The religious experiences that Conforti shares with Saint Francis Xavier

By Francisco Xavier Beltran Aceves, SX

Blessed Guido Maria Conforti has been canonized for the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI on October 23, 2011, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Canonization means to accept someone officially as a saint; in other words, the Catholic Church recognizes that someone is holy and a model for the Christian life.

The saints teach us that holiness is not far away from the human being; they have been holy through concrete experiences that everyone can have. In the same way, Conforti conceives holiness:

Sanctity does not consist in doing marvelous things or in the enjoyment of extraordinary supernatural gifts, but rather it consists in the possession of divine grace and the faithful fulfillment of the will of God.”[1]

The Catholic Church has had a lot of saints through her history; they have the function to be models and inspiration for christians because they are examples of holiness. For this reason the canonization of Conforti is a great event for the Catholic Church and especially for the Xaverian Missionaries which were founded by him. It is a great joy to have a saint as a founder because he becomes an inspiration for the members of the congregation. I am a Xaverian and I think that the canonization of Conforti invites us to think about his life and especially his holiness.

As a member of Xaverian Missionaries, it is usual to hear the question: Is Saint Francis Xavier the founder of the Xaverian Missionaries? It is a common question since the names of the congregations are often in relation to the names of the founders. In our case, the name of the congregation does not help much Conforti to be known, and I think that his canonization is a good opportunity to make him known.

Saint Francis Xavier is not only important in the life of Conforti because of the name of the Congregation that Conforti founded; Xavier has inspired Conforti in his process of holiness. The influence of Xavier in the life of Conforti is seen in common religious experiences which motivated the life of Conforti.

Considering the importance of the life of Saint Francis Xavier in the holiness of Conforti, I have decided to report three religious experiences that Conforti shares with Saint Francis Xavier: the experience on the cross, the strong life of prayer and the love for the mission.

            The experience of the cross

 

Conforti experienced the love of Christ in the contemplation of the crucifix, he wrote: “The crucifix is the master book from which saints were made and from which we also ought to be form.”[2] The canonization of Conforti is an example of this phrase because he became a saint learning from this master book.

Conforti had a similar experience of the crucifix as Saint Francis Xavier had. It is divided in two parts; first is the similar experience of the cross since their childhood, and second is the experience during their ministry.

Both, Conforti and Xavier, contemplated the crucifix since they were children. The experience of Conforti started when he went to Parma with the intention to study the primary school. Several times he stopped in the small church of Our Lady of Peace before the lessons, there he prayed to the crucifix inside of the church.

“The huge crucifix which embellished the altar fascinated him. He looked at the figure of Jesus and he really believed that Jesus looked at him. Whatever the nature of the experience, it moved him deeply. Indeed, so entranced did he become with this crucifix that he became increasingly reluctant to leave the church. ‘It looked at me and told me so many things’, he was to remark one day, speaking of ‘his crucifix’, ‘for me it is a miraculous crucifix. I owe my vocation to it’ he was heard to tell one of his friends.”[3]

This part of the life of Conforti is remembered often by people who know his life. It is important not only because he was child, but it is important because it is the beginning of his close friendship with Christ.

In the same way, Saint Francis Xavier had an experience with the crucifix in the chapel of the castle in Navarra. The story says that while he was cared by his mother in academic and religious education, he passed some time alone contemplating the crucifix which has a special smile.

During these early years, Francis was often quite late coming home from classes. When that happened, his mother would begin to worry. Soon she would be searching for him in the squares and alleys of the castle town. Usually she would find her son alone in Church, kneeling before the main altar, apparently absorbed in prayer.”[4]

This experience of both, Xavier and Conforti, is important because it influenced their entire lives. Both have showed the influence of the crucifix in their writings and especially in their ministry.

Conforti expressed the contemplation of the cross in his writings as bishop and as founder. As bishop he promoted his motto “Christ is all things” because his spirituality was centered on the person of Christ: “Christ was always present in his thoughts and in the heart. Christ was his constant companion in all the actions of his life.”[5] He always encouraged the christians of his dioceses to contemplate the crucifix and to be formed by him.

As founder of the Xaverian Missionaries, Conforti gave to them the contemplation of the crucifix as center of their spirituality. “In the mind of Blessed Guido Conforti, consecration is born of the contemplation of the crucified Christ and of the love made manifest therein.”[6]Consecration is not only to make vows, but it is more an experience of the love of Christ on the cross which invites the consecrated to imitate this love.

            The experience of prayer

The experience of the prayer follows the contemplation of the cross; contemplating the crucifix they got a strong relationship with Christ and they kept the relation through the moments of prayer. Both, Conforti and Xavier, are considered as men of prayer.

To pray takes time and often is difficult to find moment of prayer when there are a lot of activities to do. Conforti and Xavier surely encountered this problem because both were very active in their ministry. In spite of the difficulties, they found moments of prayer during the night, in fact, to pray during the night is the second religious experience that Conforti was inspired by Xavier. Leon Dufour describes this experience of Xavier:

“He belonged completely to the neighbor on day; he was all to God at night. In this he was a true imitator of Christ that preached on day and passed the night in prayer.”[7]

Saint Francis Xavier is considered as a great active missionary; he traveled a lot of miles by boat, preached the gospel, baptized a lot of people, etc. However he was not only active but also contemplative. Indeed, Xavier found his strength in the prayer of the night; Xavier was an apostle of active contemplation, it’s to say, he combined his ministry with his personal prayer of life. Conforti defined this characteristic of Xavier:

St. Francis Xavier is a sublime example of outstanding love of God coupled with an ever growing love of neighbor of a very intense activity combined with an amazing union with God, nourished by ceaseless prayers.”[8]

The combination of intense activity with prayer makes Xavier a great model of Christianity and sanctity. In this sense, Conforti followed the example of Xavier and he lived his personal prayer of life with such intensity that any activity from his ministry could not replace.

Conforti had to attend his diocese as bishop and the Xaverian Missionaries as the Congregation’s founder. Both activities gave a lot of work; however he never neglected his prayers.

“Time given to God, even if this involved prayer throughout the night and a considerable loss of sleep, according to members of his household, did not prevent him from fulfilling the demands of a heavy timetable and giving time and his fullest attention to all who came to him.”[9]

Conforti knew how to combine his personal prayer of life and his ministry. As he was inspired by Xavier in the constant prayer, he also was inspired by him in the love for mission.

            The experience of mission

Conforti and Xavier were missionaries but in different ways; Xavier went to different places preaching the gospel, and on the other hand, Conforti could not go to mission but he was promoter of the mission as founder, bishop and first co-founder of the Missionary Union of Clergy.

The experience of the mission in the life of Conforti is very important because this was his motivation in his vocation and purpose as founder and bishop. He started to appreciate mission when he knew the life of Saint Francis Xavier, the first encounter of Conforti with the life of Xavier was when he was a seminarian. Fr. Augusto Luca explains this encounter:

“During that bitterly cold winter of 1897 one of his friends loaned him the biography of St. Francis Xavier, written by Giuseppe Massei. As a hero of the Gospel, Xavier captured his imagination. His adventures fascinated him so much that Guido resolved from that moment to become a missionary like the great apostle of the Indies and Japan.”[10]

Conforti could not be a missionary in the same way that ‘the great apostle of the Indies and Japan’ was. The intention of Xavier was to evangelize China and after to go back to Japan, but he could not enter to China because he died. Conforti, inspired by the missionary zeal of Xavier, founded the Xaverian Missionaries with the purpose to continue the mission of Xavier in the evangelization of China. That’s why Conforti did not want to call his congregation ‘Confortians’ because he wanted to have St. Francis Xavier as the patron and the model of his foundation.

The first missionaries of the Congregation were sent to China in 1899. Conforti kept contact with them through letters; he always encouraged his missionaries to be strong in the difficulties of language, culture, food, weather, etc. However Conforti not only supported the missionaries with letter, he visited once in 1928. He went to China as religious superior with the intention to restructure the mission looking the spiritual and material needs.

Conforti completed his dream of experiencing the mission in China with his visit, but his contribution to the mission is even greater as promoter of missionary activity in the Church. He gave the idea to create the Missionary Union of Clergy, then it was approved by the Pope Benedict XV and he was appointed as president. Father Augusto Luca describes this contribution of Conforti.

For his work in the Missionary Union and for the many initiatives he made in the field of missionary co-operation, Conforti could be considered a major contributor to the missionary reawakening of our century.”[11]

In the twentieth century was a missionary reawakening in the Church; missionary congregations were founded and encyclicals were made which encouraged the Church to reflect in her missionary dimension. Conforti was a continuously supporter of mission as founder and as promoter in the Church.

In conclusion, Conforti was inspired by Saint Francis Xavier in his process of holiness. In particular, his inspiration was in his spirituality of the cross, personal prayer of life and active participation in missionary work.

The canonization of Conforti shows that the sanctity is not far away of the human being; through concrete experiences people can get the sanctity in their life. The Church presents the Saints as models of Christianity who help us to have concrete examples of holiness.

Now that Conforti has been canonically recognized as saint, the Catholic Church invites us to have Conforti as our model. As Conforti took Saint Francis Xavier as a model of holiness, we can also have Conforti as our model of Christian life. Nowadays it is not common to think of holiness, however Conforti can help us to rediscover the magnificence of being a saint.


[1] Guido Maria Conforti (1980). The father’s word. Wayne, NY: Xaverian studies. P. 57

[2] Guido Maria Conforti (1980). The father’s word. Wayne, NY: Xaverian studies. P. 47

[3] Luca Augusto (1980). Bishop without frontiers Guido Maria Conforti. Bologna: Edittrice Missionaria Italiana. P. 18

[4] www.xaviermissionaries.org/M_Stories/Xavier_Life.htm 9/05/2011

[5] Luca Augusto (1980). Bishop without frontiers Guido Maria Conforti. Bologna: Edittrice Missionaria Italiana. P. 18

[6] Ratio Missionis Xaveriana (RMX) no.15

[7] Leon-Defour Xavier (1998). San Francisco Javier. Spain: Sal terrae. P. 96

[8] Guido Maria Conforti (1980). The father’s word. Wayne, NY: Xaverian studies. P. 137

[9] Luca Augusto (1980). Bishop without frontiers Guido Maria Conforti. Bologna: Edittrice Missionaria Italiana. P. 84

[10] Luca Augusto (1980). Bishop without frontiers Guido Maria Conforti. Bologna: Edittrice Missionaria Italiana. P. 25

[11] Luca Augusto (1980). Bishop without frontiers Guido Maria Conforti. Bologna: Edittrice Missionaria Italiana. P. 112

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