APOSTOLATE IN KANDY
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IN PUTTALAM AND SAT KORALES:
When Blessed Joseph Vaz arrived in Puttalam the kingdom of Kandy comprised the interior of the island of Sri Lanka while the western coastal region was occupied by the Dutch with three administrative circumscriptions known as the Command of Jaffna, that of Colombo and that of Galle. In the north east the island had two harbors, Trinncomalee and Batticaloa which were occupied by the Dutch nominally on behalf of the king of Kandy, but in fact against his interest, in order to prevent any other foreign nation from communicating with the king. Consequently Puttalam was the only harbor open for commercial purposes, free from Dutch control, and subject to the king of Kandy, although it was constantly a bone of contention between the two powers. Puttalam was not a port open to the sea, but an internal harbor situated in the interior cost of a gulf formed by the straight peninsula of Kalpitiya. In Puttalam and in the villages surrounding the harbor there were a little over one thousand Catholics. They had a Church that had been constructed by the Portuguese Jesuits but had been deprived of the assistance of Catholic priests for almost fifty years since the fall of Negombo in 1640 into the hands of the Dutch.
Most of the Catholics had received baptism and did not remember having at any time participated in the holy sacrifice of Mass. They welcomed Blessed Joseph Vaz in their midst and he consoled that afflicted community. Unlike Jaffna, in Puttalam Blessed Vaz could administer the sacraments openly without fear and with great fervors of his spirit and all the Catholics of the surrounding villages profited by his presence to their great spiritual advantage. He wrote a letter to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa dated 15th August 1690 and stayed in Puttalam till August 1692 visiting the villages of the Kalpitiya peninsula. He also visited the interior villages inhabited by Mukkavars such as Manattivu, Tetapola, Manpuri all in the district of Puttalam. On the borders of the district of Vanny he visited the village called Galgamuwa where he found some Christians who were living in perpetual dread of wild animals and so he planted a Cross for their defense and consolation. This village today is entirely Catholic and the cross is still there near a "Pallu" tree.
People had lighted candles to it over the centuries and though partly burnt, now it has 2 inches of thickness, vertex 2 feet, hands/foot and in order to save it, the present Bishop of Kurunegala, in whose diocese it lies, has enclosed it in a pedestal of a statue of Blessed Joseph Vaz and only one side is visible. The place is now named Joseph-Vaz-Puram and a Church is constructed next to this spot. Side by side with the statue of Blessed Joseph Vaz a statue of St. Francis Xavier is also erected there. Both are life size statues, seen by this author.
Blessed Vaz had contact with the villages of Sat Korales, the seven districts lying between the coast of Puttalam and Kammala where the command of Colombo commenced. There were more Catholics in these villages than in Puttalam but they had been abandoned since 1640. Two Jesuits, who tried to help them secretly from Jaffna ten years later, were caught unawares by the Dutch. One fled, the other was imprisoned and strong legislation was passed banishing all the priests especially the Jesuits. Blessed Joseph Vaz was the first priest to have contact with these people after 40 years and to realize that sad plight of their abandonment before proceeding to Kandy. However he preferred to make Kandy the center of his apostolate to avoid the vigilance of the Dutch from Colombo and to take refuge in Kandy in case there was danger for his life in future, as in Jaffna. He had to flee from Jaffna in December 1689 and was in the Puttalam area till August 1692. Thus he had passed one year and nine months in this area and now decided to go to Kandy.
THE JOURNEY TO KANDY:
Kandy the capital of Sinhalese kings and since the 17th century was literally a "Country on the hill". If Sri Lanka is the pearl of the Indian ocean, Kandy is its crowning glory. The decision to go to Kandy was prompted by the fact that Blessed Joseph Vaz met a Portuguese Catholic whose name was Antonio Souto. Puttalam as a port was frequented by the businessmen of Kandy. When Antonio Souto had gone to Puttalam he came to know of the presence of the Catholic priest there and informed him that there were many Catholics in the kingdom of Kandy who were desirous of the ministry of a priest and that he could obtain permission of the king to enable him to enter in Kandy through the influence of a relative of his in the court of Kandy.
At this juncture Sebastiao do Rego in both his "Life" and "Chronology" introduces a Fr. Joao de Braganza who had directly entered Puttalam and was ministering to the Mukkavares and who was very enthusiastic about Kandy. It is said that Bl. Vaz wanted to send him to explore the possibilities of securing an entry into Kandy for him, but Fr. Joao Braganza became very sick and Bl. Vaz had no other alternative but take the risk by himself with his faithful Joao and Antonio Souta. Soon there after Fr. Joao Braganza returned to Goa.
Blessed Joseph Vaz also makes a mention of the missionary in the later stage of his letter to the Prefect of the Oratory dated 15-8-1690 mentioned above and tells that "in case any letter or order is to be sent, it should be done in a way Fr. Joao de Braganza will tell and he will give other particulars of this mission".
The distance between Puttalam and Kandy is 80 miles. They had to pass through Veuda situated at a distance of 18 miles from Kandy. Here Antonio Souto had a residence with his family. Veuda was an important "Kadawat" (Check-post) for entering into Kandy. Antonio Souto, Blessed Vaz and John arrived at Veuda after 8 days. Leaving the Priest with his family, Antonio Souto went to Kandy to get the visa. Meanwhile Fr. Vaz started his ministry with that family and their neighbors at Veuda.
Antonio Souto went to meet his relative at the Court. The later, however, had been influenced into heresy by a French Huguenot Nanclaars de la Norelle. This one was an audacious adventurer who in the time of Rajasimha II had been sent to negotiate for urgent food supplies for a fleet and a garrison stationed by the French East India Company at Trincomalee. The King could not comply with the request and the French, who wanted to make Trincomalee their port in Sri Lanka, could not hold on without the supplies, and so were forced to cede the same to the Dutch. Nanclaars de la Norelle however remained at Kandy, married and settled there and gained some influence at Court. He tried to influence some Catholics to embrace Calvinism, among them being the family of the relative of Antonio Souto.
As soon as the two, the relative of Antonio Souto and Nanclaars de la Norelle, came to learn that Antonio Souto wanted to introduce a priest into Kandy and had come to seek a visa for him, Nanclaars de la Narelle turned the tables against them. He told the king that Antonio Souto was trying to introduce a Portuguese spy into Kandy in the garb of a Priest. He advised the king to be cautious and persuaded him to arrest the priest and Antonio Souto. This false accusation created a commotion in the city but the king fearing a revolt, sent a squadron of well armed soldiers with a rigorous order to imprison cautiously Antonio Souto and the new guests he had in his house. Immediately Blessed Joseph Vaz, John and Antonio Souto were bound in chains and conducted to Kandy by the king's soldiers. This was 15 days after they had left Puttalam.
There was no way to appeal, no way to escape from the country where the mere claim for justice against the orders of the king was considered high treason. This meant for Blessed Joseph Vaz immense suffering, insult, long imprisonment and mental agony for being incapable of helping the Catholics of Kandy, exactly at a moment when he was in this territory and about to achieve the object of his cherished dreams. But God had his own plans for him to use his enemies t introduce him in the Court of Kandy and from there, like the Sun at its zenith, to spread the light of the Catholic faith through the preaching of the Gospel throughout the island of Sri Lanka.
Our three prisoners were incarcerated in a rigorous cell called "Maha Hirage" and "guarded by sentinels who would not permit them to move four steps". They could not procure their food by begging or any other means and "had to pass five days in extreme hunger' except for a handful of "nachinim" (Eleusina Coracana) supplied by the guards once a day. In the meantime the king Vimaladharma Surya II was observing the accused prisoner, to see if in fact he was a spy; for espionage was a thing so much dreaded in Kandy that no foreigner was allowed to enter in the city and if any one did happen to enter he was not permitted to get out of it. Generally the prisoners sent to "Maha Jirage" (rigorous imprisonment) used to remain there for four to six years.
After observing the prisoners more closely for five days, the king felt it necessary to examine the priest calmly and at leisure to ascertain the veracity of the accusation levelled against him for "he could not infer anything from his meekness and modesty". Therefore he set Antonio Souto at liberty and ordered that the priest and his young companion be removed from the rigorous imprisonment of "Maha Hirage" and transferred to the custody of an official called "Dissava", under what is commonly known as "house-arrest", generally imposed on strangers to avoid the possibility of their escape from the land. The two prisoners were to be provided their food at the king's expenses. They were forbidden to go out of this house of detention. It is reported that from 1658 to 1681 not less than thirty four Englishmen had been placed under custody in this way in the kingdom of Kandy. This information is given by R. Knox who was one of them. Only after 19 years he had managed to escape and another companion of his after 44 years.
Resigning himself to the will of God, Blessed Joseph Vaz started, as best he could, his apostolate from his prison. As long as he could not exercise the ministry of preaching, he resorted to the ministry of charity. He used to distribute among the poor a part of the daily ration allotted to him by the king, reserving for himself and John the bare minimum for one meal he took a day, in order not to trouble the servant boy to light the fire more times.
STUDY OF SINHALESE AND TEACHING JOHN LATIN:
He had studied Tamil in Tuticorin and Jaffna and now when he was in prison he took pains to study Sinhalese in order to facilitate his apostolic labors. He also prepared a vocabulary in Sinhalese which served as a great help for the use of future missionaries.
In order to keep his servant John occupied Blessed Joseph Vaz taught him a little of Latin enough to enable the youth to recite the divine office devoutly and intelligently. He called John "my brother" and gave him his own surname "Vaz" in his letter dated 14-8-1694, and 2-2-1697. In a post-script to the above letter dated 14-8-1694 he recommends John to the priesthood. Though out of place, we give here extracts of this post-script.
Blessed Joseph Vaz writes to the Prefect of his Oratory "Although when he came here, Joao Vaz did not know to read and write, now that God has given him the ability, he reads and prays the divine office in my company". Then he praises John for his knowledge of Latin, Portuguese (negredas), Tamil and Sinhalese languages. Naturally, John had picked them up in his seven years company of Blessed Joseph Vaz, especially in the prison. Then Blessed Vaz vouches for John thus: "Joao has the will to dedicate himself purely to the service of God as a priest to work for these Christians... he has no canonical impediment. Please ask one of the prelates vs.. the Archbishop of Goa (or any other) to ordain him. So that sent back to Sri Lanka he can work for the service of the missions... inform me if this is agreeable and I will send him to Goa. He has made the vow of poverty... his conduct is upright... and example for me... and as far as I know he will not commit a venial sin even though for this it be necessary for him to die a thousand times. On the arrival in Kandy of the first 2 priests sent form Goa in 1697 and Blessed Joseph Vaz sent the same John to Goa, after being with him for 10 years. Joao Vaz was thus the first "gawdda" of Goa and the first Dalit tribal of India to be recommended to the priesthood. Bl. Vaz loved all men as equal and was thus much ahead of his times.
THE FIRST CHURCH OF STRAW:
Going back to the Kandy house-arrest, the rigors of the imprisonment went on diminishing as the months passed. Slowly Bl. Vaz was permitted to stroll in the compound of the prison house. He tried to ascertain whether his imprisonment was merely due to the denunciation as a spy or whether it was in hatred of his religion. So with the help of John he constructed a small straw shed in which he mounted an altar and planted on it a Cross. In order to demonstrate to the Catholics who did not know that he was a priest, he would prostrate himself to venerate the Cross, and pray publicly the rosary and the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that he could be seen and observed by all. From the Christmas of 1692 he started offering the Holy Sacrifice of the mass on this Altar. Thus this small straw shed adjacent to the prison house, became the first Church in Kandy. Seeing that no objection of Mass from the next day onwards.
Many people observed what was going on in the improvised shed Church. Many Catholics wanted to see the priest but dared not approach him for fear of the King. The memory of Antonio Souro's imprisonment was alive in their minds. Finally a Catholic skilled in embroidery thought out a plan. He prepared with great art and perfection an embroidered cloth and presented it to the king as a gift. Vimaladharma Surya II was greatly pleased with the handwork and asked him what he could give him in return. The man begged the king to allow him to speak with the confined priest on matters of his conscience. The king readily gave the required permission as probably he had ceased to regard Blessed Joseph Vaz as a spy. Given the good disposition of the king, others obtained the same privilege, till at last, many Catholics came to the Father in his prison for Mass and Sacraments. Almost all of them had not seen a priest for over forty years and so came for the Sacraments of reconciliation and to baptize their children and grandchildren. Bl. Vaz had also to validate the marriages contracted without the presence of a priest and catechise and instruct those who had no proper knowledge of the faith in such a situation of abandonment. After some time around September 1693, the king let the priest quit his prison but with strict orders never to cross the river that surrounds the city of Kandy. Even the boatmen had been forbidden to carry him across.
But as Bl. Joseph Vaz himself writes, in his letter date 2-2-1697: "trusting in the help of the King of kings and His promises", he crossed the river eight times during this prohibition in order to administer the sacraments to the sick and dying Christians, living in remote places.
As soon as he obtained the restricted liberty to minister to the Catholics of the city, Blessed Vaz got the people to build a simple Church covered with thatch and dedicated it to Our Lady for the Conversion of the Faithful. At first the Dissava posted some of his men in the Church to keep an eye on the priest, but as he did not show the least disposition to escape from Kandy, the men were withdrawn, but the victuals were supplied faithfully and regularly.
Blessed Vaz now brought out his best in his untiring work for souls. He started his apostolate in Kandy amidst great difficulties. The Buddhist monks instigated by Nanclaars de la Norelle opposed his ministry and asked him not to admit Christians and others who came to the Church. Straight-forward came his answer: "we have an obligation to search and invite the Christians and to see that others become Christians and it would be a grave sin not to receive those who come in search". Bl. Vaz therefore devoted himself to the Catholics of Kandy, assembling them regularly for Mass and instruction and visiting those who were unable to come to Church due to old age and infirmity. Many came to him from remote villages as soon as they came to know that a priest was in the city. As there had been no priest for many years the people had fallen into superstitions and adapted customs inconsistent with their faith. Some of the Catholics cultivated lands belonging to the temples and subject to trifling services to be rendered in return for the holdings. Those employed in he royal household, were called upon occasionally to carry flowers to the temples and perform similar services. Such Catholics were exhorted by Blessed Vaz to give up participating in pagan ceremonies, even indirectly; when the Buddhist monks complained, the king replied that if Catholics in his service were not willing to supply flowers to the temples, he could "dispense them from it as there are so many Buddhists who will be only too glad to render that service".
Some Catholics were ridiculed, vilified and even harassed on the way to the Church. Instigated by the enemies some people even went to the extent of plucking away the rosaries from the necks of women and children even then the influx of Catholics to the Church did not cease.
At the beginning of his apostolate in Kandy Bl. Vaz baptized on request the son of the treasurer of the Court "Gabada rala", but fearing the consequences of his conversion, Bl. Vaz prudently recommended this convert returned and brought in many more non-Christians to the Church.
When he had to face various pastoral problems of this type, Bl. Vaz wrote them down and sent them to the Prefect of his Oratory and to Fr. Henry Dolu, a Jesuit in Pondicherry, and asked them to give guidelines, he also exposed other problems to the Prefect of the Oratory, and when the Prefect advised him to try to come to Goa from Kandy. Bl. Vaz wrote that he would gladly obey his Superior as Christ, but with great prudence he made known to his Superior the great risk of such a step as, in 1693 - 1695 though free form prison, Bl. Joseph Vaz was still under prohibition of crossing the river Mahaveli Ganga that surrounds Kandy. He asked the Prefect for more helpers from the Oratory, and thanked him when he got an assurance that two confreres would be sent soon.
Bishop Custodio Pinho, Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur, who was asked by "Propaganda" to visit and report on the state of affairs of the Church in South India, described Bl. Vaz in 1693 as a man "totally detached from the world".
Using this utmost prudence Bl. Vaz in his letter dated 27-10-1693, advised his Prefect (Superior) in Goa, when writing letters, not to reveal to others where precisely he himself was. He also tells the Prefect to send him the letters through the Jesuits of the Fishery Coast; to send them open in order to avoid suspicions and not to mention them how the Prefect had received his letter, neither the place nor the date, not to write to him as to one whose permanent address was surely known, also not to give him any news of the Civil Government because "our work is only to be busy with the service of God and salvation of souls". Therefore in order to avoid all suspicions, he said, he was not writing to the Prelate nor to the Inquisitor in Goa.
Thus Bl. Vaz repudiated the principle in vogue: "sword and the cross" or "cujus regio ejus religio" and avoided any connection with the colonial powers. If the Portuguese and Spanish missionaries carried the cross under the shadow of the sword, this Goan missionary knew better. The Cross, in itself a powerful weapon, would lose its power and effectiveness if carried along with the sword. The spiritual liberating message of Christ in its crystalline purity sinks into the hearts of the masses better than the degraded and soiled message of the Cross administered on the tip of the sword.
He realized the danger of the temptation of corresponding with the authorities in Goa, at that time under the colonial rule of Portugal, who had lost Sri Lanka to the Dutch. For the sake of Christ he cut off his communication with the temporal and ecclesiastical authorities in order to avoid jeopardizing his mission and to be able to tend without disturbance the young colonial powers and showed that the Christian message does not need props of temporal power to spread itself.
In the year 1696 there was a long continued drought in Kandy. As rain is necessary for cultivation of rice, the men, the crops and the cattle suffered. Fr. Sebastiao do Rego writes that the king was very much distressed and so asked the highest religious leaders and monks of his kingdom to perform their ceremonies to call down the rain but to no avail.
The king then through his courtiers, asked Bl. Joseph Vaz to pray to his God and obtain rain for the kingdom. Bl. Vaz who by his sufferings, mortification and resignation to God's will had gained the power of sure intercession before God, replied that he "would pray with greater fervor in obedience to the royal command" and asked the king to "remain firm in faith, and if it would serve divine glory the land would abound with water since all the elements obey His divine commands as the Creator of heaven and earth". Such an answer given with firm faith in God was followed by a prayer on the public square by Bl. Joseph Vaz won the sympathy of the king, liberty for himself and permission to get more priests from Goa, besides a good number of converts to the Faith.
The above testimony of Sebastia do Rego is confirmed by another independent document: Testimony of the Theatine Friar Giovanni Appiani, the original of which dated 8-12-1697 exists in the Archives of the Propaganda Fide, Vatican which says: "Before proceeding further, I have to say something about the island of Sri Lanka... in the heart of this island lies the city of Kandy... the coastal areas of this island are occupied by the Dutch... guarded by their twelve forts... where no priests are permitted... in spite of this, a Canarin priest from Goa has entered there, and is in the interior of the island for the last 10 to 12 years and has made many Christians, so much so that some Dutchmen, worthy of consideration, have told me that he is a living saint and there is much talk that at the time of drought he made it rain (so that) rice (was) sufficient for the sustenance of those people".
The Report continues... "The name of this good priest is Joseph Vaz... and in Goa I have been informed that he lives a life of continuous mortifications... much given to prayers..." Giovanni was sent to Bijapur, Golkonda, and Grand Moghul as a Visitor by the Superior of his order and asked to submit a report on the missions of India. While making this report he praises the Jesuit methods and also speaks about the above apostolate of Blessed Joseph Vaz.
TWO NEW GOAN MISSIONARIES ARRIVAL:
After the miracle of the rain, Bl. Joseph Vaz made use of his liberty to go out of the Court to the territories of the king of Kandy beyond the river as well as to the possessions of the Dutch; then, when he was planning to go and console the Christians of Jaffna and of Puttalam, he received a letter from Fr. Joseph Menezes and Fr. Joseph Carvalho, from the Oratory of Goa, who had just arrived at Puttalam.
Armed with dimissorial letters from the Archbishop of Goa and faculties given by the Bishop of Cochin under whose jurisdiction Sri Lanka was, the two missionaries had departed from Goa in February of the year 1696, and reached Quilon on 18th March where they stayed for 6 months as guests of the Jesuits in order to study Tamil so that they might be able to enter Sri Lanka with greater facility and disguise.
On 18th August 1696; they wrote a letter to Goa in which they say that they have sent a letter to Bl. Joseph Vaz through a Venetian merchant and requested him to send John Vaz to help them in their journey. Departing from Quilon on 30th September they arrived at Tuticorin on 5th October 1696 and after four days sea voyage in a canoe they came to Negapatnam where due to the severity of the journey Fr. Joseph Carvalho fell ill. leaving him there, Fr. Joseph Menezes decided to proceed further alone but suffered much because he took more time at sea than he had made provision for; and more so because a Calvinist sergeant who was in the same ship, enquired about his baggage and examined his language, suspecting him to be not a merchant, but a priest. He was forced to throw his poor baggage into the sea, and lost everything even the Breviary and books he had brought for the mission, to avoid the risk of suspicion and imprisonment. He arrived at Jaffna on 12th November 1696. In the meantime Fr. Joseph Carvalho having recovered, arrived at Jaffna on 15th December 1696 and passing through Mannar and Mantota, arrived at Puttalam on 19th January 1697. Almost at the same time another secular priest, Fr. Pedro Ferrao, who had gone to help Bl. Joseph Vaz on his own, arrived at Jaffna and passed to Vanny.
The confreres had brought along with them a letter dated 10-2-1696 from D. Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin, appointing Bl. Joseph Vaz as his Vicar General with full jurisdiction, spiritual as well as temporal, over the entire island of Sri Lanka. In the letter, the Bishop said that he was "confident of his virtue, zeal, dedication and prudence". Bl. Joseph Vaz, however, reluctantly accepted this appointment saying "though I am not worthy of it".
Bl. Joseph Vaz was overjoyed with the arrival of the new missionaries. After giving thanks to God for their safe arrival, he approached a highly placed official to obtain the permission of the king to enable one more priest to enter Kandy. He was informed that this was not necessary. As Superior of hte mission and Vicar General, he had to decide who was more apt for the missionary work in Kandy and who could be in charge of the Dutch territory: At first he decided to bring Fr. Joseph Menezes to Kandy and keep Fr. Joseph Carvalho in Puttalam. But then he changed this decision calling Fr. Carvalho to Kandy, and appointing Fr. Menezes as missionary of Puttalam / Negombo and its districts up to Sitawaka and Colombo.
He also told Fr. Pedro to remain in Mantota in charge of the mission of Jaffna, Mantota, Vanny and Punarym.
The journeys Bl. Joseph Vaz undertook, the dangers to which he exposed himself, the hunger and the injuries he suffered, all this had its beginning and end in the love which moved him to overcome such insurmountable difficulties by land and sea for the glory of his beloved Lord. This divine love detached him from his country and from his parents and relatives. This divine love made him go round and round the entire island of Sri Lanka every year in search of and in service of souls. The same divine love made him feel so intimately the sinful life of men, that he was ready for any sacrifices to make them avoid their sins.
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