Image of Bl.Joseph Vaz on a Prayer Card
|Catholic Priest, Missionary, Apostle of Ceylon|
21 April 1651|
Benaulim, Goa, Portuguese India (now India)
|Died||16 January 1711
Kingdom of Kandy (now Sri Lanka)
|Honored in||Catholic Church|
|Beatified||21 January 1995, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Pope John Paul II|
Blessed Joseph Vaz, (Konkani: Bhoktivont Zuze Vaz, Sinhala: Bhagyawantha Jose Vaz Piyathuma), CO, (21 April 1651, Benaulim – 16 January 1711, Kandy) was a Catholic Oratorian priest from Goa. He is known as the 'Apostle of Ceylon'. On 21 January 1995, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Colombo.
Fr. Vaz entered Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the Dutch occupation, when Calvinism was the official religion. He travelled throughout the island bringing the Eucharist and the sacraments to clandestine groups of Catholics. Later in his mission, he found shelter in the Kingdom of Kandy where he was able to work freely. At the time of his death, Fr. Vaz managed to rebuild the Catholic church on the island.
The third of six children, Joseph Vaz was born in 1651 at Benaulim, his mother's village. His parents, Cristóvão Vaz and Maria de Miranda, were devout Catholics. Cristóvão belonged to a prominent Goud Saraswat Brahmin Naik family of Sancoale. He was baptised on the eighth day of the parish church of St. John the Baptist, Benaulim by Fr. Jacinto Pereira. Joseph attended the elementary school in Sancoale. He learned Portuguese in Sancoale and Latin in Benaulim. Joseph was a bright pupil and respected by his teachers and fellow students. He made such rapid progress in his studies that his father decided to send him to the city of Goa for further studies; where he did a course in rhetoric and Humanities at the Jesuit college of St. Paul. He further studied philosophy and theology at the College of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Goa city.
In 1675, Joseph was ordained a deacon by Dom Custódio de Pinho, the Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur and Golconda. In 1676, he was ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Goa, Dom Frei António Brandão. Soon after his ordination, he started going barefoot to live like the poor and acquired a reputation as a popular preacher and confessor. He opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians. In 1677, he consecrated himself as a "slave of Mary", sealing it with a document known as the "Deed of Bondage".
Ministry in Canara (1681–1687)
Fr. Vaz wanted to work as a missionary in Ceylon, and therefore presented his request to go there to the Cathedral Chapter which was administering the Archdiocese of Goa following the vacancy created by the death of Archbishop Brandão on 6 July 1678. However, the Cathedral chapter proposed to him to go to Canara instead, where the Padroado authorities in Goa were in conflict with the local authorities belonging to the Propaganda Fide. Fr. Vaz was appointed the Vicar Forane of Canara by the Padroado in 1681, and sent with the purpose of asserting their jurisdiction against the Propaganda Fide. The Chapter also gave him the esteemed title of "Frame of Canara". Upon his arrival, he found the situation of the Roman Catholic Church there to be highly explosive.
The Padroado authorities in Goa were at conflict with those of the Propaganda Fide in Canara, led by the already incumbent Vicar Forane, Bishop Thomas de Castro. The source of the conflict was that Bishop de Castro's appointment as Vicar Forane of Canara by Pope Clement X on 30 August 1675 was not recognised by the preceding Padroado Archbishop. Consequently, they did not cede the jurisdiction to him despite the Pope's letter of appointment.
The Padroado–Propaganda conflict which ensued divided the Catholics of Canara into two sides—those who recognised the authority of the Padroado Archbishop in Goa versus those who supported Bishop de Castro. Those who recognised the authority of the Padroado were excommunicated by Bishop de Castro, while those who recognised the authority of the Propaganda Fide were excommunicated by the Padroado authorities at Goa. Either group were forbidden from receiving sacraments from the priests of the rival group, on penalty of excommunication.
In a letter dated 14 September 1681, he lamented:
"Many in fact believe that the Catholic Church is divided, and that we and the Bishop's priests are not children of the same Mother Church; and that our doctrines and our sacraments are different; and what the ones do, the others destroy. Thus the Catholic Church is much despised and is not acceptable."
With great diplomacy and humility, Fr. Vaz met Bishop de Castro at Mangalore and after having convinced himself of the legitimacy of the documents, brought about a truce until a direction was received from the new Pope, Innocent XI. In light of the fact that the bishop had legitimate authority, Fr. Vaz recognised his authority and while continuing to adhere to the Padroado system, zealously worked for the religious welfare of the people. The bishop further agreed to delegate jurisdiction to him conditionally. Fr. Vaz often spoke to him and pleaded with him not to fulminate so many excommunications, but wait for a final decision from the Pope. He pointed out that the Hindus were scandalised and the Christians bewildered by these arguments.
During his stay, Fr. Vaz undertook serious missionary activities in Canara from 1681 to 1684, carrying out a lot of missionary work in Mangalore, Basroor, Barcoor, Moolki, Kallianpur and other areas, and reviving the spirits and faith of the widely scattered Roman Catholic community. He reconstructed the Rosario Cathedral in Mangalore and built new churches at Onore, Basroor, Cundapore, and Gangolim. He also set up small schools in some of the villages with the co-operation of their inhabitants.
Fr. Vaz's most important contribution, however, was the establishment of a large number of Irmidades (Confraternities) throughout Canara, where he would periodically celebrat festive occasions with great pomp. Fr. Vaz was compelled to do so due to a shortage of priests, and as such an Irmidade brought together the Catholics of a place where there was no church or resident priest. To this end, he constructed small huts and asked the local Catholics to gather there and recite their prayers. This greatly helped to keep alive and encourage the religious fervor for Christianity.
In his short stay, Fr. Vaz acquired a great and saintly reputation. He did yeoman service to the cause of the upliftment of the downtrodden. Many miracles are attributed to him. A local legend has it that while serving as parish priest of Our Lady of Mercy parish, Paneer, a few kilometres from Mudipu, a few Hindus arrived in the night, asking him to accompany them to administer final sacraments to a sick parishioner in the neighbourhood of Mudipu.
The men had conspired to slay the priest, due to his tireless missionary activities. However, when they reached the top of the Hill, the men tried to kill him. The serene Fr. Vaz knelt down on the rock and held his stick straight on the ground. A light flashed in their midst and the men could see water gushing from the spots where he knelt. Owing to this miracle, the men fled from the scene and Fr. Vaz returned to the parish unharmed. A shrine dedicated to him, Blessed Joseph Vaz Hill shrine was constructed at that very site at Mudipu in Mangalore. It is visited annually by thousands of pilgrims and devotees, seeking blessings and cures for various ailments.
The new Archbishop Dom Manuel de Sousa e Menezes arrived in Goa and was displeased with Fr. Vaz on account of the agreement he had made with Bishop de Castro. When Fr. Vaz sought permission to return to Goa, the request was refused by the Archbishop. After the Archbishop's death, the Cathedral Chapter of Goa allowed him to return to Goa in 1684, replacing him with Fr. Nicholas de Gamhoa, one of his former helpers. In 1685, he joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, and was soon appointed a Superior of the Order. Fr. Vaz was also in the Keladi kingdom in 1686–1687 for a few months on his way to Ceylon, where helped by his companions, he attended to the spiritual needs of the Christians.
Sri Lanka mission (1687–1711)
Hearing of the distressful situation of the Catholics of Ceylon who reportedly had no priests for many years, Fr. Vaz desired to go to their rescue. But instead he was named Superior of the Canara Mission, a post which he occupied for three years. On his return to Goa in 1684, he spent his time preaching in the villages, and joined the Oratorians then recently established in Goa, at the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles. He was soon named superior there. In 1686, Fr. Vaz obtained permission to give up this office and to proceed to Ceylon. Disguised as a mendicant, he reached the port of Tuticorin on Easter 1687.
On landing at Jaffna, F. Vaz found a strong Calvinist presence. As Catholic priests were banned by the Dutch authorities, he had to travel under the guise of a mendicant and to work in secret. He travelled barefoot as an Indian sanyasi.
Fr. Vaz suffered from acute dysentery, contracted from the terrible travelling conditions. Upon recovering, he began contacting Catholics and hiding from the Dutch. He was taken in and ministered to his secret flock by night. In 1689, taking up his residence in a village called Sillalai where the Catholics were numerous and resolute, Fr. Vaz succeeded in reviving the spirit of the faithful. In 1690, he was forced to change his quarters for Puttalam, where he worked with great success for a whole year.
In 1692, Fr. Vaz settled in Kandy, the capital of a native independent kingdom, as his centre of operations. On his arrival, he was deemed to be a Portuguese spy and was imprisoned with two other Catholics. There he learned Sinhala, the local language. They were left alone by the prison guards as long as they didn't try to escape and he built a hut-church and later a proper church dedicated to Our Lady, and began converting other prisoners.
Making the most of his new-found freedom, he made a mission visit to the Dutch controlled areas and visited Catholics in Colombo. Three missionaries from the Oratory of Goa arrived in 1697 to help him with the news that Bishop Pedro Pacheco of Cochin had appointed Fr. Vaz as Vicar General in Ceylon. He was organising the basic mission structure when smallpox broke out in Kandy. His work with the sick convinced the king to allow Father Vaz freedom in his labours.
Fr. Vaz carried his mission to the main centres of the island. Between 1687 to 1711, he was at the head of a group of Goan Bamonn priests who under his leadership and inspiration, mixed and moved about under conver sustaining the persecuted Roman Catholic population in Ceylon.
Fr. Vaz returned to Kandy in 1699 with Fr. Joseph de Carvalho who had been expelled at the instigation of Buddhist monks. He completed the construction of his new church, and went into service for the king, translating Portuguese books into Sinhala. From this vantage point, Fr. Vaz intensified his ministry, and converted some Sinhalese notables. New missionaries arrived in 1705, which enabled him to organise the mission into eight districts, each led by a priest. He worked on the creation of Catholic literature comparable to that of the Buddhists, and to affirm the rights of Catholics with those of the Dutch Calvinist Government. Vaz humbly declined the offer made to him in 1705, to be the bishop and first Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon, preferring to remain a simple missionary. For this reason, he is often depicted with a mitre beside him.
King Vimaldharna Surya II, Fr. Vaz's patron, died in 1707, but Vira Narendra Sinha, his successor, proved to be an even greater supporter. New missionaries arrived in 1708. In 1710, despite health problems, Fr. Vaz took another apostolic trip. On his return, he fell ill. He recovered from a series of infections and fevers, but was left weakened. He undertook eight days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Rule, but before the seventh day he died at Kandy on 16 January 1711, aged 59.
The process was begun in Goa, and a number of miracles were registered. But the non-fulfilment of certain essential formalities led Benedict XIV to cancel the proceedings, with an order, however, that they should be re-instituted. The Apostolic Delegate of the East Indies, Ladislaus Zaleski (1852–1925), who was resident in Kandy, kept hearing reports of this saintly priest. He did his own research about him, was a great admirer of Joseph Vaz and published a multi-issued biography of him. The beatification process was resumed later and completed in 1953 by the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman. On 21 January 1995, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Colombo.
Cause for canonisation
The canonisation process for Joseph Vaz to be declared a saint by the Catholic church is in progress. A Diocesan Inquiry of a miracle attributed to Vaz was to take place in the month of October 2013. In November 2013, Patriarch Filipe Neri Ferrao stated that the cause for Vaz's canonisation had reached a 'crucial stage'.
So far the school known in the name of Fr. Joseph Vaz is, Joseph Vaz College of Wennappuwa, which was founded in 1935 January. The school started with the patronage of Marist Brothers (initiated 1933).
- Letters of Blessed Joseph Vaz: Son of Goa, Apostle of Canara and Sri Lanka. Ed. Cosme Jose Vaz Costa. Goa: Eremito M. Rebelo, 2011.
- Mascarenhas, Michael, SDB. Through Storm and Tempest: A Biography of Blessed Joseph Vaz, Apostle of Canara and Sri Lanka (1651–1711) and an Account of the Historic Exploits of the First Oratorians (Goa...) in Sri Lanka. Mumbai: Tej-prasarini Don Bosco Communications, 2001.
- Mascarenhas, Michael, SDB. Bhaktivant Jose Vazachem Caritravarnan: Kanara and Sri Lankecho preshit (1651–1711) ani Goemcya pratham Oratorian Sansthen Sri Lankat kel'lea caritrik missao vavracho vivar. Tr. into Konkani (Kannada script) by Reginald Pinto, Santosh Menezes, OFM Cap. and Victor Rodrigues. Mumbai: Tej-prasarini Don Bosco Communications, 2002.
- Mascarenhas, Michael, SDB. Vadoll ani tufananantlean: Goencho bhagevont put Padri Juze Vazachea jivitachi kotha. Translation into Konkani (Roman script) by Thomas Misquith and Jess Fernandes. Panjim: Boskon Communications, 2010.
- Mascarenhas, Michael, SDB. Vadalvara va tufanatun: Dhanyavadit Joseph Vaz yanche jivan caritra. Translation into Marathi by Anil Dabre. Mumbai: Tej-prasarini Don Bosco Communications, 2006.
- Cabral e Sa, Mario, and Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues, Great Goans. Vol. 1: Abbe Faria, Fr Jose Vaz, Lata Mangeshkar, T.B. Cunha. N.N.A.P. Publications, 1986.
- Don Peter, W.L.A. Studies in Ceylon Church History. Colombo: Catholic Press, 1963.
- Don Peter, W.L.A. Historical Gleanings. Colombo, n.p., 1992.
- Gomes, Manuel. Blessed Joseph Vaz: A Creative Missionary Ahead of His Time. Old Goa: Manuel P. Gomes, Pastoral Institute St Pius X, 2010.
- Goonetileke, H.A.I. A Bibliography of Ceylon. 5 vols. Zug: Switzerland, 1975–1983.
- Pereira, Denis G. Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Man, His Mission, His Message. Bopmbay: Pauline, c. 1996.
- Perera, S.G. Life of Blessed Joseph Vaz: Apostle of Sri Lanka. Ontario: Humanics Universal Inc., 2011. [Reprinted in Goa by Eremito M. Rebelo.]
- Perera, S.G., ed. The Oratorian Mission in Ceylon: Historical Documents relating to the Life and Labours of the Venerable Father Joseph Vaz, his Companions and Successors. Colombo: Caxton Printing Works, 1936.
- Perniola, V. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka: The Dutch Period. 2 vols. Dehiwala: Tissara Prakasakayo, 1983.
- Perniola, V., tr. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese Period: Original Documents. Ceylon Historical Journal monograph series 15–16. Dehiwala: Tissara Prakasakayo 1989–(1991). [1:77.]
- Wickremasinghe, Martin. Landmarks of Sinhalese Literature. Colombo: Gunasena, 1948/1963.
- Gomes, Luis. Boddvo Iadnik.
- Costa, Cosme. A letter from Joseph Vaz.
- Do Rego, Sebastiao. Vida do Veneravel Padre Jose Vaz.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Blessed Joseph Vaz
- Joseph Vaz, C. O.
- Patron Saints Index: Blessed Joseph Vaz
- Blessed Joseph Vaz – Apostle of Sri Lanka
- History of Christians in Coastal Karnataka, 1500–1763 AD, Pius Fidelis Pinto, Samanvaya Prakashan, 1999, pp. 210–212
- Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p. 158
- Life and achievements of blessed Joseph Vaz: Apostle of Canara and Sri Lanka, Cosme Jose Costa, Pilar Publications, 1996, p. 10.
- Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p. 159
- History of Christians in Coastal Karnataka, 1500–1763 AD, Pius Fidelis Pinto, Samanvaya Prakashan, 1999, p. 227
- History of Christians in Coastal Karnataka, 1500–1763 AD, Pius Fidelis Pinto, Samanvaya Prakashan, 1999, p. 216
- Mangalore: Way of Cross at Blessed Joseph Vaz Hill Shrine – 29 March 2010, Daijiworld.com
- Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, pp. 114–115
- Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p. 115