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Blessed Joseph Vaz

January 16, 2011

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Joseph Vaz was born of devout parents in Benaulim, Goa, in 1651. He was ordained at the age of 25. After five years he set off as a missionary, first to Karnataka in south India and from there to Sri Lanka, which was then a colony of Protestant Holland. It was there that he spent the following 35 years of his life as a missionary par excellence. Long before the word ‘inculturation’ came into use, Joseph Vaz showed how true Christian asceticism could be happily blended with being an Indian holy man. He entered Sri Lanka disguised as an ordinary labourer, to assist the Catholic community which was suffering under persecution from the Calvinist Dutch. Jaffna was the initial focus of his priestly ministries, but he slowly evangelized other parts of the country too. His great breakthrough came when the ruler of Kandy, a Buddhist, offered Father Vaz his protection as the result of Joseph’s prayers which ended a prolonged period of drought. Joseph Vaz mastered the local language Sinhala, and even compiled a dictionary in it for the use of his companions. He dealt with all people – kings and paupers, Buddhists and Christians, monks and ordinary folk – with respect and openness, so much so that he is considered the true model of an apostle. He organized the first ever indigenous missionary institute in Asia, the Oratory of the Cross of Miracles, which ensured a steady supply of missionaries from India to continue his work in Sri Lanka. Joseph Vaz died as he had lived – serene and peaceful, a light to all around him - on January 16th, 1711. Pope John Paul II proclaimed him as “blessed” on his visit to Sri Lanka in 1995.
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