Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jul - Sep 2001

The Apostle of Sri Lanka:
Blessed Joseph Vaz (1651-1711)

by Fr. Cosme Jose Costa S.F.X. 
(Extracts from his book Life and Achievements of Blessed Joseph Vaz, Pilar Publications, Goa, 1996)


Blessed Joseph Vaz

I - From Childhood to the Priesthood

Joseph Vaz was born on April 21st 1651, in Benaulim, in the outskirts of Goa, in India. He was the third child of his parents, Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, both of sturdy faith and deep religious sentiments. He was baptized on the eighth day in the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Benaulim, by a Jesuit Vicar, Jacinto Pereira. His parents tried their best to bring up their six children in the love and fear of God and they were assisted in this work by the two widowed sisters of  Christopher. The spiritual atmosphere of the house was so remarkable that it nurtured four priests, viz. one son and three grandsons. Born in a home where virtue was held in high esteem, where Christian ethical and morals values were much emphasized, where fixed times were set aside for family prayers and spiritual reading, Joseph Vaz grew up, gentle and kind, greatly given to piety and endowed with a singular love for the poor and a somewhat precocious desire to be unseen and unobserved in his piety and alms. He had inherited the gravity of manners and earnestness from his father. His discernment was a bit superior to his age and his love for study and inclination to virtue revealed that grace rather than nature dominated in him, in such a way that, in the villages of Benaulim (maternal side) and Sancoale (paternal side) where he grew up and completed his primary studies, other parents would point him out as a "holy child" and exhort their children to imitate him. Right from his childhood Bl. Joseph Vaz would escape from the games and be found in solitary places, alone with God, reciting some prayers according to his age. He used to get up at night while his brothers were asleep and pray on his knees for a long time. Thus he was sometimes late to get up in the morning; and, before knowing the cause, his parents even thought that he was a bit lazy. One day he was praying behind the door. His father not knowing it, pushed the door with force and the boy was hurt gravely. However he gave no signs of pain. He had tender loving devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and his heavenly Mother. Even as a young boy while going to school and returning from it, he would often recite the Rosary on the way. As a child while studying in Benaulim, he used to attend daily Mass. He used to accompany the 'viaticum' whenever the priest would take it to the sick. He received Holy Communion many times during the year.

Joseph Vaz attended the elementary school at Sancoale, his paternal village. He was said to be a model pupil: bright, attentive in class, diligent in his lessons, obedient to the teacher and loved by his companions. When he grew up his father sent him to a school at Benaulim to learn Latin as a preparation for his priestly studies. Joseph's stay in Benauhm was a time of great joy since he could exercise better his love for prayer, charity and altar. He participated in the Mass everyday, frequented the Sacraments, recited the Rosary on the way to the Church, loved to follow processions and take part in the Stations of the Cross. Besides being deeply engaged in all the above religious practices, Joseph Vaz made such rapid progress in his studies that his father decided to send him to the city of Goa to follow a course of Rhetoric and Humanities in the Jesuit College of St Paul.

After completing his humanistic studies with the Jesuits, Joseph Vaz entered the Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas for his philosophical and theological studies. During this time he stayed in the collegiate Church of Our Lady of the Rosary along with the other students studying for priesthood. All through these six years of study, he continued to live a serious and devout life, unshaken by all the distractions and scandals around him, which were particularly numerous in Goa at that time, due to ongoing conflicts between the Padroado and the Propaganda.

Joseph Vaz was like the light of the sun which passes through clean as well as sordid places and illumines them all but does not suffer any loss in its brightness. In his 6 years sojourn through the scandalous city he did not allow himself to be contaminated by the scum of those incidents but steered himself clear on wings of ever increasing holiness.

In 1676 he was ordained a priest by the then newly appointed Archbishop of Goa, D. Antonio Brandao. On account of his excellent performance in his studies, Joseph Vaz was immediately given the faculties to preach and hear confessions throughout the length and breadth of Goa. At the same time, because of his brilliant records at the Seminary his ecclesiastical superiors were undecided as to what appointment they should give him  

II - The young priest

It was at this period of his life, as a priest without a clerical charge, that the Lord turned to the island of Ceylon the heart of this young priest whose sole desire was to serve God and his neighbor. How this call from above came to him, we do not know exactly. It was a Canon of the Cathedral of Goa who first made known in that city the utter misery of the Catholics of Ceylon and their complete abandonment. The ship, in which that Canon was sailing on his way back after a canonical visitation of Macao, put into Colombo for a short time. When it became known that a priest was on that ship some Catholics came on board stealthily for spiritual ministrations. They told him their tale of woe. There were at that time large numbers of Catholics living in the island without a priest or a Church, or any other chance of receiving the Sacraments, from the day when the Portuguese surrendered their forts in Ceylon to the United East India Company of Holland by 1658. On hearing about the plight of the Catholics of Ceylon, Fr. Vaz's heart was afire. He felt an ardent wish to go and save the persecuted Church in Ceylon at any cost. The bare idea that there was a country in the neighborhood without a single priest, while so many of them, himself included, were wasting their priestly time without any ecclesiastical engagement, could not but be an agony.

Father Vaz presented his request to go to Ceylon to the Cathedral Chapter which was administering the Archdiocese on the vacancy created by the death of D. Antonio Brandao. The chapter instead proposed to him to go and salvage the abandoned Christianity of Kanara. Before accepting the mission he prudently consulted spiritual minded and learned persons, although, he ardently desired to go to the aid of the Catholics of Ceylon. He was advised by his consultor to accept the post as Kanara was then under Dutch sway and actually administered from Colombo; there he would be in a better position to ascertain the best and the safest means of carrying out his desire to go to Ceylon. During this eight-year mission in Kanara he was exploring ways and means to achieve his dream of going to Ceylon. On returning to Goa in 1684, he retired to the cloister so as to realize better his dreams. Then, 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. Bl. 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 with two companions after being refused entry by the other Orders. On 25th September, 1685, Bl. Vaz, therefore, entered this tiny community. He knelt down at the feet of Fr. Pascoal and begged him to admit him in it. He was not only admitted with great joy but was elected the Prefect (Superior). He humbly declined the post but was constrained to accept it under obedience. He worked with zeal for the progress of this staggering institution. Within a few months seven more priests joined the community and gave it a new energy.

The reason why he joined them was that he had seen the plight of the abandoned Christians of Ceylon. 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. To give a form of stability to this incipient community, Bl. Joseph Vaz consulted his spiritual director and following his advice, organized the Goan community on the lines of the Oratory of St Philip Neri in Rome, into the Oratorian Institute of Milagristas of Goa. (The Oratorians are autocephalous in each place.)

After 6 months stay in the Oratory, 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, once he secured the way. Keeping everything secret even from his own 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 unknown destination trusting only in God and in Mother Mary to whom he had dedicated himself as a slave. Fr. Antonio de Ventimiglia, with whom Fr. Joseph Vaz used to make his confession and receive spiritual direction, affirmed that he had not found in him any grave sin when he heard the general confession of his whole life before leaving Goa for Ceylon in 1686.

Under the inspiration of Bl. Joseph Vaz the Oratory produced zealous missionaries of high caliber. The Oratorian Congregation served Sri Lanka for over one and half century and built a dynamic church which withstood persecution and social and political upheavals. Unfortunately, the Oratorian Congregation was suppressed along with other Religious Orders in Goa, in 1835 at a time when there were over 200,000 Catholics in Sri Lanka. The Oratory had supplied missionaries not only to Ceylon but also to South India, Madagascar, Indonesia and Africa. Among the missionaries who remained in Ceylon after the suppression of the Oratory, two were consecrated Bishops and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon: Bishop Vicente do Rosario Dias, and Bishop Caetano Antonio Pereira.

III - From Goa to Ceylon 

1.    The Dutch Attack    

Catholicism was wiped out in Ceylon by the Dutch. From 1637 to 1658 they had taken the Portuguese forts one by one. The Treaty of March 28th, 1638, article XVII, that the Dutch Admiral Adam Wester-World made with Rajasimha the King of Kandy, stipulated "will not allow in his kingdom any priest, friar or ecclesiastic (Roman Catholic) personality, because they foster rebellions and are cause of the ruin of the kingdom, and will expel all those living there at present." Consequently when in June 1658 the last Portuguese fort in Ceylon fell into the hands of the Dutch, 50 missionaries had to leave Colombo and the Churches closed or destroyed. There were 415 Churches and Chapels and about 70 thousand Catholics in Ceylon. From 1658 to 1687 Catholics were isolated: no priest, no sacrament, no churches. Carmelites and other missionaries working in South India had sent reports of that persecution to the "Propaganda Fide". The authorities in Rome had tried to find a solution. The Pope had requested the Austrian monarch to impress upon the king of Holland to authorize the entry of non-Portuguese missionaries sent by Rome. The Dutch authorities were adamant in their refusal. Amidst tensions and failures of diplomatic efforts, Divine Providence opened a totally unexpected way of saving the Catholic Church in Ceylon: this was Fr. Joseph Vaz, a humble Goan Priest, ordained mainly for auxiliary jobs of interpreter for European missionaries and confessor in his native Konkani, who in the eyes of his Padroado authorities, had been a failure in the jurisdictional front, but objectively, in the pastoral field, a great conciliator. The heroic degree of the virtues of faith and hope are evident in the determination of Blessed Joseph Vaz to go to the rescue of the Catholics of Kanara, as we have seen, and now of Ceylon, who were on the verge of giving it up. He therefore, gave up the post of Prefect (Superior) of the Goan Oratory within 6 months and asked Fr. Pascoal to reassume the same office. He undertook perilous journeys risking his life, passing through hostile lands he had never seen before, having no other guide but the light of the same faith with which he wanted to enlighten the minds of men. He undertook this mission trusting in God and without any human help. His trust in God was so firm that he did not make any plans from Goa or any provisions for his journey. He wanted to be detached as befits the poor in spirit.

2. Towards Ceylon 

For motives of prudence Blessed Joseph Vaz set out from Goa on foot to go to Ceylon in March 1687 without informing anyone, but not without the blessings of his Prefect and the Cathedral Chapter of Goa. On reaching Tellicherry he came to know, that the vigilance of the Dutch was very strict. Fr. Paulo de Souza his companion was of a fair complexion. Fearing that he might be suspected for a European, and because it would be impossible for four persons to get into Ceylon, Bl. Vaz sent the two, Fr. Paulo and Bro. Stephen, back to Canara. His faithful John was his sole companion with a bag in which there were sacred vestments and Mass kit.

He proceeded to Cochin with a poor, torn, but mended soutane on, but could not do any ministry in favor of the Christians there, because the priests of that place did not even allow him to celebrate Mass, fearing that he might harm their interests. On reaching Cochin, he journeyed with his companion John to Quilon in a Moorish ship but had no money to pay the fare. With great fortitude they bore the affronts and injuries of the captain of the ship, who after vomiting his anger seized the only possession of Bl. Vaz, the Mass kit. A Christian from Quilon was about to help him, but the Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was present at that moment came to his aid, paid the fare and set them free.

From Quilon he went to Tope off the coast of Travancore where the Jesuits had a college. They received him with great hospitality and advised him to wear the garb of a very low class worker, and put aside his soutane, as there would be no other way to enter Ceylon than like a "coolie". They offered him a course loincloth of that type that is used by slaves of the Dutch It was a great humiliation for him to cover only the lower part of his body from loins downwards he who had been so careful in the practice of modesty in dress. Even then, he accepted this advice with joy and prudence.

As soon as he entered the Malabar Coast he took care to study the Tamil language at every opportunity he got, for that was the language of the North of the Island of Ceylon.

3. His epic entry into Ceylon in the guise of a slave

By the end of March 1687, they reached Tuticorin, on the Fishery Coast where there was a Dutch fort from where they could embark to Ceylon. There was a Jesuit Church in this city and the priest in charge had been a companion of Bl.Vaz in the college of St. Paul in Goa and knew him well. Knowing the cause of his disguise, the companion kept it secret and treated him as a slave while Bl.Vaz went about as a beggar. When Holy Week came the Jesuit by indiscretion suggested that Bl. Vaz celebrate the liturgical functions of Maundy Thursday together with him. The secret was out and the rumor that the "beggar" was a disguised Catholic priest reached the ears of the Dutch Calvinist officer in charge of the place. He suspected that the cause of the disguise could be to be able to enter Ceylon. Therefore he ordered that he would not permit anyone to embark for Ceylon without his special permission. In this predicament, Bl. 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 Bl. Vaz and his companion, the boy John, to enter the ship undisturbed, as poor beggars seeking a livelihood. Below the coarse loincloth they were wearing they hid the Mass kit and vestments.

The dhonney (ship) ordinarily used to take three to four days to reach Jaffna from Tuticorin and the sailors used to take provisions for a week at the most. But on this occasion, there was such a tempest that the dhonney in which Blessed Vaz and John were travelling was tossed by the waves and drifted away from its normal course and finally arrived on the island of Mannar after 20 days. The provisions were over on the seventh day and the mariners and the travelers were in a pitiful condition regarding food. Our duo had gone as beggars without any provisions. For a week they depended on the charity of the passengers. For the next 12 days, since they had nothing, they got nothing. They embarked on Mannar Island reduced to skeletons. There were many Catholics on this island of Mannar, which was called "the island of 600 martyrs of the Portuguese period", but Blessed Joseph Vaz had no knowledge of this fact. He and John had no one known to them and got very little by way of alms. Finally by first half of May they got in a "sloop" (canoe) and arrived in Jaffna, located at the Northern tip of Ceylon. Maybe this was how Divine Providence helped them to escape, for had they arrived directly in Jaffna, they would have been subjected to a thorough check and vigilance as foreigners. Now that they came from another Ceylonese island, they were taken as Ceylonese travelers and embarked unnoticed. 

Laborious journey, hunger and thirst, abandonment, disease, 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.

IV - Apostolate in Ceylon 

1. Seriously sick at arrival 

Blessed Vaz and John arrived in Jaffna half dead with all their trials and sufferings. They needed rest and food. After knocking at some doors, a lady finally allowed them to pass the night in a hut that was outside her house. Blessed Joseph Vaz was immediately attacked with an acute form of dysentery as a result of his fatigue, hunger and thirst. Dysentery was much dreaded by the inhabitants, as it often resulted in epidemics and deaths. In spite of the good will of the lady who had given them shelter, they could not stay there for long. The neighbors finding that this unknown stranger could not walk anymore put him on a litter and abandoned him in the forest without hope of any human help, without any hope of life, exposed to the inclemency of nature. John who tried to beg, cook and feed his master himself also contracted the malady and there was no other alternative left for them but to await death's hour to come. Fr. Vaz might have had a vague idea of what was happening. He however turned to God with unflinching faith. This faith was rewarded as help came to them from an unexpected quarter: a lady discovered them when she had gone to gather some firewood in the forest. Out of pity, she supplied them daily a bowl of kanji. After some days thanks to the charity of this lady and the forced rest and sleep, God freed them, allowed them to enter into convalescence, restored them to perfect health and prepared Bl. Vaz for greater trials ahead.

2. Without any support 

Bl. Vaz started his life in Ceylon without any logistic support from Church or Colonial authority. He had to literally beg from door to door for his survival, under constant menace and with a death sentence hanging over his head in case he was detected by the Dutch. He was now about to realize the object of the last 15 years of his dreams. Once cured, though he ardently desired to come into contact with 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 roaming 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. He observed that in one family he was well received. One day he asked the head of that family whether he would like to see a priest and receive the sacraments. The man was dumbfounded. The next time when Bl. Vaz went to beg, the man took him to another friend of his who was a devout Catholic but externally was behaving as if he were not, and was in good terms with the Dutch. Fr. Vaz slowly revealed his identity to them. After preliminary introduction, he showed his credentials as Vicar Forane of Kanara, "which he had prudently taken with him" and that night the first Mass was celebrated in that house after over 30 years. 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 secretly to Sillalai and stay in a walled house under the care of a local catechist ten miles away from Jaffna. 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 to small groups of Catholics in order to avoid suspicion. 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 the last one mile by a route three or four times longer, to avoid being discovered by the Dutch. While he was in Sillalai, if anyone insisted on his accepting any gift or money, he would send him to the Catechist "Moppu", 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. 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 these places".

Slowly under the supervision and guidance of the catechist, Fr. Vaz penetrated the whole island of Jaffna. He found that the work was too much for one priest and asked the prefect of the Oratory for a helper in his first letter written from Ceylon dated December 14th, 1688. In this letter after lamenting that he was now for more than 2 years separated from the confreres and could not participate in the joys and sorrows of the Oratory of Goa. He added "however I console myself thinking that this as also the will of God and I pray to him to turn His divine eyes toward 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 to do in us what is to His profit." He expressed his inability to be recollected because of the abandoned souls of the island, he said that God was continually protecting him and his faithful from falling in the hands of their enemies because of the prayers of the Prefect and confreres. He asked the Prefect to pray for him that while helping others he may not forget his own soul. 

3. Escape from Dutch priest-hunt 

Adrian Van Rheede, was the Dutch commander of Jaffna. He wanted to force everyone to follow his Calvinistic heresy. He noticed the revival of Catholic life on the island and was much disturbed by the suspicion that a priest might be around. The behavior of a certain D. Pedro, who had been a Catholic and had formerly behaved as an apostate to enjoy the favor of the Dutch, but who was now no longer frequenting the Calvinist "Kirk", attracted his attention. He fixed a price on the head of those responsible for this situation and promised a reward to those who would bring about their arrest or to those who denounced such persons. Fr. Francisco Vaz, the first biographer of the Blessed, says that various attempts were made to arrest him. Many Catholics were put in prison and ill-treated but to no avail. Van Rheede waited for another occasion. Two years after this clandestine apostolate, the presence of the priest was detected on Christmas night 1689. Armed soldiers surrounded the house where the congregation was celebrating the midnight liturgy and Blessed Joseph Vaz was administering the sacraments. They did not spare anything. They smashed the sacred images and even the women were despoiled of their clothes. 300 Christians were imprisoned and taken to the fort with great insult and injury. The soldiers were sure that the priest was in their net. But when they went to search for him, he was not among the prisoners. No one knows how he escaped. The Jesuit Provincial of Cochin, Fr. Andre Freyre who gave an account of this incident in a letter to the Portuguese Governor of Goa only says that when the heretics surrounded him, they could not imprison him because he was disguising himself in a thousand ways "like Proteus in various disguises".

Bl. Vaz fled from Jaffna deep into the jungle to avoid the destruction of his mission in Ceylon. He did not take anyone 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 the above staunchest Catholic Dom Pedro, was brutally executed and seven others suffered prolonged martyrdom), he decided to seek safely elsewhere. He crossed to Vanny but because it was held by a prince (ruler) subject to the Dutch, after a little delay in order to ascertain himself of the course of the persecution in Jaffna, Bl. Vaz with the help of some Catholics, forded to Puttalam, since this was part of the Kandy kingdom. It was from this kingdom in the center of the island that Fr. Vaz was going to operate for more than 20 years. The Kandy kingdom was ruled by Vimaladharma Surya II, who had ascended the throne in 1687, the same year that Bl. Vaz had entered Ceylon. He was the son of Rajasimha II (1635 -1687) who had invited the Dutch to drive the Portuguese out of Ceylon. The Dutch captured the Portuguese forts at Batticaloa on May 18th, 1638, at Negombo in 1640; at Colombo on May 12th, 1656 and at Jaffna on June 21st, 1658. 

4. The Miracle of the rain 

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. Vaz to pray to his God and obtain rain for the kingdom. Bl. Joseph 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, the next day. It brought such abundant rain that Bl. 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 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 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.  

5. He declines the mitre 

The fame of the apostolate of Bl. Vaz spread everywhere and reached the ears of the reigning Pope Clement XI. Simultaneously some complaints of French Capuchins of Propaganda against the adaptation methods of the Jesuits of Padroado Mission of Madurai, led by Robert di Nobili SJ and of China by Mateo Ricci SJ, necessitated an investigation. The Pope, therefore, sent a Papal legate, Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon, Patriarch of Antioch and afterwards Cardinal, to settle these matters. The Pope instructed de Tournon to make inquiries about the work of Bl. Joseph Vaz in Ceylon and the Oratory he founded and render him every aid. On his arrival at Pondicherry in December 1703, de Tournon was welcomed by Fr. Paulo de Sa, a secular priest from Goa, Parish priest of Kodulur, deputed by the Bishop of Mylapore. From him the Legate inquired about Bl. Joseph Vaz and his work with great earnestness and proposed to make use of his ample powers to nominate Bl. Vaz the Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon. Bl. Vaz, however, understood what this appointment meant and was greatly alarmed. Apart from his great humility (because of which he had taken care not to give much description of his labors and to avoid saying anything that might redound to his credit), he had seen enough of the ecclesiastic polemics that resulted from the appointment of Propaganda Vicars Apostolic in Padroado lands. The carrying out of the Legate's suggestion would mean the ruin of the Church in Ceylon which Bl. Vaz had planted with such enormous sacrifice. It might also mean the ruin of the Oratory to which he belonged and which had its seat in Padroado territory of Goa. The Legate sent a letter through Fr. Francisco da Cruz, an Oratorian, in Tamilnadu. He was asked to send a courier to Kandy and get the reply from Bl. Vaz. A beautiful cruxifix inlaid with silver, the cross being of ebony and the image of Christ of ivory with crown of thorns and nails of silver was sent by the Papal Legate as a present to Bl. Vaz. This is presently exposed for public veneration at the room in Sancoale, Goa, in the original ancestral house in which Bl. Vaz grew up. Replying to the letter of Msgr. Thomas M. de Tournon, Bl. Vaz said he was confused on the receipt of his letter, which in his humility he felt unworthy of, and signed his reply as unworthy servant. He excused his delay saying that he was not worthy of corresponding with persons of so high dignity and submissively thanked him for the crucifix. Whereas Msgr. Toumon wrote to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide that he had proofs of his virtues and the "modesty with which be brushed aside some miracles which are said to be operated by God tbrough him'' As said before, the papal Legate wanted to appoint Bl. Vaz the first Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon. However, the missionary humbly declined the offer. (This explains why he is commonly portrayed in a simple surplice with a bishop's mitre and crozier beside him.) 

On July 10th 1706, Bl. Joseph Vaz wrote to the Papal Legate, that in the mission of Ceylon there were more or less twenty-five thousand souls and the number was growing day by day; that chapels and public oratories had been erected and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the lands of the king of Kandy, and there were hidden oratories in the lands of the Dutch, in which the faithful gathered daily, for litanies and common prayers; that on Sundays when there was no missionary they attended to the prayers of the Mass in vernacular and when there were missionaries, these also administered 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 (namely in Kandy, Puttalam and Vanny) had been erected and dedicated to Our Lady, where the assistance of missionaries was more frequent and the faithful gathered in bigger numbers and feasts were celebrated. 

6. His last missionary journey 

Knowing his death fast approaching, Bl. Joseph Vaz desired ardently to visit some distant Catholic communities in far off places and minister to them. This ardent zeal for souls took him in spite of his failing health to Kottiyar at the beginning of the year 1710. This missionary journey to the eastern coastal extremity of the island was too much for him and he fell gravely ill at a distance of nine days journey from Kandy. He was transported in a carriage to Kandy where he recovered a little but could not walk properly. He 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 during the absence of Fr. Jacome Gonsalves, he even went in a carriage to administer the last Sacraments to two dying persons at a distance of a mile from the city. On return he fell down from the carriage and was completely exhausted. He tried to celebrate Mass for some days but could not, due to weakness. 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 for about four months. In spite of them he undertook nine days of spiritual exercises. He considered himself a great sinner. He received the Sacrament of Penance everyday as well as Holy Communion. 

7. His last days  

After Easter of 1710, he had a wound which seemed to heal but which soon resulted in a painful abscess behind his ear, giving out pus and preventing him from opening his mouth. Doctors could not decipher its cause. No medicine was effective against it. So he said, "up to now no doctor bas 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 pain in his head and neck were very severe. Even then his preoccupation was for the future of the mission. Therefore, before his death, sensing that his time had come, and in order to avoid trouble, Bl. Vaz prudently appointed Fr. Joseph Mennezes as his successor in the post of Superior and Vicar general of Mission of Ceylon. He wrote a letter requesting him to accept it and when no reply came as Fr. Mennezes was far away in Puttalam, Bl. Vaz wrote his last letter on January 15th, 1711 making the appointment and requesting prayers of the community and suffrages for his soul. During his last sickness when he could not move to the Church due to his weakness, he would explain the Catechism and teach Christian doctrine to the children and others who came to see him. Even after he suffered his last attack he persisted in explaining the mysteries of the faith.

8. His saintly death

 Although he was burning with high fever and pain, he took part in all the spiritual exercises of the community with his companions. He received the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction and asked them to recite for him the prayers for those in agony. He even responded "Pray for me" when the litany of the saints was recited. A little before his death, two times he requested his confreres to put him on the ground to die saying that he was not worthy of dying on the bed. As he was just about to expire, he asked for the indulgenced Crucifix sent to him by the Papal Legate Tournon, and holding it tight in his hands with a burning candle, he professed that he was dying in the same faith and Catholic Religion in which he had lived in entire subjection to Holy Mother the Church. He remained for a few moments in contemplation. Then he repeated the act of faith many times as he breathed his last with the holy name of JESUS on his lips. 

Thus, Blessed Joseph Vaz died a beautiful death around midnight on Friday, January 16th, of the year 1711 A.D. His parting message to his confreres, a little before his death, was given in Sinhalese words whose meaning was "Hardly will one be able to do at the time of death what one has not done in life". He had spent 24 years of untiring and restless labors in the mission of Ceylon. He was 59 years, 6 months and 26 days old.

He was beatified in 1995.

Fr. Angelo Van der Putten SSPX, in Bl. Vaz's paternal home,
in Sancoale, near Goa, India, last August 19, 2001

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