HEROES OF THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE EAST: João de Brito, the Saint of the humble (1)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Born in the city of Lisbon on March 1, 1647, João was the son of Salvador Pereira de Brito and D. Brites Pereira, noble members of the Portuguese court residing in Portalegre. His father would later become governor of Rio de Janeiro, where he would die. João de Brito, with his mother and brothers, stayed at the court.

Since childhood, being from a Christian family, João nourished the desire to become an evangelizing missionary in distant lands, despite his fragile health. Once, when was only 12 years old, even the doctors lost hope, but his mother, turning to heaven in prayer and intercession, made a promise to Saint Francis Xavier, and little João miraculously recovered his health.

Since then he dedicated himself to his studies and did his best, counting on divine providence.

The young João de Brito persevered in the desire to dedicate his life to the mission in the most distant lands. It was the time of the great voyages and he dreamed of going to India as a missionary. So he completed his so-called “superior” studies at the University of Coimbra. João de Brito was ordained a priest and joined the Society of Jesus. Despite his fragile health, he traveled to India, where he felt called to preach the Word of God.

Father João de Brito began his apostolic mission in Malabar,  in 1673. He lived in Goa, then in South India, where he deepened his studies, and soon all that region knew the ardor of this apostle.

From the beginning he sought to behave as much as possible as the natives did. He traveled enormous distances barefoot, bringing along only a simple cotton blanket and several Christian books. Father João de Brito created a new way of evangelizing, which was followed later on by several other missionaries. The secret was to follow Saint Paul’s maxim: “I have become all things to all, in order to win some to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

To get closer to the Hindus, Father João de Brito started to walk with a bamboo staff, wore a reddish robe and put on wooden sandals. He tried to live like a Hindu, even in his behavior and eating habits. But without, however, failing to preach the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, São João de Brito won many hearts. These embraced faith in Christ with firmness and renewal of heart.