Blessed Joseph Vaz, the third of the six children of Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, was born on 21st April 1651 at Pulvaddo, Benaulim at his maternal house and was baptized in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Benaulim on 28th April 1651. He grew up at his father’s house at Sancoale where today stand only the oratory room of his ancestral home
Josephs’s parents were very religious and meticulously catered to the spiritual and moral formation of their children. value and prayer-oriented environment at home greatly contributed toward the formation of young Joseph and inspired him to dedicate his life to god and the service of God’s people. After his elementary education in Sancoale and studies of Latin in Benaulim, Joseph studied at the Jesuit college of St. Paul, Old Goa. drawn towards the priestly vocation, he completed his philosophical and theological studies at the academy of St. Thomas Aquinas with flying colours.
Fr. Vaz was ordained a priest in 1676 by archbishop Antonio Brandao but was not given any ecclesiastical office. Perhaps the church authorities could not find a job suitable to his brilliant performance at the seminary but he was given faculties to preach and hear confession throughout the archdiocese.
Never discouraged, a man of great faith, Joseph Vaz came to his paternal village of Sancoale and opened a Latin school for the education of the village boys and also gave himself to prayer, preaching, and hearing confessions. and assisting the local parish-priest.
In 1677 at foot of the altar of blessed virgin Mary, the church of our lady of heath, Sancoale Goa, he wrote his letter (a classic) surrendering himself into her hands to be disposed of as she wished.
when he approached the church authority on a mission to Sri Lanka where all catholic priests were driven out by the Dutch protestants (Calvinist), he was sent to Kanara (Mangalore) in 1682. after his return from Kanara, he joined the Goan Oratory, a native religious community in 1685 and having duly prepared himself physically and spiritually to face all the hardships that will come his way, he in 1686 set out for the perilous mission to Sri Lanka to save the catholic faith from the clutches of Dutch protestants.
With the blessings of the Archbishop of Goa, Fr. Vaz set out on his perilous journey in March 1686, taking for his luggage his breviary and the requisites for saying mass. He had with him only an Oratorian Father, a Brother and a young boy named John, who attended him at the altar. After nine months in his former Mission, it was only on January 3, 1687, that he went his way down the Malabar Coast. The dangers and challenges were so great that the two other priest who had accompanied him returned to Goo and Fr. Joshep Vaz was left alone with his faithful servant John, in 1687, exhausted and weary, but undaunted in his faith, Joseph and John arrived in Sri Lanka.
Once in Sri Lanka Fr. Joseph Vaz watered and manured the dying catholic faith with the sweat of his brow. The present catholic church in Sri Lanka which is divided into 12 dioceses was rebuilt on strong foundations laid by blessed Joseph Vaz a priest from Goa (Oratorians) for 150 years.
At Cochin, the latter could not discharge any priestly functions as the Dutch were occupying the town. He even remained hidden until the departure of the small vessel that was to carry him to Quilon.
From Quilon, the travellers passed into Travancore, where Fr. Vaz sojourned for some time in a Jesuit College to learn Tamil, the language spoken in the North of Ceylon. Fr. Vaz could no longer travel in his ecclesiastical garb, for, the Dutch would have arrested him. The Rector supplied him with the dress of poor natives and slaves and in that dress, barefooted, Fr. Vaz and John reached Tuticorin the Indian port nearest to Ceylon, towards the end of March 1687.
A batch-mate of Fr. Vaz at Goa University was the Jesuit Missioner in charge of Tuticorin and they were happy to find themselves together again after so many years. Yet Fr. Vaz had to keep his disguise of an itinerant menial for fear of betraying himself. The Dutch occupied a Fort at Tuticorin and kept a strict watch on all intending passengers to Ceylon.
Easter came and Fr. Vaz could not resist and bear to let such a great feast pass without offering a divine sacrifice. The Dutch commander in Fort was instantly apprised and he issued orders to all craft masters along the coast not to take on board any passenger to Ceylon without a pass from him personally. This was a great disappointment for Fr. Vaz, but three days later, the Dutch officer died suddenly. His successor failed to detect a Catholic priest in the garb of a poor workman and on being asked for a pass by Fr. Vaz himself, issued the document without much ado.
Put to sea in a small sailing smack with John his young servant, Fr. Vaz was fortunate to find onboard a Catholic Portuguese of good position. That man full of zeal and faith promised the priest that once in Jaffna he would take him to one of his friends in whose house he would run no risk of being apprehended by the Dutch.
A dreadful storm busts upon them and for 20 days they were at sea. Being tossed on the high seas for such a long time without food Fr. Vaz was compelled to break journey in Mannar. Fr. Vaz was carried to the shore at Mannar in a state of starvation and dehydration.
Fr. Vaz knew no one in Jaffna and he wandered about the whole day in quest of shelter for the night was refused entry to all abodes. At last, a woman, more charitably inclined, permitted him to lie down in MANDU, a structure barely consisting of a roof placed on pillars. The mandu was opposite her house on the other side of the street and such buildings were erected by Indians along trunk roads or in vicinity of temples to accommodate travelers or pilgrims.
But soon the stupendous misery and starvation he had endured during his long voyage and the unwholesomeness of the food he received by begging from door to door began to tell on him and he was seized with very acute dysentery. This disease is considered very contagious by the Indians. Therefore the people around reproached the woman for having sheltered this stranger and as Fr. Vaz was unable to walk, they took him on bamboos to a forest near the city where they abandoned him.
To complete his destitution the faithful John lay prostrate with the same malady. They were both in a desperate plight. Fr. Vaz thought that their last hour had come and they both prepared themselves for death.
But a poor woman who had lost her way in the forest whilst gathering firewood chanced upon them when they seemed on the point of breathing their last. Moved with compassion, she ran home, brought some ‘kanji’. This ‘Good Samaritan’ came daily with porridge and they thus regained their strength and were soon sufficiently strong enough to find their way back to Jaffna.
The charitable virtues of Fr. Vaz won the admiration of the pagans and they held him in great veneration. Paganism fails to understand disinterested charity; but yet, it admires it. This was the cause of the respect paid by King Vimala-Dharmasuriya II to Fr. Vaz. To that pagan Prince, the Catholic priest was an enigma, which he approached only with supernatural awe.
King Kandasala, the son and successor of King Vimala- Dharmasuriya, followed the paternal examples. One day when the King was passing in State before the church in Kandy, Fr. Vaz came out to salute him. The King stopped, received him with great cordiality, and would not resume his walk until Fr. Vaz was indoors again.
On 16th January 1711 towards the hour of midnight with Fathers Gonzalves and Almeida Kneeling down near Fr. Vaz’s death-bed entoned the Subvenite Sancti Dei. In the morning Fr. Gonzalves informed the King who testified his deep sorrow and at once enjoined on all the Christians in the palace to attend the funeral.
Fr. Vaz died in the 60th year of his age, his apostolate in Ceylon having lasted 24 years. He was of middle size, of handsome features and his demeanour was dignified and sympathetic.
The obsequies lasted three days and on Monday January 19th after a funeral oration pronounced by Fr. Gonzalves was the body deposited in a wooden coffin, lined inside with silk was buried in front of the High Altar in the Church of Our Lady of the Conversion of Pagans, built by Fr. Vaz in the Bogambara suburb.
He founded the miraculous Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, one of the five officially crowned Marian Shrines of the Church, crowned in 1924, before Fatima.
He is the first non-European native in modern times to found a Mission and Church in a “Third World” country; to found a fully native Catholic Religious Congregation; and to be given the official title of “Apostle” (of Kanara and Sri Lanka) by the Church, for his work in rescuing the Church there.
His Indian Oratorian Mission is the only fully native, non-European Catholic Mission of our colonial era.
The Church he re-founded in Sri Lanka was persecuted and survived isolation from Rome for 140 years: “Here is a country in which the faith was first preached, and a Church founded with great success to flourish for over a century, by missionaries who, being afterwards forced by the political failure of their nation to abandon the field, left this island for good…and their converts… without churches or priests and under the heel of a persecutor; and a single priest (Joseph Vaz) from another country, came here of his own accord…and labouring heroically with a price upon his head, revived the faith and made many conversions in the teeth of persecution, imprisonment and hostility ..(no) subsequent political, social, and ecclesiastical changes in the country were ever able to undo his work; …It must be stated with caution and subject to correction, but no other instance of such an achievement is known in Christendom.” [Sri Lankan historian, Fr. S.G. Perera, S.J., from his book, The Life of the Venerable Father Joseph Vaz].
Miracles are signs which confirm the teaching of a person, Jesus said” if you don’t believe in me, believe at least in my miracles” during his lifetime there are a number of miraculous happening attributed to Joseph Vaz.
Holy places in Goa related to Blessed Joseph Vaz
|Maternal house at Pulvaddo, Benaulim where he was born|
|Church of St. John the Baptist which has the Baptismal Font where he was baptised|
|The Oratory room of his paternal house at Sancoale where he grew up|
|Church of Cortalim where miraculously the door would open for him.|
|The Facade of the old church of Sancoale where he wrote his letter of total surrender to Mother Mary.|
|The church of the miraculous cross and the dilapidated Oratorian monastery where he lived as a member and superior and from where priests were supplied to Sri Lanka for 150 years|
The beatification of Fr. Joseph Vaz was concelebrated on 20th January, 1995 when His Holiness Pope John Paul II pronounced the Beatification at the Galle Face Green, Colombo in the presence of a very large gathering of the faithful and people of all walks of life.
The official state ceremony was held at the Square of the Presidential Secretariat where His Holiness was welcomed by Her Excellency the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the late honourable Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who also had the unique distinction of receiving two Heads of the Vatican to Sri Lanka in her tenure as Prime Minister of Sri lanka