A faithful devotion to St Joseph Vaz
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With the feast of St Joseph Vaz being celebrated with great fervour in the village of Sancoale today, NT BUZZ traces the journey of this patron saint of Goa and Daman
St Joseph Vaz was born to Cristóvão Vaz and Maria de Miranda on April 21, 1651 in his mother’s hometown, Benaulim. His father originally belonged to the Naik family which converted to Catholicism during the Portuguese regime.
Ever since he was a little boy, Vaz expressed a deep love for God by devoting his time to prayers and spiritual practice. “His parents were very devout and all the children were brought up in a religious way. His mother would read the life of saints to him as a child. She would also call him a little saint ‘santhulo,’” says parish priest, Cortalim, Fr Blomax Pereira.
While living in Sancoale, Vaz prayed to the Holy Sacrament every night by walking to the church in Chicalim. He chose to go at night because he considered it a peaceful time to pray. “So as not to disturb his family he would climb down the tree from his house and walk to Chicalim church. The tree is still there today. When Vaz reached the church, the doors would open on their own. He would return home before sunrise,” narrates Fr Pereira.
Vaz also had a love for the poor, another quality instilled by his parents. “At lunch time beggars would line up outside his house and he would share food from his own plate,” says Fr Pereira.
Vaz began his education in Sancoale where he studied Portuguese and Latin and was considered a brilliant and respectful student by his teachers. He would also help in teaching his classmates. After completing his education, Vaz joined the seminary and was ordained in 1676. Following this, the 25-year-old priest ran a school in Sancoale for those who aspired to be priests.
It was on August 5, 1677 that Vaz decided to dedicate himself as a slave of Mother Mary by writing a ‘deed of bondage.’ “After his ordination he had written a letter of captivity, giving his freedom to Mother Mary. In this letter he said: ‘I am your slave and will proclaim the name Jesus by putting myself in your hands’,” says Fr Pereira.
While Vaz wanted to take his missionary work to Ceylon in Sri Lanka after learning that there were no priests there, the cathedral chapter however chose to send him to Kanara, Karnataka. In Kanara, Vaz was very vocal against social injustice and certain people were against him. “Those who were troubled by the fact that he was against social injustice wanted him dead. They sent men to call him under the pretext of somebody needing the Last Sacrament, and took him to the Mudipu Mountain where they were supposed to kill him. Vaz knelt down on the ground and said: ‘If you’ll want to kill me go ahead but let me pray for the last time’. When he knelt down, a spring gushed out at that spot and these springs still flow today,” says Fr Pereira.
Vaz then returned to Goa and spent his time preaching in the villages for awhile before deciding to head to Sri Lanka which was under the rule of Dutch Protestants. Although there were Catholics living there, the country had been without a priest for years.
“Nobody was willing to go to Sri Lanka because the Dutch were against the Portuguese. But he volunteered to go and entered the land unofficially. Under the different guises of a beggar, a fisherman, coolie, he would go around the land in search of Catholics,” says Fr Pereira. When Vaz came across Catholics he would reveal his identity to them and secretly celebrate masses for them. Vaz never imposed his culture on the local people. In fact he learned the Sinhalese language and their culture in order to preach the word of God to the Sinhalese Catholics.
But Vaz did not receive support from the locals there and was imprisoned for preaching. However things changed after a miracle he performed.
In 1696, the kingdom of Kandy, Sri Lanka was in a midst of a drought and the king called forth all religious leaders to pray for rain.
“When the king found out that Joseph Vaz was imprisoned he invited Vaz to pray to his God for rain. When Joseph prayed for rain at the erected altar with a cross, it rained,” says Fr Pereira, adding that after this the king started supporting Vaz and he was allowed to perform his missionary work freely.
Fr Pereira adds that it is because of Vaz’s efforts that the Catholic faith was preserved in Sri Lanka.
“Every follower of Christ is supposed to be a missionary, in the sense give Jesus to others. Here we have the greatest example of a missionary who has gone out from our land. Hence we should be proud of him,” he says.
Vaz fell ill and passed away on January 16, 1711. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Colombo, Sri Lanka on January 21, 1995.
He was affectionately known as ‘Padre Zuze Vaz’ in Goa before he was canonised a saint on January 14, 2015 by Pope Francis at Galle Face Green, Colombo, Sri Lanka. [NT]