Blessed Father Joseph Vaz

Compiled By: John J. D'Souza of GOACOM


Blessed Father Joseph Vaz

Born Goa 1651 ~ Died Sri Lanka 1711

It is over a year since Pope John Paul II made his pilgrimage journey to the Asian and Australian continents. On his way back, he stopped in Sri Lanka to beatify venerable Father Joseph Vaz, a 17th Century priest born in the former Portuguese colony of Goa, India, on 21st April 1651.

While rejoicing at the event of the beatification of Blessed Joseph Vaz, too many of us also have a feeling of "too little, too late". That phrase is used when, after protracted negotiations and repeated setbacks, finally some minimal concessions are grudgingly granted.

That a man of such outstanding merit should have had to wait so long for mere beatification; in sixteen years he has bestowed his honour on all sorts of people over the world, including our own country; but not now at last comes the turn of Blessed Joseph Vaz, who was in so many ways a pioneer – the first in the field.

Santity is very much the work of grace, but sainthood, whilst it is also a grace, is very much a matter of human effort. Special formalities have to be observed, of course, but since the basic issue of a virtuous character has already been tackled at the first stage, the final step can be facilitated by favourable circumstances.

All this may sound ungracious and unbecoming on such an occasion; however, it is not said in a negative spirit but with a very positive intention; to urge that we press, immediately and vigorously for canonization.

Can anyone question relevance of Blessed Joseph Vaz for our day, when the Pope is making repeated appeals for a new evangelisation, with a new vision and a new zeal? Blessed Joseph Vaz is the very embodiment of many of the principles and certainly of the ideal proposed by Pope Paul VI in his widely appreciated and often quoted exhortation Evangeli Montiandi: the ideal of " messengers who themselves drunk deep of the joy of Christ and would gladly give their lives – no less – for the proclamation of the kingdom and the firm establishment of the Church in the world".

If we want to make him still more up-to-date, he is an inspiring model for much that Pope John Paul II presents as a programme of preparations for the great jubilee of the year 2000.

So here is a suggestion for India. Sri Lanka and beyond. Why not have a five-year plan to obtain the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz as a Third World Saint for the Third Millennium? The idea need to be worked out. But here are some thoughts for a start.

It has been said that ecclesiastically speaking, the first millennium was shaped and coloured by the Eastern Church, the second by the Western, and now the third will be the age of the so called Third World.

Let us begin with Blessed Joseph Vaz, since he was, and is in so many ways the first. And just by the way; now that we can have his image in our churches, why not represent him as one poor " labourer"? That is what he became for the love of Christ and our humanity, already leading the way for what we call the preferential option for the poor.

Are we embarrassed that he made himself the poorest of Christ's poor and a truly Third World man?

Or are we just lacking in imagination?
Please help with your prayers.


Chronology on the Life of Blessed Fr. Joseph Vaz

1651 Joseph is born in his mother's house at Benaulim ( Goa), on 21st. April
1676 Ordained Priest
1681 -84 Appointed Vicar of the Canara Mission, with seat in Mangalore.
1685 Back in Goa, joins a small community of Goan priests, who eventually form themselves into the first religious congregation of indigenous clergy, under the name of "Oratory of St. Phillip Neri". Father Vaz elected as their first Superior.
1687 Enters Jaffna, Sri Lanka,
disguised as a migrant worker.
1692 Imprisoned in Kandy, as a Portuguese spy. Buddhist King of Kandy,
impressed with the saintly life of Fr. Vaz, allows him to exercise his apostolate.
1696 Joined by three Oratorian priests.
Eight Catholic communities flourish throughout the island.
Admired by all for ministrations to the sick dying of smallpox epidemic.
1698 -1710 Fr. Joseph Vaz traverses Sri Lanka setting up
churches, hospitals, schools and social centres.
1711 Dies, January 16th., and is buried in Kandy. Goan Oratorian Fathers continue to minister the Church in Sri Lanka.
1713 Bishop of Cochin initiates the process of Fr. Vaz's Beatification. These first efforts stalled.
1835 Oratorian order suppresses by anti-clerical regime in Portuguese Government.
1953 Beatification Process started by the Archdiocese of Goa completed and sent to the Vatican.
1989 The Vatican: Decree on Herocity of Virtues of Fr. Joseph Vaz is pronounced by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
1993 July 6th: Pope John Paul II promulgates the Decree on the miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr. Joseph Vaz, thus bringing to a close the Process of Beatification.
1995 Pope John Paul II on visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka declares Fr. Joseph Vaz 'Blessed'



Commentary on the work of Ven. Fr. Joseph Vaz and the Goan Oratorian Order in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, by noted historian C.R. Boxer, in his work"The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415 ~ 1825" page 244.

Start of quote
" … With the expulsion of the Portuguese power and Portuguese priests from Ceylon in 1656-8, the Roman Catholic converts in that island were subject to active persecution by the Dutch in the maritime and lowland provinces which came under their control. The Catholic communities were saved from the extinction by the labours of the Venerable Fr. Joseph Vaz, a Goan missionary of the Oratory, who arrived in Ceylon in 1687 and died there in 1711. Establishing his headquarters in the Buddhist kingdom of Kandy in the mountainous interior, he and his successors gave the Catholics in the lowlands the moral and material leadership necessary for their survival under a persecuting Calvinist regime. Indian Brahmenes by origin, they could circulate in disguise with relative ease, and they re-established the connections between Ceylon Catholics and their co- religionists on the mainland.
….. When the English replaced the Dutch in Ceylon at the end of the eighteenth century, they found an active and virile Catholic Community. Though not as large as it had been at the height of the Portuguese power, when there were some 75,000 Christians in the Hindu Tamil kingdom of Jaffna alone, it comprised a hard core of believers scattered over the island who had been fortified in their faith by the self-sacrificing labours of the Goan Oratorians. As the Overseas Councillors at Lisbon had testified to the Crown in 1717: 'These missionaries proceed in such an exemplary way that only they and the Fathers of the Company are real missionaries and the fittest to convert the souls of the natives of Asia.' " end of quote


Further Reading:

Blessed Joseph Vaz,
The Man, His Mission, His Message.

By Fr. Denis G. Pereira,
Pauline Publishers,
143 Waterfield Road,
Bandra, Bombay 400 050
, ISBN 81 – 7176 – 164 – X,
Paperback 150 pp.
Price: Rs 26

In Goa
Saint Paul Book Centre
Prema Building
Rua De Ourem,
Panaji, Goa 403 001