part of the world,” he said.

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“Even today, China is really a cultural hub with a great history, a beautiful history,” the pope added.

However, Xavier died “in total abandonment” on the small island of Shangchuan off the coast of mainland China near Macao on December 3, 1552 as “only a Chinese man stood beside him to watch over him.”

At the time of his death at only 46 years old, the missionary priest’s hair was already white and “his strength was consumed, given unsparingly to the service of the Gospel,” Francis said.

“His very intense activity was always joined with prayer, the union with God, mystical and contemplative. He never left prayer, because he knew there was strength there,” he said.

Pope Francis reflected on the great testimony of St. Francis Xavier as part of a series of catechesis on “the passion for evangelization,” which he began in January.


Midway through his general audience, Pope Francis interrupted the proceedings to answer a phone call.

Pope Francis interrupted his general audience on May 17, 2023 to answer a phone call. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

While it is a rare occurrence to see the pope using a cellphone, it is not the first time that he has taken a call during his general audience. Pope Francis also answered the phone during a weekly Wednesday audience in August 2021.

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis reminded the crowd that the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on Thursday, May 18.

“The Ascension of the Lord, which we will celebrate tomorrow, invites us to look at the moment in which Jesus, before ascending to heaven, entrusts to the Apostles the mandate to bring his message of salvation to the ends of the earth,” the pope said.

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“Dear young people … accept Christ's missionary mandate and commit yourselves to put your enthusiasm at the service of the Gospel. You, dear sick and elderly, live united with the Lord in the certainty that you are making a valuable contribution to the growth of the Kingdom of God in the world. And you, dear newlyweds, make sure that your families are places where you learn to love God and be his witnesses in joy.”

Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.