St Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s First saint, canonized

Colombo – Sri Lanka (Wednesday, 01/14/2015, Gaudium Press) The Sri Lankan people were blessed by the canonization of the first saint of their country. During the Mass held on the morning of Wednesday 14th , in Galle Face Green in the capital city of Colombo, Pope Francis canonized Blessed Joseph Vaz, who was beatified 20 years ago by Pope Saint John Paul II.

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The first Sri Lanka’s saint in a stain glass at the Sanctuary of
Sancoale,  in Goa, India – Photo Gustavo Kralj

Commentators say that the canonisation Mass was probably one of the biggest public gatherings the city has ever witnessed.

The new saint, Joseph Vaz was a missionary born on 21 April 1651 in Goa, India. He died on 16 January 1711 in Kandy, present day Sri Lanka. He was an Oratorian missionary priest. He arrived in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, during the Dutch occupation.

The Dutch had expelled the Portuguese who had introduced Catholicism to the Sri Lankan island. The Dutch then went on to impose Calvinism as the official religion in Sri Lanka. Fr. Vaz travelled throughout Sri Lanka, bringing the Eucharist and Sacraments to clandestine groups of Catholics. He would sometimes disguise himself as a beggar in order to facilitate his mission. Later, he founded a shelter in the Kingdom of Kandy where he intensified his missionary work of ministering to both the minority Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. By the time of his death, he had managed to rebuild the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. He was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on 21 January 1995, in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Pope Francis approved his canonisation on 17 September 2014.

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Statue of Saint Joseph Vaz at the Archbishop
house in Goa, India – Photo Gustavo Kralj

Catholics in Sri Lanka account for only 6 per cent of the 20 million strong population. The majority of the people are Buddhist.

Speaking in English, Pope Francis told the canonization crowd that followed him attentively that St. Joseph Vaz was an example of religious tolerance who is still relevant to Sri Lanka and to the world. “Saint Joseph shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace,” he said in his homily.

“Saint Joseph Vaz was first, an exemplary priest. Here today with us are many priests and religious, both men and women, who, like Joseph Vaz, are consecrated to the service of God and neighbour. I encourage each of you to look to Saint Joseph as a sure guide. He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved,” Pope Francis said.

The Holy Father then continued: “Saint Joseph Vaz lived in a period of rapid and profound transformation; Catholics were a minority and often divided within; there was occasional hostility, even persecution, from without. And yet, because he was constantly united with the crucified Lord in prayer, he could become for all people a living icon of God’s mercy and reconciling love,” Said Pope Francis. (LMI)

With information from Vatican Radio

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