The virtue of hope shone as brightly as his faith in Fr. Joseph Vaz, who was able to achieve great feats for God beyond human power.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz undertook his mission to Ceylon trusting solely in God and without any human help. His trust in God was so firm that he did not make plans from Goa for any provisions for his journey. In the Dutch ship too he took no provisions but he wanted to be detached as benefits the poor in spirit. When the Dutch officer in Tuticorin came to know that this poor beggar who had asked him permission to embark to Ceylon, was a priest, he ordered that he would not permit anyone to get in without his special permission. In this predicament Fr. Joseph Vaz turned to God and poured out his heart in prayer, long and earnestly beseeching God for some means to make his way to the land of his dreams. Within three days the Dutchman died and the new officer, not knowing the reason for the prohibition allowed Fr. Joseph Vaz and his companion, the boy John, to enter the ship undisturbed, as poor beggars seeking a livelihood.
- After 3 years of imprisonment in Kandy, the King Vimaladharama Surya II, permitted Fr. Joseph Vaz limited freedom. He could not cross the river which was surrounding the city and even the boatmen had been forbidden to carry him across. But as Fr. Joseph Vaz himself writes, “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.
- In 1699 the officials of the kingdom of Kandy pressurized the king to exile Fr. Joseph Carvalho and demolished the Church edifice there. Fr. Joseph Vaz was away in Colombo and other villages ministering to his flock. As soon as he came to know this, he went in search of Fr. Joseph Carvalho, his companion, and after getting the details, his conduct was one of hope in the Lord. Amidst tears both prayed for divine mercy. On that occasion he wrote to Goa, “I desired that first of all we leave everything in God’s hands and that we trust only in God’s mercy”. He then entered the city, made the Christians pray for three days, then met the King who gave him full freedom to reconstruct the Church, keep Fr. Joseph Carvalho there and carry on his ministry.
- One day when it was raining heavily, Fr. Joseph Vaz had to cross the river Mayvana-aru that was in full spate. There were some Muslims and Negroes who had been stranded on the bank because of the strong current and depth of water. Fr. Joseph Vaz placing his full trust in God, went straight into the river and remaining still in the middle, asked the stranded people to cross over and after they had gone to the other bank, he also followed them. Some were laughing and making mockery of him. These people tried to cross the river after he had reached ashore, but failed.
- In 1709 there was a rebellion against the new King Narendra Sinha moved by his own uncle. Sensing that there would be robberies and sacking of property, Fr. Joseph Vaz distributed beforehand everything that was in the Church among the poor, without keeping anything for himself and his companions, Fr. Manuel de Miranda and Fr. Jacome Gonsalves. Even the day’s maintenance was given away. They kept the doors of the Church open as long as their rebellion lasted and all three gave themselves to prayer. In the end they sung the office of the dead. No one dared to attack the Church property. When the rebellion cooled down, an abundance of unexpected help came which was more than what had been distributed before the rebellion.
- While passing through a bush, Fr. Joseph Vaz came across a ferocious elephant that was obstructing his way. There was no other way to escape. The people who were accompanying him were sure of death. But Fr. Joseph Vaz stopped, prayed and then turning to his companions exorted them to have full trust and confidence in God who would not desert them. He then walked over the elephant as if over the trunk of a tree and so did his companions. The elephants remained quiet and did not molest anyone. On another occasion on returning from the Natangoda village, when he had 36 hours to walk to Kandy, Fr. Joseph Vaz had to pass a thick forest in which he came across another fierce elephant, which was greatly fared as it used to kill the passers-by. There was royal prohibition to hunt elephants, and so no one dared to kill the fierce animal. Fr. Joseph Vaz confronted it with courage, hope in God and with a candle he had blessed and lit. when the elephant saw him it turned and saluted the priest with its trunk and went back into the forest without molesting anyone.
- In 1706 when Fr. Joseph Vaz was ministering in Kottiyar on the eastern coast with Fr. Jacome Gonsalves and Fr. Miguel de Melo he felt mortally sick and unable to walk, But putting his full trust in God, he continued the 14 days long journey on foot, until he arrived at Puttalam.
Fr. Joseph Vaz was burning with the love of God which was also reaching out to his neighbours, whether friends or foes.
- The journeys he undertook, the dangers to which he exposed himself, the hunger and thirst he bore, the persecutions, efforts, contradictions and the injuries he suffered, all this had its beginning and end in the love which moved him to overcome such unsurmountable difficulties by land and by sea for the glory of his beloved Lord. This divine love detached him from his country, from his parents and relatives. This divine love made him go on begging from door to door. This divine love incarcerated him in the prison at Kandy; this divine love urged him to go round and round the entire Island of Ceylon 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.
- Fr. Jacome Gonsalves wrote to his Perfect in Goa after reaching Ceylon in 1705: “That ejaculation `Oh my Jesus’ which he used in his sermons in Goa to excite fervour in our hearts, I have now heard many times repeated by him by day and night… He always carries with him a piece of white cloth to wipe his face for he often sweats due to fatigue or has tears of compunction… he is always absorbed in God and forgets himself… At the first sermon we heard from him in Tamil, we saw the people crying because they understood him. Even though we could not understand him, we felt also like crying, because the way he was preaching he was moving our hearts.. During the journeys he always holds fast to the beads of the rosary and recites it alternately with his companions with great devotion.
- He showed exquisite and rare charity in his efforts to bring back to the Kingdom of God an apostate in Canara. To save some Christians in Ullal who were living badly he exposed himself to great ill treatment by them. He moved about in Canara sheltering the orphans, composing discords, deciding litigations… In order to rescue the persecuted Catholics in Ceylon he repeatedly insisted with Fr. Nicolau de Gamboa to sell him to the Dutchmen who were frequenting the ports of Canara in their ships, in order to able to go to Ceylon in the guise of a slave.
- On his journey to Ceylon he wanted to go forward but stayed on for the love of a pagan who wanted to convert himself. He also visited the prison of Bargare to console the Christians who had been cruelly ill-treated by a non-Christian tyrant.
CARE FOR THE SICK:
- When he was preaching a mission in S. Mathias, Malar (in Goa), a lady named Mariana Fernandes who was suffering from malaria moved by the fame of sanctity of Fr. Joseph Vaz went to confess to him and revealed to him her sad condition. He consoled her and told her to have trust in God; she was immediately cured.
- n Canara he would go in the evening to console the sick; among them there were some paralysed persons whom he would assist, feeding them and washing with his own hands their putrid and contagious wounds.
- During the small-pox epidemic in Kandy Fr. Joseph Vaz rendered such incomparable service, rarely found in history, that even the non-Christians admired him for this.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz himself writes “The reason for getting freedom to go far in search of Christians was an extraordinary epidemic of small-pox which started in September 1697, and went on over a year, and spread with great force in this city (of Kandy). Many people died, others fled to the forest and the King himself fled away to another city and returned on the death of the Queen Mother (widow of his father who died in June 1698, but not of small-pox). Initially we did our duty of taking care of the Christians sick, dying and dead and also of the non-Christians abandoned by their relatives, putting them in the way to salvation.”
- Fr. Joseph Carvalho companion of Fr. Joseph Vaz, who entered Ceylon in 1696 died of exhaustion in 1702, after helping him in this work describes the whole situation in minute detail. “The epidemic increased and spread so much that there was no one who escaped from it; and these Sinhalese have a natural fear (that if even one person in a village gets affected, they abandon that house and run to the forest leaving the sick even if he be the parent, or the child, or the husband, or the wife)or they throw the sick in the forest where the wild animals finish them, or if they live, they eat the leaves of the trees or the canji which rarely their courageous relatives if any, keep for them at a great distance. Since many were abandoned like that in the forest, from the city with great charity the priests helped them to get a shelter made by tying four pieces of wood covered with grass or branches of trees, and they fed them twice a day with rice canji, some medicines and consoled the Christians with the Sacraments. As the epidemic spread like wild fire, there was not a house that was not affected-people from eighty years of age to even eight days old - and since there was no one to help them many were dying daily…Father (Joseph Vaz) was going at first, through the forest, then in the houses, to help them: without making any distinction whether he was a Christian or a non-Christian…After early office and Mass he would cook rice canji in pots and distribute to all those who were totally abandoned. He would come back at mid-day, have a poor meal and return with medicines, tobacco, betel, areca and chuna, rice, wood, water, etc. to supply to them. Seeing such charity many were converted to our faith and died peacefully after receiving Baptism. The priest would himself dig the grave and bury them. Otherwise dogs and wild animals would devour the dead bodies... The Fathers were hosts and nurses for them, even carrying their excrements to be buried, working day and night. Many of those affected were saved from death because of our care…”
- “Many of them informed the King about the great charity and he was so much touched that he said that he would be pleased to have in his kingdom another four priests of this type, for if at this time the priests had not been there, many of his people would have ended in death. Antonio Horta, a friend of the King, told me that the King intended to give some gift to the priest, but his servants had told him that the priest would not accept anything, no money, but was happy with the tunic that he was wearing…”
LOVE FOR YOUR ENERMIES
- During the epidemic two person, an apostate and a non christian adigar (minister) slandered Fr. Joseph Vaz tried all possible means to win over the soul of the apostate and to help him, but in vain. Finally apostate died of small-pox. The adigar was also attacked by the epidemic and was abandoned by his kit and kin; but Fr. Joseph Vaz with great love took care of him and cured him. The love and forgiveness shown towards his enermy, won the heart of the adigar who was converted and lived as a good catholic thereafter.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz showed a very rare spirit of charity in trying to find means of helping Nanclaars de la Nerolle, (a fanatic French Hughenot who was responsible for his imprisonment as soon as he had sent foot in Kandy and for so many other disastrous obstacles he had put to Fr. Joseph Vaz and his Catholics), in accordance with a request of Fr. Henry Dolu, a French Jesuit missionary in Pondicherry. In his letter to this Jesuit, Fr. Joseph Vaz refers to la Nerolle but does not show any uncharitable sentiment against him.
LOVE FOR POOR
- When imprisoned in Kandy, Fr. Joseph Vaz used to distribute among the poor a part of the little daily ration alloted to him by the King.
- In Kandy in later years, he used to give rice to the poor Christians and non-Christians as well; for which, every month rice, equivalent to seven or eight xerafins (a Portuguese gold coin in use in Goa at that time), was purchased; the rice store was always kept open.
- Before accepting the mission of Kanara proposed by the Cathedral Chapter of Goa, he prudently consulted spiritual minded and learned persons, although he ardently desired to go to the aid of the Catholics of Ceylon.
- During his mission in Canara he was exploring ways and means to achieve his dream of going to Ceylon. Returning to Goa he retired to the cloister so as to realize better his dreams, when he found a small community of Goan priests at the Church of the Cross of Miracles (Old Goa).Up to this time the different religious Orders in Goa were staffed with Europeans and mestizos, no Goan being allowed to enter their ranks. The situation in Ceylon was such that no (white) Catholic priest would be allowed to set foot there because of Dutch persecution. Fr. Joseph Vaz saw the hand of God in this small community of the Milagristas led by Fr. Pascoal da Costa Jeremias from Margao, who had assembled after being refused entry by the other Orders. The reason why Fr. Joseph Vaz joined them was that he had seen the plight of the abandoned Christians of Canara. He knew that his work would die with him in Ceylon if there was not a flow of missionaries to go to Ceylon after him. He was immediately elected their Superior. To give a form of stability to this incipient community, Fr. Vaz consulted his spiritual director, Fr. Antonio Ventimiglia, and following his advice, requested Fr. Paulo de Souza to write to Fr. Bartholomeo do Quental asking for a copy of the statutes of the Oratory founded by him in Lisbon on the model of the other founded in Rome by St. Philip Neri. He then organized the Goan community into the Oratorian Institute of Milagristas of Goa. (The Oratorians are autocephalous in each place).
- For motives of prudence he set out from Goa to go to Ceylon in March 1686 without informing anyone except his Perfect and Cathedral Chapter. On reaching Tellicherry he came to know that the vigilance of the Dutch was very strict. Fr. Joseph Vaz was so far accompanied by his servant boy John and another 2 Oratorians: one a priest, Fr. Paulo de Souza, and the other, Bro. Stephen Sequeira. Fr. Paulo was of a fair complexion. Fearing that he may be suspected for an European, and because it would be impossible for 4 person to get into Ceylon, Fr. Joseph Vaz sent the two, Fr. Paulo and Bro. Stephen back to Canara. The Jesuits in Topo advised him to wear the grab of a very low class worker as there would be no other way to enter Ceylon.Fr. Joseph Vaz prudently accepted the advice.
- On reaching Jaffna, though he ardently desired to come into contact with the Catholics, he prudently awaited a chance to find them out; for some days he observed the actions of the inhabitants, then with a rosary on his neck he began begging his food and slowly revealed his identity to the Catholic. After preliminary introduction he showed his credentials as Vicar Forane of Canara “which he had prudently taken with him”. Listening to the advice that it was dangerous for him to remain in Jaffna, the headquarters of the Dutch command in the north of Ceylon, he prudently undertook to go to Sillalai. For not knowing properly the situation, he entirely submitted himself to his protector in whose house he was lodged deep in the jungle. As a precaution he performed his apostolate at night: he did this not only in Sillalai but also every time he was in Dutch Territory. He would walk from Sillalai to Jaffna at night by the longer path, covering the distance of one mile three of four times, to avoid being discovered by the Dutch.
- On the occasion of the persecution by Adrian Van Rheede, the Dutch Captain, Fr. Joseph Vaz fled from Jaffna deep into the jungle to avoid the destruction of his mission in Ceylon. He did not take any one with him besides John in order not to put the lives of others in danger. Due to the severity of the persecution in Jaffna (where one of the staunchest Catholics, Dom Pedro, was brutally executed and seven others suffered prolonged martyrdom) he decide to seek safety elsewhere. He crossed to Vanny and with the help of some Catholics, forded to Puttalam since this was part of the Kandy kingdom.
- While in prison in Kandy to demonstrate to the Catholics who did not know that he was a priest, he would pray publicly in the Church of straw and grass he built adjacent to the prison house, so that he could be seen and observed by all.
- When he had to face various pastoral problems he wrote them down and sent to the Perfect of his Oratory and to Fr. Henry Dolu, Jesuit in Pondicherry, and asked them to give guidelines; he also exposed other problems to the perfect of the Oratory.
- When the Perfect advised him to try to come to Goa from Kandy. Fr. Joseph 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, though free from prison, Fr. Joseph Vaz was still under prohibition of crossing the river Mahaveli Ganga that surrounds Kandy.
- Before his death, sensing that his time had come, and in order to avoid trouble, he prudently appointed Fr. Joseph Menezes his successor as Superior and Vicar General of the Mission of Ceylon.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz called his domestic servent Joao "my brother" and gave him his surname Vaz. In a postscript to his letter dated 14-08-1694, he recommends this his companion, as he calls him, to the priesthood. Fr. Joseph Vaz writes to the prefect of his oratory: "Although the ability, he reads and prays the divine office in my company", then he praises Joao for his knowledge of Latin, Portuguese, Tamil and Sinhalese languages. Naturally Joao has picked them up in his seven years company of Fr. Joseph Vaz, especially in the prison. The he vouches for him thus: "Joao has the will to dedicate himself purely to the service of God as a priest to work for these christian...he has no canonical impediment. Please ask one of the prelates V.G. The Archbishop of Goa (or any other) to ordain him. So that sent back to Ceylon, he can work for the service of the missions...his conduct is upright...an exmaple for me... and as far as I know he will not commit 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 from Goa in 1697 he sent the same Joao to Goa, after being with him for 10 years. Joao Vaz was thus the first “gawdda” of India to be recommended to the priesthood. Fr. Vaz loved all men as equal and was thus much ahead of his times.
- In spite of limited financial means and his own detachment, he put up sufficient and comfortable dwellings for the furture missionaries at Mantota, Puttalam and Kandy at the same time he constructed the new Church at Kandy in 1699.
- When he visited any Church, before leaving it, he always used to keep below the altar a gift for the sacristian who was also the catechist of the place.
- On the death of the King Vimaladharma Surya, his great benefactor, Fr. Joseph Vaz asked the missionaries to be present for the funeral and condole the death, at the same time to wish the new King a prosperous reign. However seeing that the simultaneous absence of all the priests from their mission posts might be dangerous, he advised them to use their discretion.
TEMPERANCE AND MORTIFICATION
Fr. Jacome Gonsalves says that his food was only “rice boiled in salt water, without any other condiments"” Many a times, he was falling sick accidentally because of his mortifications. “This week he had to be carried from the steps of the Church as if he was going to die; but after giving him something to eat he was all right”.
- Fr. Sebastiao do Rego wrote that his daily night meal never exceeded eight ounces, and it was still more restricted on days of fasting. He did not drink wine nor did he eat anything outside the hour of dinner and supper. For a long time he hand only one meal a day and was justifying this saying that he did not want to trouble the cook, when he was really doing this to mortify himself.
Fr. Pedro Saldanha says that his “ordinary food is a little rice in which his whole life sustenance consists. On rare occasion he may eat meat or other substantial things when they are offered and that only on the advice of his priest companions who have a hard time convincing him not to refuse them as this in necessary for the service of God. On one occasion he could not talk because his stomach was empty. On another occasion while returning from a mission in the district of Kandy he felt so weak that he could not walk. His companions were very much surprised but after forcing him to eat a little canjee, his substantial food, he immediately recuperated his forces and completed his journey on foot until he reached the Church at 2 o’clock after midnight.”
It was dauntless courage and the practice of the virtue of fortitude to a heroic degree that led Fr. Joseph Vaz to undertake great works for God and for the salvation of souls in Canara and Ceylon, without caring for his own life, security, health and comfort.
- When he set out for Ceylon from Goa, not knowing the distance, how long it would take, what means he would use to enter Ceylon, he was determined not to return from there if once he secured the way. Keeping everything secret even from his won mother and his relatives and confreres, it was an act of sheer courage and fortitude on his part to undertake such a journey to an unkown destination, trusting only in God and in Mother Mary to whom he has dedicated himself as a slaves.
- During the same journey from Goa to Ceylon, on reaching Cochin, he journeyed with his companions to Quilon in a Moorish ship but had no money to pay the fare. With great fortitude Fr. Joseph Vaz bore the affronts and injuries of the captain of the ship, who after vomiting his anger seized his only possession, the Mass kit he was carrying. The Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was present at that moment came to his aid, paid the fare and set them free.
- Laborious journey, hunger and thirst, abandonment, disease, imprisonment and persecution were his lot in this journey from Goa until he set foot in Ceylon but all this seemed little to him for the magnitude of his love to aid the persecuted Church of Ceylon. So great was his trust in God that in spite of so many trials he hoped against hope that he would one day be able to achieve his most cherished dream of re-establishing the Catholic Church in Ceylon.
- When he obtained his liberty by his humble and edifying life, he brought out his best in his untiring work for souls he started his apostolate in Kandy amidst great difficulties. The Buddhist monks 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 grave sin not to receive those who come in search”.
- With the permission of the king of Kandy to go anywhere without any restriction. Fr. Joseph Vaz courageously went to territories occupied by the Dutch in spite of knowing that there was danger to his life. He entered the city of Colombo in a beggar’s dress. He ministered to the Catholics whom he found to be good Christians and with their help he brought some Dutch Calvinists also back to the Catholic fold; he made peace where there was discord, baptized children of Catholic parents, blessed weddings, and consoled the faithful with the Sacraments of Penance and Communion. These acts were always celebrated at night for he would hide during the day. Even then, the Dutch Governor got some confused inkling of this and recommended a Dutch police officer with the title of “Dissava to search the mission and imprison the missionary. If the “Dissava” had acted a few days earlier, he would have caught Fr. Joseph Vaz. However when the search came, Fr. Joseph Vaz had already left for Negombo.
- When a false accusation was leveled against Fr. Pedro Saldanha at Kandy, that he was administering Baptism with the sacred blood of the cow mixed with water, what incited a persecution, Fr.Joseph Vaz “was incessantly begging the Lord God with continuous tears not to permit the enemies to disturb the whole of Christianity but to reveal the truth to the king, and if such was the divine will that the persecution should last longer, then to make the Christians so steadfast that they would persevere with fortitude in their faith” and also exhorted the Christians to do the same.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz ordered a Catholic to break the instrument with which the Christian brother (of a Christian lady married to a non-Christian) was performing an indecent act of propitiation to the goddess ”Pattini” against the epidemic of smallpox. The non-Christian brother-in-law took offence at this and complained to the King against the Priest; but the King was annoyed at him for daring to speak against such a good man.
- While on mission in Soffragan Fr. Joseph Vaz converted a number of non-Christians, among them there were some slaves of a wealthy person. The latter went in search of Fr. Joseph Vaz, with a dagger, threatening to kill him; having come to know beforehand this plan of their master, the slaves advised him to flee, but Fr. Joseph Vaz waited courageously to offer himself to die a martyr; this assault was avoided because unexpectedly at this moment some non-Christians diverted the master from this crime.
- In 1707 Fr. Joseph Vaz organized a very bold resistance that could ever be imagined against Dutch dominion in Ceylon. He did this through Fr. Manuel de Miranda. He had sent a pastoral letter to the Catholics in Dutch territory on the West Coast of Ceylon, through Fr. Carvalho, exhorting them to assert publicity their rights in writing or by other means against Dutch laws that were forcing their children to attend Calvinist Schools and frequent their Churches, and demanding freedom of conscience. The people responded. The Dutch did not bow down to the demands. But the Catholics became conscious of their identity and felt strengthen in their determination.
- In the last year of his life (1710) when he was in Kottiyar, a distance of nine days from Kandy, he fell and could no more undertake his laborious journeys; in spite of this, he used to go around the entire city of Kandy with the support of a cane. In this condition he even went in a carriage to administer the last Sacraments to two dying persons; on return he fell down from the carriage and was completely exhausted. He bore his last grave illness with courage and great fortitude. The immense pains he had in almost all parts of his body gave him much to suffer. In spite of them he undertook nine days of spiritual exercises.
DETESTATION OF SIN:
- He detested constanly his own sins and considered himself a great sinner. In his letter dated 14-12-1699 to the Prefect of the Oratory lamenting that he is now for more than 2 years seperated from his confreres and cannot participate in the joys and sorrows of the Oratory of Goa. Fr. Joseph Vaz adds, "However I console myself thinking that this is also the will of God and I pray to him to turn His divine eyes towards us. treating us according to His divine goodness and infinite mercy and not according to the number and iniquity of my sins and I beg Him to hear our prayers wiping my sins with His divine mercy and do in us what is to His profit."
- He spoke often of the passion of Christ, of the ingratitude of men, of the ugliness of sin, and of the terrible punishment of hell and he always preached these things with signs and with eyes full of tears.
- In the last days of his life when he got a painful abscess behind his ear, he said “upto now no doctor has been able to diagnose my sickness, but I cannot fail to understand that this is a salutary medicine of the Heavenly Doctor, who with His divine Wisdom and fatherly love wants to cure the wounds of my soul, because I paid always a deaf ear to His inspirations and appeals. For this He has permitted me to be unable to speak loudly and to be unable to hear when others talk softly, because I always loved to hear praises of myself without deserving them.”
THE "SAMMANASU SWAMI" - By Rev. Fr. Charles Gasbarri
There was nothing very striking in the personal appearance of Fr. Joseph Vaz. He was of medium height, fair-skinned, thin and often looking worn out with fatigue. Constitutionally he was robust, always calm, dignified in bearing, dynamic and untiring.
He dressed according to the place where he lived and travelled. In the Kingdom of Kandy and among the Vanni he wore a soutane, and among the coastal fishermen he wore a modest loin-cloth. His cassock was often patched and faded, and sometimes it was changed for a better one by the Catholics, when they saw that it was becoming threadbare. But he asked or wanted nothing for himself. He dressed more decently only when he was called to an audience at the Court of Kandy. On these occasions he wore shoes, otherwise he always walked bare-footed, and only after having had a present of a pair of sandals from one of his Brethren, and after the loving insistence of the faithful, did he decide to wear them.
The villages he visited were distant from each other, and he walked at a quick pace, absorbed in prayer, so much so, that those who went with him, generally young lay Brothers or some of the faithful, could hardly keep up with him while he invited them to say the rosary or the Litany. And so he went on his way, constantly hurrying on, and on arriving at a place he used to start his work at once.
His food was always only cooked rice, which he took twice a day, lighting the fire only for the principal meal; when he saw that people were pleased to offer him something more, he accepted it, but he always refused any delicious food. Only when he was ill and during his last years did he obediently accept special food to sustain his strength. He ate his simple food in the native manner, cross-legged on the ground and took his rice out of a copper plate: when he was on the coast, he sometimes took salted fish. He slept on a straw mat on the ground for a few hours at night, when he was in free territory: otherwise in the Dutch territory he worked and journeyed by night, hiding himself in the houses of friends or in the woods and resting for a short time in the day.
But as Fr. Gonsalvez and others stated, at night he devoted himself not only to prayer, but also to reading in the two languages of the country, so that he could become more proficient in them. He read by the light of a candle.
When a Brother once respectfully asked him to sit at table and eat with him, and in winter at least to have a blanket, Fr. Vaz did not say anything, but just looked at him very severely. Perhaps this humble priest, who always listened to the advice of others, did not want to accept these suggestions for the alleviation of his hard life, lest he might obey them. But he did not say anything, because his way was only to speak about useful things, leaving out any superfluous talk. In his last illness he accepted a blanket, but we know that at the end he gave it to a poor man. Exhausted by weariness and illness, he allowed himself to be carried to Kandy in a litter, because his legs just could not carry him. He was really overtaken by fatigue but, as we said, originally being of a strong constitution, he succeeded in bearing the great physical stresses of his very active life and he always seemed to have that strength which allowed him to go wherever the spirit called him.
Besides there were the many and great difficulties of his surroundings - the climate, dangerous animals, big rivers, impossible and almost inaccessible paths, enormous distances and other dangers. In a document, dated 1698, Fr. de Menezes said that once Fr. Vaz was walking alone, a little ahead of his companions, on the road between Maripo and Velavalli reading a book, perhaps his Breviary, when an enraged elephant suddenly appeared out of the wood. His terrified companions ran away, each one looking to his own safety, but when the elephant came in front of the Father, it stopped, turned round and went off without molesting him.
This is only one of many such episodes, which nobody was able to record especially during the first years, as no one witnessed them, and Fr. Vaz himself never took care to refer to such events because it was his way never to speak of his own affairs, above all something that might call for admiration. Among the people certain traditions still circulate about marvelous facts and spectacular incidents. Of these facts the most interesting are, in some way, those, which happened to him in those long years, when he was hiding from the Dutch.
It would be enough to record what happened in 1703, at Mantota when the Jubilee was announced and Fr. Vaz was charged from Goa to organize it. His preaching and the exceptional fact of the Jubilee made great crowds of Catholics come to the village, and this became known to the Dutch, who might have made a great haul, falling suddenly upon the assembly. But they were obliged to give up the plan, because they could not arrest a crowd without running the risk of serious revolt. It was the only time when a haul could really have succeeded and in which human prudence worked against the persecutors. For the rest we have already seen how the continual escapes, surprises, threats, sudden attacks, against Fr. Vaz never succeeded.
The natives thought he was protected from on high, he was immune from harm by men and nature, actually the Dutch never succeeded in laying hands on him, however much they tried. It is not to be wondered at that the Ceylonese venerated him so much that they even risked their lives for him.
To the geographical and physical difficulties of the surroundings, must be added above all the moral, political and religious situation in the territory in which Fr. Vaz was called upon to organize his missionary work.
We have already referred to these facts; we must now summarize them to get a complete picture of his life and work. The country in which Fr. Vaz worked was really in a strange condition. The evangelization of the island and the planting of the Church had always been carried on by foreigners who had not understood the mentality of the people; instead they had westernized the natives. All the same the faith had taken root, but though more than fifty years had passed, nothing had been done: no churches, no priests, no teaching, no Sacraments. And there were persecutions followed by apostasy, and a very different religious climate imposed by threats, force and the penal laws.
The system, adopted by the Dutch and carried through with tremendous energy, would have been successful. The older generation was obliged to submit to the tyranny. They were obliged to attend Calvinist churches, to listen to the instruction of the 'predikants' and were obliged to be baptized and married according to the instructions of the Dutch. The new generation was taught by the dominating foreigners and in a few decades they were absorbed in the new spiritual climate, which was meant to destroy them.
When a foreigner arrived in the country he was suspected of being a spy, because he was the subject of a State, which was at war with the occupying power. Apostates, heretics, weak Christians and the pagans themselves were not favorable to him. The dominating European power did their best to catch Fr. Vaz, but the fearless foreign priest was not to be frightened. He organized his work as best he could.
The distant Portuguese, who were on the decline, wanted the spiritual reconquest of the island, but, according to the mentality of the time, they did not at all envisage the possibility of having missionary work done by native priests, so they failed to form a native clergy. They expected that for the religious rebirth of Ceylon a military reconquest was necessary, which would help the European missionaries to re-enter the island. The political condition of Portugal did not permit this reconquest. Everybody talked about spiritual rebirth, desired it, made solemn promises, but no one had the courage to move. It was an Indian by race, language and culture who alone, without awaiting for anyone's help, began the great adventure. Alone against terrible odds, alone with a cowed down and scattered flock, alone before hostile aggressive pagans. Isn't this perhaps a unique case in the history of the Mission or even of the Church?
As we have already seen, Fr. Vaz never lost courage. He started his missionary work relying only on the supernatural help of God. Notwithstanding all the difficulties, he built up the Church in Ceylon. Single-handed through nine long years he labored and gave it a local character, which made it strong against all set-backs and persecutions. The benevolence and protection of the King of Kandy was certainly a very great help and can be considered one of the mysterious ways in which Providence guides human affairs. So the Church arose with its own priests. Its places of worship were built openly or covertly, and the faithful gradually acquired a proud consciousness of their own faith, which they showed courageously. They were soundly instructed in religion and were zealous in the practice of their faith. It can be said without exaggeration that all this is due to the work of the 'Pioneer', who trained his co-workers; they followed him not so much for what he said as for what he did by his inspiring example.
On the contrary, the forced conversions and the superficial Calvinistic ministry proved to be a happy hunting ground - as long as the occupation lasted - and thousands of converts to the Faith of the Ruling power were recorded. But in 1797, when the Dutch fell, these Calvinists either became Catholics or returned to paganism, and the work of the "predikants" fell to pieces. Neither can it be said that the Calvinists were faced with persecutions and difficulties themselves, because the Dutch were officially Protestant. But all their labors were futile and no one will ever remember them. The only Church, which was really native, remained, because it was, and was felt to belong to, the soul of the country. The end of the Oratorian Mission did not mean the end of Christianity in Ceylon, which still today is based on the descendants of those who were converted by the great missionary.
It has been already said that the secret of missionary success was the personal holiness of Fr. Vaz, which appears from the scanty reports in the documents we possess on his way of life, his apostolate and his method of work.
Like his spiritual Father St. Philip Neri, Fr. Vaz used to say with his fingers held up: that holiness is in the space of three fingers, because it just means the submission of one's will to that of God! Like a child he was obedient first to the Voice of God, and then always to those whom he had to obey. Though he was the senior he asked advice from the youngest of the Brethren and even listened to the advice of the faithful. He realized that the Will of God could be manifested through the advice of his Brethren and he was so sure of this, that he even left it, on his death bed, as a spiritual counsel to the Fathers.
His invocation: "O my Jesus," which he often repeated, touched those who heard him, and guided all his prayers and actions. "Memento ne recorderis, Pater!" was another invocation, which came instinctively to his lips. While working he prayed, and begged others to join him in his prayer. He was often quite lifted up by his prayer. So at the altar, like another St. Philip as a prominent Kandyan of Portuguese origin, named Pascal, said, - Fr. Vaz used to go into ecstasy and the server had to pull him by his alb, so that he could continue holy Mass. Fr. De Rego obtained under oath from witnesses, they had seen him rise from the ground. Tears flowed spontaneously from his eyes during his prayer, so that he always had with him a handkerchief, truly a "manipulum fletus et doloris", according to the expression in the Liturgy.
Fr. de Saldanha, who was on intimate terms with Fr. Vaz for several years, called him a burning torch. Fr. Ferrao compared him to St. Francis. Fr. de Miranda wrote, "the life of Fr. Vaz is a miracle." Fr. de Menezes described him as a "sermon". Others said that he was the absolute application of the maxims in the "Spiritual Combat", a celebrated book of meditations.
It is not to be wondered at therefore, that the faithful were enthusiastic about Fr. Vaz and followed him in spite of dangers. His inward burning spirit spread to those who came in contact with him and explains the constancy of the martyrs of Jaffna and Colombo. In the island he celebrated the same spiritual atmosphere, which had animated the Church of the first centuries and produced the same spiritual effects. Having recognized the prayer of his intercession, the people called him the "Sammana Swami" the 'Angelic Father', already during his life. They begged for his prayers and after his death they chose him as their protector and even now he is greatly venerated.
What Fr. de Menezes wrote in 1698 can still be said today: "All I can say is that his life seems more supernatural than natural and we greet it as a miracle. Even Muslims and Hindus refer to his marvelous deeds."
His official glorification would be the greatest honor and the most coveted recognition that the Universal Church could pay to the Apostle of Ceylon and to the people of the great continent of Asia.
MODEL OF PRIESTLY ZEAL - By Rev. Fr. Cosme da Costa
"For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him who emptied himself, talking the nature of a salve (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stand by his vocation for a lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead t become all things to all men" (1 Cor. 9:22).
Announcing the Gospel among the nations, he confidently makes known the mystery of Christ, whose ambassador he is. Thus in Christ he dares to speak as he ought (ch. Eph. 6:19f.; Acts 4:31), and is not ashamed of the scandal of the Cross. Following in his Master's footsteps, meek and humble of heart, he shows that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt. 11:29 f.) By a truly evangelical life, in much patience, in long-suffering, in kindness, in unaffected love (cf. 2Cor. 6:4 f.), he bears witness to his Lord" (Ad Gentes', 24).
These words of Vatican II on the life of a missionary are a resume of the priestly missionary vision and zeal of Fr. Joseph Vaz, as we have seen described in the second section "Model of True Christian" under the heading of each theological and cardinal virtue practiced by him to a heroic degree. In addition to those, in this chapter, avoiding repetitions, we present Fr. Joseph Vaz as a model for priests, religious and missionaries: -
- Model of Prayerful Priest :
- After being ordained a priest, whenever he was at Sancoale, after supper he would retire to the Church of Cortalim and pass there the whole night in adoration to the Blessed Sacrament, sleeping there itself on the alter steps.
- In the first months after reorganizing the Milagristas Community of Goa, Fr. Joseph Vaz was often found lost in contemplation at the foot of the Cross of Miracles. He would pray with such fervour that others could hear the sighs and sobs that came out of his concern of the abandoned Christianity of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He begged the Lord to open a door for their rescue and to use his person as an instrument in this great work for His greatest glory.
- n the village Churches in Goa, in Kanara or Sri Lanka, he would remain alone in the Church, in prayer, study and repose when tired.
- When he was imprisoned in Kandy and could not step outside the prison, he had the courage to construct a small shed in which he mounted an altar and started offering Mass from Midnight of X’ Mass 1691.
- He acquired the habit of praying the Way of the Cross-as a devotion to the passion of Christ; he composed the prayers of a Way of the Cross-in Konkani when he was in Goa and then translated them into Sinhalese when in Kandy.
- Fr. Sebastiao do Rego writes, “From his love and intimate union with God was born the profound devotion with which he celebrated the Office. He would prepare himself for the Divine Sacrifice with such a fervour that he would burst in tears, and in case there where other priests he would not celebrate unless he had made his confession (received the Sacrament of Penance). It was with great joy in his heart, visible to his assistants, that he would intone “Gloria in excelsis Deo”. He wold remain on the altar for at least two hours except when he had to preach Missions, especially in Dutch territory”.
- On the day Fr. Joseph Vaz was undertaking a journey from one place to another, after celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of Mass and the Office of the dead, he would recite on his knees with his hands extended in the form of a cross, a formula of prayer. Then he would beseech the Lord God to protect him and all his companions from the wild beasts, and other dangers. He would never undertake anything without first having recourse to prayer.
- One day Fr. Joseph Menezes, his companion, saw a swelling on the head for Fr. Joseph Vaz and asked him how it had happened. He answered that his laziness was molesting him with sleep while he was in prayer and that therefore he had turned his head and accidentally hit the candlestick. From this it became clear that though they were tired and sleepy after the ministry, still he had passed a part of the night in prayer.
- Model of Zeal for Souls:
- In 1681, when Fr. Joseph Vaz sought permission to go to Sri Lanka, the Cathedral Chapter (‘sede vacante’) appointed him Vicar-Forane of Kanara recognizing in him the qualities of “science, virtue, prudence and a great zeal for the salvation of souls”.
- Dom Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin, appointed Fr. Joseph Vaz his Vicar General in Sri Lanka “confident of his virtue, zeal, education and prudence”.
- His zeal for souls made him invent various disguises so asa to minister to his flock in order to escape vigilance in Dutch territories. The Jesuit Provincial of Cochin, Fr. Andre Freyre, (26) in a letter to the Portuguese Governor of Goa described Fr. Joseph Vaz as a Proteus in various disguises.
- Fr. Pedro Saldanha testifies that Fr. Joseph Vaz used to visit the whole mission of Sri Lanka at least one a year and minister to his flock. (34)
- Three representatives of Catholics from Sri Lanka, Afonso Pereira, Benajamin Pegalote and Pedro Poole wrote to the Prefect of the Oratory in 1706: “…. For as soon as this) the Oratory of Goa) was born, it produced a son of such high spirit and virtue as is our very Rev. Fr. Joseph Vaz, out father and spiritual consolation of this entire Island, who entered here with such apostolic zeal, suffering such adversities, prisons, and overcoming laborious situations that he has resuscitated to God innumerable sons who had died due to heresy, idolatry and other sins…”.
- Model of Ascetic Life
- Fr. Joseph Vaz was totally detached from worldly comforts. In Kanara joining a great austerity of life with prudence, he fought for the Church as such without implicating himself in the squabbles of jurisdiction, but with humility and a spirit of service of souls, thus showing how much free and detached was his soul from the worldly vanities. This same attitude he put into practice throughout his life.
- He was detached from family ties. Once, after he had joined the Oratory, his eldest brother Pedro Vaz was sick and sent word to him to come home and assist him spiritually. He did not comply with this request but sent a reply, asking his brother to call for the Parish-Priest instead. When he was going to leave Goa for Sri Lanka in 1686, he was determined not to return back yet he did not want to see any member of his family, not even his own Mother, Thus proving his total detachment from the world.
- Fr. Jacome Gonsalves wrote of him in 1708 – “ I have not seen flesh in his body. With his skin he is only a bag of bones. His appearance brings to my mind what Job said, speaking of himself: “My skin clings to my bones”.
- Fr. Joseph Menezes writes that the “Spiritual combat is so impressed in his life that his body has no rest, day or night, for he sleeps hardly for two hours at night, and this also involuntarily for it is only while he is lost in prayer that sleep overtakes him”.
- Model of Humility
- In 1682 in order to avoid scandals in the Church of Mangalore, because of the squabbles over ‘Padroado’ and ‘Propaganda’ jurisdiction, Fr. Joseph Vaz tried to pacify the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Thomas de Castro, when he was empowered to excommunicate. After seeing the letter of the Papal appointment of the Bishop, Fr. Joseph Vaz asked him for conditional jurisdiction and wrote to the Chapter of Goa to solve this intricate problem. When the Archbishop of Goa insisted on his rights, Fr. Joseph Vaz still succeeded in maintaining the balance by bearing patiently the insults and injuries of the Vicar Apostolic. When Fr. Joseph Vaz finally decided to give up his post of Vicar Forane of mangalore in favor of Fr. Nicolau de Gamboa, he went to see the Vicar Apostolic, But since the latter was away from Mangalore, Fr. Joseph Vaz knelt down at the feet of his Vicar General and protested that whatever he had done was in obedience to his won prelate (Archbishop of Goa) and not to offend anyone. Even then he asked him pardon, in all humility. In addition, although the censures of the Vicar Apostolic were not affecting him, Fr. Joseph Vaz asked the Vicar Apostolic through his Vicar General to absolve him publicly if he felt it necessary, so that the ignorant people might not think that he was despising the Vicar Apostolic or did not want to submit to him. Thus Fr. Joseph Vaz wanted to undo any scandal in the minds of Christians and non-Christians in Mangalore and safeguard the unity of the Church. The Vicar General was so taken up by this humble behavior that recognizing the truth and virtue of Fr. Joseph Vaz, embraced him. Thus they parted from one another.
- Though he had been the Vicar Forane of Kanara, on his return to Goa he did not deem it below his dignity to go and help two missionaries, Frs. Manuel das Entradas and George das Saidas, who had come to Goa from Portugal to preach a mission, Fr. Joseph Vaz was at their back and call as an interpreter and helped them in the administration of the Sacrament of Penance in many Churches in Goa for many months. So many people flocked to him to confess their sins and be reconciled to God that the two preachers addressed him as the “holy missionary”.
- When Fr. Joseph Vaz decided to enter the nascent community founded by Fr. Pascoal da Costa Jeremias, he knelt at the feet of the latter and prayed to him to admit him in it. When soon afterwards Fr. Joseph Vaz was elected its Superior, he humbly declined the post and had to be constrained under obedience to accept it. When he wanted to request the statutes of the Oratory of Lisbon from Fr. Bartolomeo do Quental, instead of writing by himself, in all humility he did it through Fr. Paulo de Souza.
- In his first letter from Sri Lanka, after expressing his deep desire to be recollected in the Oratorian Convent (Old Goa) and his inability to do it because of the abandoned souls of the Island, he asked the Prefect to pray for him that while helping others he may not forget his own soul; and in another letter he says that humbly prostrated not only at the feet of the Prefect but also of his other confreres he was begging these prayers from them all. In the end he writes that prostrated at his feet he was asking the blessings of the Prefect.
- When appointed Vicar General by the Bishop of Cochin, he reluctantly accepted saying “though I am unworthy of it”.
- Replying to a letter of Msgr. Thomas M. Tournon, Fr. Joseph Vaz says he is confused on receipt of this letter which in his humility he felt unworthy of and signs his reply as unworthy servant. He excused his delay saying that he was not worthy of corresponding with persons of such high dignity. Whereas Msgr. Tournon wrote to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide that he had proofs of his virtues and the “modesty with which he brushed aside some miracles which are said to be operated by God through him”. Therefore the Papal Legate (Tournon) wanted to appoint Fr. Joseph Vaz the first Vicar Apostolic of Sri Lanka; however Fr. Joseph Vaz humbly declined the offer.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz would not undertake any work without first consulting others, as Fr. Jacome Gonsalves affirmed. “He does not trust his own opinion, but wants everything to come from God, so if there is any priest nearby he consults him in small as well as great things he undertakes, and when there is no one close by, he asks the Christians and wants to obey them as they are in God” Fr. S. Rego says that in their absence he would consult even the cook of the house or even any youth of little experience.
- Model of Simplicity and Poverty
- Soon after his ordinationas a new priest he started going barefoot in order to live like the poor.
- While he was in Sillalai, if anyone insisted on his accepting gift of money, he would send him to the “Muppu”, his host or to any other person who happened to be in his company so that the entire sum could be distributed to the poor.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz always preferred to eat sitting on the ground rather than on a table. He ate his rice on a leaf as the poor people were used to and are doing even today. He slept on a grass or bamboo mat like the poor, not on a bed, His life of poverty can be summarized in his own words to his nephew “Be content with what you are provided in the Community; be it in the refectory, or in the infirmary or in the wardrobe or in the cubicle; do not desire anything more by any other means; take the things assigned to you as the best in those places”.
- Model of Chastity
- His actions were modest, well composed, grave, and cautious and reserved; especially at the confessional his eyes were always low; he would never raise them to stare at the ladies coming to confess to him.
- Fr. Antonio de Ventimiglia, with whom Fr. Joseph Vaz used to make his confession and spiritual direction before leaving Goa for Sri Lanka in 1686, affirmed that he had not found in him any grace sin when he heard the general confession of his whole life till then.
- n the letter to his nephew, Fr. Joseph Vaz has spoken very highly of this “angelic virtue” and has advised him to obtain it by prayer beseeching the Lord God many times “Grid us Lord with the girdle of purity and extinguish in our loins the fire of lust, so that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in us”.
- The people of Sri lanka admired Fr. Joseph Vaz because of this virtue and called him “Sammanasu Swami” which means the “angelic priest”.
- Model of Obedience
- The ardent desire to go to save the persecuted Church of Sri Lanka moved Fr. Joseph Vaz to approach the Cathedral Chapter to Goa to seek necessary permission. The Chapter however wanted to send him to Kanara. He submitted himself to their wishes.
- In his letters to the Prefect of the Oratory he always signed as “Your most obedient subject”.
- Fr. Joseph Vaz received a letter from Msgr. Thomas de Tournon which contained some instructions in reply to some problems he had reised in his letters regarding his apostolate in Sri Lanka. Though these instructions disappointed him as they were not according to his expectations, still he expressed his complete obedience to the Papal Legate.
- In 1706 while undertaking a long missionary journey from Puttalam to Kottiyar with Fr. Jacome Gonsalves and Fr. Miguel de Melo, he fell seriously ill in the jungle. He was far away from Kottiyar; they resolved to return to Puttalam for various reasons, Fr. Joseph Vaz accepted the decision of Fr. Jacome Gonsalves and followed it.
- When the Prefect of the Oratory felt that it would be better if he were to return to Goa to recover his lost strength, he did not want to take his won decision. He submitted this matter to the discretion of Fr. Joseph Menezes and Fr. Pedro Ferrao. They decided that he should not go as his presence was indispensable for the Mission, and he accepted this decision.
- Fr. Jacome Gonsalves wrote “Finally, the way he fulfils even the minimum points of our rules is an object of admiration to all of us.
- Even during his last illness, he took part in all the spiritual exercises of the community with his companions.
- To his nephew he wrote Thus about obedience: “Therefore my brother, you should be very obedient to all your Superiors, doing without any interior or exterior repulsion whatever they command you. Consider what they judge as the best and correct except what evidently is an offence to God (quod absit), and such a thing you should never do…”
- Spirit of Detachment and Self Sacrifice:
- 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 Fr. Joseph Vaz in 1693 as a man “totally detached from the world”.
- Throughout his missionary journeys in Sri Lanka, Fr. Joseph Vaz did not dare to prepare provisions for the next day putting his trust solely in the Lord. Once it happened that in deep jungle his companions noticed that the rice was getting over and resolved to reserve some portion for him, while they satisfied themselves with a little rice gruel. As soon as Fr. Joseph Vaz felt that his compainions had remained hungry because of him, he was very sorry and ordered them to cook the portion of rice reserved for him and to eat it saying that God would provide. Providentially the next day a non-Christian came to their rescue with an abundance of rice.
- Fr. Pedro Saldanha said “His dress consists of a soutane, which also he does not wear when he goes into the territory occupied by the Dutch. He does not dress any other soutane rather than the one he has with him, though it has many patches. When it is too worn out, the Christians give him another and retain the old as a relic. Fr. Jacome Gonsalves says that “in the Dutch territory he dressed like a poor Malabari”. To protect himself form the excessive heat of Kandy, he used to wear a thick mantle as worn by the very poor people. Only the king could use the umbrella in Kandy. The other people had a protection of leaves. Fr. Joseph Vaz did not carry any protection though it rains the whole year round in the country. The marshy land of Sri Lanka was full of blood sucking leeches and the hilly areas were thorny. Fr. Joseph Vaz used to go barefooted and never protect himself from leeches and thorns but bear their bites and pricks”.
- “Even the non-Christians used to admire him for his detachment and the heretics used to praise his mortifications and used to run to him, when he was passing by often diguished, to be catechized and instructed by him in the Catholic religion; for his austere life inspired many conversions”.
- A little before his death, two times he requested his confreres to put him on the ground to die, as he was not worthy of dying on the bed.
- Discernment of the Real Pastoral Needs of the Flock
- n order to find out the Catholics at the beginning of his apostolate in Jaffna, he was roaming with a rosary on his neck on the public streets, even though he knew well that by doing this he was exposing himself to ill treatment and affronts by the Calvinists.
- At the beginning of his apostolate in Kandy Fr. Joseph Vaz baptized on request the son of the treasurer of the Court, “Gabada Rala”; but fearing the consequences of his conversion, Fr. Joseph Vaz prudently recommended him not to profess his faith publicly. Though at first he seemed to drift away, this convert returned and brought in many more non-Christians to the Church.
- On the arrival of four new missionaries in 1705 after consulting every opinion, he divided the entire mission of Sri Lanka in 8 stations and appointed the respective missionaries.
- At the time of the persecution around 1709 of the Catholics at Colombo and Negombo by the Dutch, Fr. Joseph Vaz advised the priests not to visit those two cities for the time being. As soon as the persecution was over, he asked Fr. Manuel de Miranda to visit both the cities to see how the community was caring after the persecution.
- Formation of Catechists and Lay Leaders:
- In Kanara and in Sri Lanka he instituted the office of Catechists. “Muppus”, who were to gather the people on Sundays in the Church and explain to them the absence of the priest?
- He studied Tamil on Tuticorin and Jaffna and Sinhalese when he was in the prison for 3 years in Kandy on order to facilitate his apostolic labors. He prepared a vocabulary for use of future missionaries. He also accepted in 1699 the King to his palace to translate books of medicine from Portuguese to Sinhalese.
- His far-sighted vision prompted Fr. Joseph Vaz to encourage Fr. Jacome Gonsalves, his companion from 1705, to master Simhalese and Tamil to such an extent that Fr. Jacome Gonsalves became “the creator of Catholic literature in Sri Lanka, whose name is held in benediction and whose literary works are still in the Church of this Island.”
- n 1706 Fr. Joseph Vaz wrote to the Papal Legate, Msgr. Thomas M. Tournon, that in the mission of Sri Lanka there were more or less twenty-five thousand souls and he number was growing day by day; the chapels and public oratories had been erected and dedicated to Mary, Our Mother, in the lands of the king of Sri Lanka, and there were hidden oratories in the lands of the Dutch, in which the faithful gather daily for litanies and common prayers; that on Sundays when there is no missionary they attend to the prayers of the Mass in vernacular and when there are missionaries (who are eight in number) these also administer to them, besides Mass, the Sacrament of Confession, Communion, Baptism and others. That, besides the oratories, outside the territory of the Dutch three public churches have been erected and dedicated to Our Lady, where the assistance of missionaries is more frequent and the faithful gather in bigger numbers and feasts are celebrated namely in Kandy, Puttalam and Vanny.
- “The evangelization which had preceeded the Oratorian Mission in Sri Lanka had imposed on the Tamils and the Sinhalese a totally westernized Church”. In an article on Fr. Vaz in “Eglise Vivante”, No. 2, 1952, pg.22, Michael Dumotier says that the “Church in Sri Lanka was a piece of the Church of Portugal, uprooted from there and replanted in the island without taking into consideration the differences of acclimatization”. This Church was totally wiped out by the onslaught of the Dutch and the absence of priests fro well-nigh 30 years. But the second foundation of the Church in Sri Lanka by Fr. Joseph Vaz and his Oratorians from Goa, writes Fr. S. G. Perera in his “Life of Ven. Fr. Joseph Vaz”, pg. 248, “was not in the manner of the first, a ready-made organization, imported from abroad and imposed on all who hearkened to the Gospel of Christ, but a Church adapted in externals to the conditions of the country and to the genius of the people”.
- Independence From Political Power
- Using his utmost prudence, Fr. Joseph Vaz advised his Prefect when writing letters, not to reveal to others where precisely he himself was. He also tells him 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 in them how he had received his letters, neither the place nor the date, 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 was not writing to the Prelate or to the inquisitor in Goa.
- Minister of Peace, Hope and Reconciliation
- Fr. Joseph Vaz in spite of belonging to a reputed Goan family, did not consider his nobility, a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself ministering to all, irrespective of language caste, sex and social status. “He mastered both Sinhalese and Tamil to be able to serve all communities” (Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka on 11/05/1987). Kings, adigars (ministers); Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Calvinists, Catholics; Sinhalese, Tamil, Portuguese, Dutch, Goans and Kanadigas: men of different religions and languages – he gathered them all in the fold of his loving service. Rich and poor, downtrodden, sick and abandoned all merited his loving care and concern. Today in this tragic hour of tensions and communal violence in India and in this hour of ethnic struggles in Sri Lanka, Fr. Joseph Vaz’s approach of humble and courageous openness to every person in evangelical love and fraternity indicates the essential ministry that the Church has to offer… the ministry of forgiveness, hope and reconciliation. He, like St. Paul, became all things to all men (Cf. 1 Cor: 9,22) and he did so by following the more excellent way, the way of love (1 Cor 12, 31 and 13, 1ff). (Cf. Pope John Paul II’s Message to the Bishops of Sri Lanka on 20/11/1987).
NON - CHRISTIAN WITNESS
An important non-Christian manuscript VIJITABALE RAJAVALIYA, written on 158 palm leaves in Sinhalese, exists in the British Museum in London and is transcribed in the Hugh Novelle Collection. It has 13 pages of introduction; from pg. 14 to 119 is the Rajavaliva or Cronology of the Kings of Sri Lanka; and from pg. 120 to 158 it refers to the British Government in Sri Lanka from the year 1796 to 1875.
From the introduction it is seen that the Rajavaliya is based on another Maha-Rajavaliya that was written by a Buddhist from Sri Lanka 120 years after the death of Fr. Joseph Vaz. On pages 116 and 117 after describing the unjust Dutch persecution of Buddhists, Hindus and Catholics, it confirms the veneration bestowed by non-Christians on Fr. Joseph Vaz: “Some holy ministers of the Roman Catholic Church, fearless and dauntless of the sufferings, were rendering the divine service in the tradition of the Roman religion. The head of these was on called Joseph Vaz. During his stay in Sri Lanka he visited the coastal districts of the North. When the smallpox epidemic assailed Sri Lanka (the vaccine against it was not, at that time, known), many people died of it.
Parents and children, wives and husbands, afraid of one another, abandoned those affected and ran away. The fierce savage animals devoured the corpses. The number of the dead went on increasing. The corpses were rotting without burial. At the same time the epidemic was spreading in Jayavardhanapura (i.e. Kandy), the Capital. Many were dying of this epidemic and were left on the streets. The King himself not being able to bear the stench of the corpses left the capital.
When the news reached one person called Fr. Joseph Vaz, he came from Colombo, bringing with him food, clothing and other things. He went in search of those affected, betaking himself into the forest, providing them with shelter, putting up tents and ministering to them in all their needs. In this way he was performing heroic works. Because of these great works, the people were fascinated by him and may embrace the Christian religion. In the year 1711 of the Christian era this Father Vaz died in Jayavardhanapura at Maharuwara.”