St Joseph Vaz
Joseph Vaz worked alone in Sri Lanka for 10 years and gave life to the persecuted Church .The next 14 years he was accompanied by the Goan oratorians.
Joseph Vaz was born on a Friday (21st April 1651*Benaulim-Goa), baptised on a Friday and died on a Friday (16th January 1711*Kandy-Sri Lanka).
The day Joseph Vaz was born, Cristovam Vaz, his father saw a star in the Sky during mid-day and wrote in his personal diary that his son would become a great man.
The Doors of Cortalim Church, the neighbouring church, opened on its own when he went to visit the Blessed Sacrament during the Nights from his paternal home at Sancoale. As a young boy he was called “the little saint” in his Paternal and Maternal Village. He recited the rosary on his way to the Church and the school.
He wrote “the Letter of Captivity “ or “ the Deed of Bondage “to Mother Mary on 5th August 1677. The first letter ever written to Mother Mary by a priest soon after his ordination, whereby, he dedicated his life to the Mother of Jesus.
He resolved to eat kanji (Rice broil) for his food (the food of the poor) throughout his life. He rarely even ate this meagre meal.
After returning from South kanara, having brought peace between the warring factions of the propaganda and padroado, he started the first indigenous order in Asia, the “Milagristas “or the “Oratorians”. The oratorians served the Church of Sri Lanka and other countries for 150 years.
When he got the permission to go to Sri Lanka, his long awaited call, he dressed as a coolie, a real beggar; he wore a lungi or a loin cloth around his waist and entered Sri Lanka under disguise as no priest was allowed on this Island for 30 years. He was wheatish brown in colour and that is why he could easily slip into the Island. The Dutch persecuted the Roman Catholic Church for 30 endless years.
He hid the Mass-Kit under his loincloth and wore a rosary round his neck. He later built the first church in Sri Lanka and dedicated it to Mother Mary.
He worked alone in Sri Lanka for 10 years and gave life to the persecuted Church .The next 14 years he was accompanied by the Goan oratorians. He learnt their culture, sang their songs, built their own local Church, he never imposed the western Church on the faithful. Sri Lanka is now divided in 12 dioceses and has Eleven Bishops.
He baptised, catechised and built 300 chapels, churches and especially built homes for the old, sick and the needy next to the Churches.
He always kept a sack of Rice to be distributed after Mass to the poor. And that sack was never empty! He loved the poor. He did all he could for the Poor and the needy that came to him.
Established lay leaders, catechists, the “Muppus “and “Annavis”, small human communities, inculturation, that too much before the Vatican II. A man who thought ahead of his times.
Disguised as a Baker man, dhobi, coolie, servant, businessman, porter, fisherwoman, etc served the hidden church of Sri Lanka (The Catacombs) for the fear of being caught by the Dutch. He was a proteus, a master of disguise. No one could ever catch him. God protected him. He worked during the nights by the light of the Silvery moon. A Letter addressed to his nephew Deacon says “Be like the moon, face JESUS THE SUN”
Imprisoned in Sri Lanka as a Portuguese spy for 2 years, he was dragged into the City of Kandy bound in chains.
He issued a command over snakes that they would never bite a priest. To date, a snake in Sri Lanka has bitten no priest. He loved animals.
While in Prison he learnt their languages, he translated the Catechism books in Tamil and Sinhalese, wrote the Stations of the Cross in the languages of Sri Lanka and taught his companion John all that was required to become a priest. By his exemplary life he won the heart of the Buddhist king and all the religious communities.
When the drought ravaged the Island, he was requested by the Buddhist King to pray for rain. He performed the “miracle of Rain” in Kandy; the Buddhists record this Miracle in their Archives. It rained everywhere except on Blessed Joseph Vaz and the Altar that he had built to pray for rain! He is highly revered by all religions.
Served selflessly as a Nurse, Cook, Doctor, and Gravedigger to all the communities during the epidemic of small pox, and buried 10-12 bodies per day. The King abandoned his Kingdom and lived in the Jungle for the fear of contracting the disease. He was an epitome of Love. He shone in charity during this dreaded disease.
He never kept any money with him: always depended on God and his fellowmen. He had nothing to owe! Nothing to call this own! He wore only one cassock, which was patched and stitched all over.
He was Called “Samanasu Swami”, the “angelic priest “by the people of Sri Lanka. He stands as the First and Singular missionary of the East to mission to the east.
He educated his neighbour and companion John who accompanied him in Sri Lanka and requested the Superior of the Oratorians to ordain him a priest. John, who later returned to Goa, was ordained a priest! (The first Dalit-priest)
He always slept on a mat on the floor. He never sought glory. He was humble to the core.
God blessed him with 30 years of priesthood, 24 fruitful years in the Sri Lankan Vineyard. He walked bare foot throughout his life (59 years 6 months, 26 days) or rather 60 years. He was wiry-thin and walked through the jungles, etc like the wind.
He died in an odour of Sanctity on 16th January 1711, on the day and the time that he had foretold! Before dying he spoke and advised those gathered around him in Sinhala “Hardly you will be able to do at the time of death what you have not done during your life” The Buddhist King requested that the body lay in state for three days. Thousands poured in the Church to pay their last respects to the great Missionary that Goa gave to the Universal Church. Nobody knows now where his body lay buried. Perhaps he does not want to be recognized! Such is his humility.
He sent the Crucifix given to him by the Pope to Goa, now preserved in the Oratory Room of Blessed Joseph Vaz at Sancoale, Goa, India. The only relic in India. The Oratory Room (over 400 yrs old) is being visited by thousands of devotees from all over the world. The jackfruit tree that he played under, climbed down from the window, to visit the Blessed Sacrament in Cortalim Church quietly during the nights still stands witness to the Holy Son of Goa.
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