Columnists > My attitude is like Francis Xavier: I baptise anything that moves

01 December 2016 | by Richard Leonard

My attitude is like Francis Xavier: I baptise anything that moves


Few people have seized the imagination of their own and subsequent generations of Catholics like Francis Xavier, whose feast day is celebrated today.

Among his many outstanding gifts, he was an indiscriminate baptiser. Some of his biographers guess that he baptised between 40,000 and 100,000 believers. One of his letters from India states that on a single day he performed 4,000 baptisms. That’s 167 an hour. I am guessing those ceremonies weren’t all that personal.

Xavier’s christening prowess was such that when Rome could not recover his whole body, the Jesuit General Claudius Acquaviva ordered Xavier’s baptising right arm to be severed at the elbow and conveyed to Rome. In 1617 it was enshrined in the Jesuit Church of the Gesù. By our standards, this seems rather ghoulish but the bejewelled relic is still there for all to see.

Xavier’s mission to baptise was about giving everyone a chance at salvation. He would be appalled by the attitude of some clergy these days who demand of young parents such a strong commitment to and practice of the faith that they have to turn up to several preparation classes before they can get their babies baptised. I am all for the good order of Sacraments and appropriate preparation for them, but my attitude more mirrors that of Xavier: I baptise anything that moves; I marry anything that moves; and I bury anything that doesn’t.


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