Ordained at Lisbon, Portugal, at age nineteen, Jesuit Rudolf Aquaviva was sent as a missionary to Goa, India, where for a decade he had only modest success. Then in 1579, the Great Mogul Akbar requested missionaries be sent to his court near Agra. Rudolf got the assignment and was eager to present the Christian faith to the Muslim king. The great mogul showed his openness to Christianity by permitting the construction of churches and the celebration of the liturgy.
Rudolf’s goal, however, was winning the king himself to Christ and, through him, his people. But Akbar’s apparently keen personal interest was checked by the Muslim proscription of conversion. And sometimes it seemed he was toying with Aquaviva. For example, during explanations of Christian doctrine that he had invited, he dozed or got distracted by his entertainers or his harem.
Rudolf became completely frustrated. As he explained in the following letter to his spiritual mentor, his zeal flagged and he longed for a martyr’s death.
You know how I longed for this mission, and how delighted I was when it was granted me. I have been able to do what I wished for—to bear witness to the name of Jesus Christ before the kings and rulers of this world.
We cannot speak out the truth for fear that if we go too far we endanger the life of King Akbar. So we neither die because they do not kill us, and yet we do not live for our zeal wears us out. Or we live only by hope, though that is very uncertain whether it may not turn out rather evil than good. Ours is a very uncertain outlook as far as the King’s conversion goes.
Still, the Lord makes us realize that our labors are just as pleasing and acceptable to his divine majesty as if we were to obtain that for which we are striving, for God is a witness of inmost feelings and a searcher of the heart (see Wisdom 1:6). For day and night we are toiling at a work of great service to God, the planting of his faith in a barbarous nation at such peril of our lives.
By 1583 the mission to Akbar had failed. Then Aquaviva was appointed superior of the Jesuit outreach to Hindus at Salsette, north of Bombay. He and four associates decided to build a church in Cuncolim, a village that was the main source of resistance to their work. This frontal attack won Rudolf his desired martyrdom, as the Hindu villagers massacred him and his companions shortly after they arrived.