Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility


By Eric A. Clayton

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a trip I was part of to the Kenyan coastal town, Malindi. There, we visited the St. Charles Lwanga Jesuit Community, established in 2017 at the request of the local bishop to, in part, engage in interreligious dialogue with the predominately Muslim population.

While this particular Jesuit mission is only five or so years old, Malindi itself has a surprising Jesuit history.

“We can say this is the return of the Jesuits to Malindi,” says Fr. Thomas Aquino Deshi Ramadhani, SJ, an Indonesian Jesuit now serving in Malindi. “St. Francis Xavier — he came here, spent some time here. You can still visit the chapel.”

The chapel in question is officially called the Portuguese Chapel. It was built by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498. But it became an unexpected stop for renowned Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in 1542 — and it’s that legacy the Jesuits of Malindi are building upon today.

For Fr. Deshi, the site is a powerful source of inspiration for all he hopes the Jesuits will do.

“The first time I went to the chapel, I could just feel that this great saint had been waiting for us Jesuits to come here. And not just to stop by, but to really work,” he reflects. “Spiritually speaking, we believe that Francis Xavier has prepared this place for us.”

Fr. Sosthenes Luyembe, SJ, a Tanzanian Jesuit and the superior of the Jesuit community, concurs. “Francis Xavier was in Malindi for a very, very short time,” he says. “I thought he was here for two, three months. But he was only around for three days.”

Xavier had made the unexpected stop in order to bury sailors who had died during their voyage. The Portuguese Chapel would have been a known landmark to him and his crew.

“So, they were buried here,” Fr. Sosthenes continues. “But Francis, we are told, did not just sit back and relax while in Malindi. We are told that he went out and met two Sheiks, the leaders of the local Muslim communities. He met them, engaged with them, talked with them about Christ.”

No one was converted, Fr. Sosthenes notes. But still: in a new land, during such a short time. It’s a source of inspiration! “How he managed to reach out in a very peaceful way — you’re engaging in a dialogue.”

And that’s the sort of dialogue Fr. Sosthenes and Fr. Deshi hope to continue today.

“My hope is just to get to know our Muslim brothers and sisters who live here and start with friendship,” Fr. Deshi says. “Just very informal friendship.”

“We can journey together as a people, as children of God,” Fr. Sosthenes adds.

This storied legacy — both the history it points to in the past and the potential it holds for the future — all center on this very unassuming chapel. For me visiting, it was a destination for a pilgrimage I didn’t realize I was on.

But as soon as I learned the story, I knew I had to lay eyes on the building itself.

And you can, too. In the latest installment of our Ignatian Places YouTube series, journey to Malindi, following in the footsteps of Jesuits both past and present as we work to build a world of inclusivity, dialogue and hope.

Watch the video.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.