Indian Catholic News

Indian missionary saint to Sri Lanka honored in his native Goa

Goa Archdiocese has first official celebrations since canonization of St. Joseph Vaz.


St. Joseph Vaz, the 17th-century priest from Goa who evangelized Sri Lanka, was honored in his birthplace Sept. 26 and 27, the first since he was canonized in Colombo early this year.

The celebrations began in Goa's Se Cathedral de Santa Catarina, where Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay presided at Mass along with seven bishops and more than 100 priests.

St. Vaz was canonized Jan. 19. For scheduling reasons, the archdiocese chose to delay the local celebration until the end of September. The delay allowed about a dozen Sri Lankan Catholics, including Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando of Kandy, to attend.

Vaz, who was born in the seaside town of Benaulim in southern Goa in 1651 when it was under Portuguese rule, came to Sri Lanka as a missionary priest in 1686 and where he evangelized under the hardline rule of the Calvinist Dutch colonials.

He spent five years preaching in secret in the lowlands before going up into the Kingdom of Kandy in the highlands, where he was arrested and accused of espionage for Portugal.

After spending a year in detention, Vaz came under the protection of Buddhist King Vimaladharmasuriya II who was convinced that the priest had no ill intentions against the kingdom.

The future saint remained in Kandy until his death in 1711 at the age of 60. He is credited with converting 30,000 people and reviving the Catholic Church on the island, using disguises and learning the local Sinhala and Tamil languages to meet secretly with underground Catholics.

On Sept. 27, at the St. Joseph Vaz Sanctuary in Sancoale, — St. Vaz' hometown — Father Eremito Rebelo, the sanctuary rector, told the crowd that their fellow villager introduced the concept of inculturation hundreds of years before the word become synonymous with mission work.

"Our villager was a global pioneer. The ideas of communal harmony, cultural assimilation and other values that Vatican came up [with, during Vatican II], St. Joseph Vaz had implemented in the 17th century," he said.

"This Sancoale boy turned out to be the greatest Indian missionary because he ensured the faith survived without any government support and in spite of government persecution," he said.

In Goa, St. Vaz is a source of extreme pride. The patron of the archdiocese, he has long been venerated in Goa.

Source: UCAN

Top Stories