Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Joseph Vaz at a public mass on the Colombo seafront on Thursday, January 14, which is expected to be attended by lacs of devotees. Pope Francis has already arrived in Colombo.
The Pope was greeted by the newly-elected Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Columbo, and other officials. The colourful ceremony included traditional Sri Lankan songs, dances and a herd of beautifully adorned elephants.
The Pope is expected to preach a message of reconciliation during his visit to Sri Lanka, which only recently emerged from a long civil war between government troops and Tamil separatists.
Sri Lanka’s first saint is a 17th century missionary whose role in reviving the Catholic faith during religious persecution by Dutch colonizers gives him a contemporary resonance on the island.
Although Sri Lanka has claimed Joseph Vaz as its first saint, Vaz was actually born in Benaulim in Goa on India’s west coast – then a Portuguese colony. He has a strong connection with Mangalore region too.
Celebrations in Mudipu
A solemn festal mass will be celebrated by Bishop Aloysius Paul at 10.30 am on January 14. Msgr Dennis Moras Prabhu the vicar general of Mangalore diocese, will celebrate the solemn festal mass on January 15. Dr Bernard Moras, the Archbishop of Bangalore diocese will celebrate the solemn festal mass at 10.30 am on January 16. Chief minister Siddaramaiah will visit Mudipu on January 16 at 1 pm.
Joseph Vaz and Mudipu connection
Joseph Vaz was born on April 21, 1651 in Benovlim, Goa as the third son of Christopher Vaz and Miranda of Goa. He became a priest in 1676 and served in different parishes of Goa till 1681. Later, he was sent to Canara. Fr Joseph Vaz travelled from Goa barefoot. He served in Honnavar, Basrur, Kundapura, Gangoli, Mulky, Mangaluru and Ullal Panir. He was miraculously saved from an attempt on his life in 1684, when he was serving as the parish priest of Panir Church. His ambition was to work as a missionary in Sri Lanka. He entered Sri Lanka in 1687 as a labourer, defying a ban on Catholic priests. He served in various places in Sri Lanka braving all odds, thus rekindling the Christian faith in Sri Lanka.
Fr Joseph Vaz was a courageous soldier of Christ, a dedicated Indian missionary and a humble servant of God. Recognizing his missionary work, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him as blessed Joseph Vaz in Colombo on January 21, 1995. He is venerated as the ‘Apostle of Sri Lanka’ and also the ‘Patron of Goa’.
Mudipu is first church in India dedicated to blessed Joseph Vaz. The Patron of Mudipu Church Blessed Joseph Vaz (to become Saint on January 14) came to this place after having been appointed as the parish priest of Ullal-Panir.’
Some deviant Catholics plotted against him. One day, they came and requested him to anoint a sick person. The benevolent priest readily agreed and began with them. As soon as they reached Mudipu hill, a deserted place, they attempted to kill him. The priest immediately struck his stick to the ground, knelt down and began to pray. And suddenly! A miracle happened, water sprang from the three different directions. People who came to kill the priest ran for their lives. God saved Fr Joseph Vaz in a miraculous way and those three springs still bear witness to the bygone graced event. It is special because the adjacent 60 feet well does not have water. The faithful believe that the water from these miraculous ponds has healing power.
Saint in Sri Lanka
He went to Sri Lanka in 1687 to minister to the scattered faithful after Dutch colonizers who had seized the island’s coastal areas from the Portuguese began persecuting Catholics for fear they would remain loyal to their former rulers.
Vaz traveled from village to village ministering to Catholics from both the Tamil and the majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.
He had to disguise himself as a beggar because the Dutch had banned Catholic priests from the island, and he spent several of his 23 years in Sri Lanka in jail for his work.
By the time of his death in 1711 he had largely rebuilt the Catholic Church, earning him the title “Apostle of Sri Lanka”
He is credited with caring for smallpox victims abandoned by their families out of fear of contagion.
Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul II during a brief one-day visit to Sri Lanka in 1995.
He is credited with one miracle — the survival of a baby boy whose mother prayed to him after she was told her child had only a one percent chance of living.
The baby, called Cosme J Costa, went on to serve as a Catholic priest in Goa. “It was the great faith of my mother that saved my life,” Fr Costa had said after the Vatican announced it had approved Vaz as a saint.“I have no words to express my joy and gratitude to God for having heard the prayers of countless Goans, Sri Lankans and devotees all over the world for the last three centuries for this great day.”
The Vatican usually attributes one miracle for beatification and another for canonization, but Pope Francis approved Vaz’s sainthood without attributing a second miracle.