Apostolate of Sri Lanka
 

Apostle of Sri Lanka Blessed Joseph Vaz

Joseph Vaz was born at Benaulim, Goa, on the 21st April, 1651. His parents were Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, both devoted and pious Catholics. Even as a Child Joseph was noted for his deep piety and his charity towards the poor. Having completed his studies at Goa, he prepared himself for the priesthood and was ordained at the age of 25.In 1681 he was sent to the district of Kanara in South India as the Superior of the Mission. He returned to Goa after three years and joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross of Miracles, which he recognized in to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri and which supplied Sri Lanka with missionaries for a century and half.

It was in 1686 that Fr. Vaz decided to come to Sri Lanka. He had heard of the sad plight of the Catholics hear who were suffering under the Dutch persecution and longed to minister to them. After spending some time in South India he crossed over to North of Sri Lanka in 1687, disguised as a Labourer in order to avoid the vigilant eyes of the Dutch. In Jaffna he pursued his ministrations, poor and unknown, helpless and friendless and stricken with grave illness. After spending about two years in Jaffna he passed over to Puttalam, the then chief seaport of the Kandyan Kingdom, where he could work in peace and Security. There he applied him self with great, preaching, administering sacraments, rebuilding churches and wining souls to Christ. He then came to Kandy, which was to be the center of his missionary activities for twenty years. In Kandy he first suffered imprisonment on the order of the King on suspicion as a Portuguese spy. In course of time, however, the King became aware of his miraculous virtues and gave him permission to go about his ministrations. While in prison he compiled a Sinhalese – Portuguese vocabulary for the use of the Goan Fathers. He also took steps to create a vernacular Catholic Literature.

Fr. Vaz was later Superior of the Mission and Vicar General of the Church in Lanka. He established several missionary centers and took upon himself the arduous task of going about the whole country tramping through jungle paths, hazarding his life in the midst of wild animals and even penetrating into the coastal towns where it was a crime to even give shelter to a Catholic Priest.

The unbounded charity of Fr. Vaz was evident when a severe pestilence broke out in Kandy in 1697. Fr. Vaz and his assistant nursed the sick, carried food to the segregated patients, and even buried the dead. King Wimaladharma openly declared that were it not for Fr. Vaz's charity the streets would have been full of corpses.

Apostle Father Joseph Vaz endanger him life to preserve the faith of the Catholics, who rallied under his leadership in the country. In his mission he ministered the need of the persecuted Catholics in his leadership in this country and safe guard their faith. He learnt and used the language of the people both Sinhala and Tamil as an instrument of peace. He used both languages to sustain the message of love and strengthen the faith of the people irrespective of their ethnicity. For him his mission Sri Lanka was One country and its' people were one flock.

After having toiled with indefatigable zeal in this part of Our Lord's Vineyard and having converted or reclaimed over thirty thousand people to True Fold, having worked many miracles and shown ample testing of his apostolic zeal for God and of his deep purity and humility, his pure soul left this mortal world on the 16th January, 1711. He died in Kandy and was buried in the Church of Our Lady, which was erected by him. But alas when Catholic priests were expelled from Kandy and Churches razed to the ground, this historic Church which had stood for about 47 years disappeared and all traces of it have since been lost.

Though two centuries have elapsed since his death the fame of his sanctity lives to the present day in India and Sri Lanka, Innumerable favors have been received through this intercession, and many extraordinary cures wrought.

In January 21st 1996 our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II proclaimed this great missionary of Asia and Apostle of Sri Lanka as Blessed Joseph Vaz.

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