As a young boy growing up in Northern Spain, Francis Xavier dreamed of doing great things. At age 19 and full of ambition, he went to study in Paris where he met Ignatius of Loyola. A Scripture text Ignatius was fond of quoting had a deep impact on Francis: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Francis took that Scripture to heart and came to understand the emptiness of earthly greatness while becoming powerfully drawn to the love of heavenly things. The humility of the Cross appeared to him more desirable than all the glories of this world. Eventually, he took vows as one of the first seven members of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola. When one of the two Jesuits chosen to travel to Asia as a missionary became ill, Father Francis joyfully offered to substitute.
Francis pursued his missionary work with great zeal. During one of his voyages, a terrible tempest so terrified the sailors that they gave themselves up for lost. But Francis immediately drew a crucifix from his breast and leaned over the side of the vessel to touch the waves with it. But the crucifix slipped from his hand into the raging sea. Immediately, the storm ceased, but Francis was much distressed that he had lost the only crucifix he had.
The next day after landing on the coast of Malacca, Father Francis was walking along the shore when he saw a crab come out of the sea holding the crucifix between its claws. The crab walked straight to Father Francis and stopped at his feet. Francis kissed the cross and clasped it to his breast. He then bent down to bless the crab and, to his amazement, noticed a cross on the back of the crab’s shell. This miracle story was depicted on a banner that hung from St. Peter’s Basilica during Francis Xavier’s canonization ceremony. Even today, every Malacca crab bears the marking of the cross on its shell, a sign, perhaps, of God’s paternal love for Saint Francis Xavier, the greatest missionary since the time of the Apostles.