Saint Joseph Vaz

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St. Joseph Vaz
St. Joseph Vaz and the wild elephants. Ble Joseph
The Government of Sri Lanka very graciously minted a postage stamp in honour of Joseph Vaz (left). On the right is Pope John Paul II.

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The authors of this article are …

Joseph Naik Vaz Institute, California

Melvyn Misquita, Herald Goa 18 Sep, 2014,

Mudipu Shrine

Fr. Denis G. Pereira's book "The Man, His Mission, His Message"

Rosanne D'Souza, USA November 18, 2005 ]

Mangala Dilip, IBTimes January 14, 2015

Get Religion

Paul Fernandes,TNN, The Times of India | Jan 14, 2015


Early life and career

1651, 21 April: Born in Benaulim (Salcette, Goa, India) to Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, Christian parents of the Konkani Brahmin caste; the third of six children. Parents were a devout and pious Catholic couple.

Joseph's father saw a star in the sky during mid of a day when he was born and he wrote in his diary that his son will become a great man.

The Friday Boy

St. Joseph Vaz is known as the 'Friday boy' because he was born on a Friday, all his major miracles were performed on Fridays and at last he breathed his last breath also on a Friday.

Attended primary and secondary school in Sancoale, where he learned Portugese, and Benaulim, where he learned Latin. He studied humanities at the Jesuit Goa University, philosophy and theology at Saint Thomas Aquinas Academy.

1676: Ordained a priest in Goa. Preacher and confessor.

Opened a Latin school in Sancoale for perspective seminarians.

Mother Mary's Servant

1677: When Blessed Joseph Vaz took the vows of priesthood, he signed a letter with his blood dedicating his life to Mother Mary. He sealed it with a document known as his “Letter of Enslavement”.


Shortly thereafter, Joseph learned of the condition of Catholics in Ceylon; persecuted by the Dutch, they had had no priests for 50 years. He volunteered to go to Sri Lanka where the Dutch were persecuting Catholics and had banned all priests from entering the island. The Chapter of Goa refused his offer because the mission would have meant certain death for him.

Instead, he was asked to go to the mission in Kanara. He accepted, but his thoughts and heart were in Ceylon. Vicar of Vara in Kanara, preaching, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, helping the poor, ransoming Christian slaves, working to settle jurisictional disputes that interfered with the sacraments.

1681:- appointed as a Vicar of the Canara.

1681 - Is sent to rescue the almost extinct mission in Kanara, present-day Karnataka in India. Rebuilds the Church in Mangalore and Kanara, establishes missions, tends to the sick, ransoms prisoners.

1684 - St Vaz returns to Goa and joins a band of native Indian priests who formed a community.

1685 - St Vaz founds a religious Congregation, the 'Oratory of St. Philip Neri', on September 25.

A small congregation of priests had formed in Goa with the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles as their residence. Joseph joined and was elected superior. He gave a definitive canonical status to this Oratory, introduced religious exercises and charitable activities, and trained its members for the mission. In 1686 he gave up his position, and set out for Ceylon.


1686 – St Vaz leaves Goa secretly and sets out for Sri Lanka, which in 2015 was home to up to 1.2 million Catholics

1687 - Disguised as an itinerant worker, he reached the port of Tuticorin on Easter 1687, and then the Dutch stronghold of Jaffna in the north of the Ceylon. St Vaz arrived in Jaffna in the Tamil region of Sri Lanka, with a servant, John Vaz, both disguised as coolies. He worked with a price on his head.

He suffered from acute dysentery, contracted from the terrible travelling conditions, and upon recovery he began his mission by contacting Catholics and hiding from the Dutch. He was taken in by a courageous Catholic, and ministered to his secret flock by night. One step ahead of the authorities, in 1689 he went to the Catholic village of Sillalai and began ministering to folks in surrounding villages.

In 1690 Joseph moved on to Puttalam in the Kingdom of Kandy, where 1,000 Catholics had not seen a priest for half a century. He decided to make Kandy the centre of his apostolate

1691 - Is almost captured by the Dutch and is advised to go to Kandy. Is brought into Kandy in chains and imprisoned as a Portuguese spy by the Buddhist King, Vimaladharna Surya II.

He was going to Kandy, hoping to obtain royal permission to travel freely. Instead, he was preceded by Calvinist accusations of being a Portugese spy, and was imprisoned with two other Catholics. There he learned Sinhala, the local language, and since the prison guards left the prisoners alone as long as they didn’t try to escape, he built a hut-church and later a proper church dedicated to Our Lady, and began converting other prisoners.

The miracle of rain

1693 (according to some: 1696):

The Kingdom of Kandy was suffering a serious drought, and the king asked the Buddhist monks to pray to their gods for rain; there was no ran. He then turned to Joseph who erected an altar and cross in the middle of the square and prayed; abundant rain began to fall, while Joseph and his altar stayed dry. The king granted Joseph license to preach throughout the kingdom.- Works a miracle of rain during a severe drought. The King released him and gives him protection and freedom to preach in his kingdom. As in Goa and in Mangalore, he was often seen in ecstasy in prayer. The people called him "Sammana Swami" or Angelic Father. He was let go by the Buddhist King Vimaladharna Surya II, believing that he miraculously ended a drought by bringing rain through prayer.

Making the most of his new-found freedom, he made a mission visit to the Dutch zone and visited Catholics in Colombo.

Fearing that the Portuguese might try to win back the colony, which was under the Dutch rule, under the pretext of protecting the Church, the Dutch launched a fierce campaign to wipe out every trace of the faith in Sri Lanka. All priests were expelled from the island nation, and a few who resisted even wound up dead.

Vaz, who often ministered in secret at nights, is credited with the revival of Catholicism in Sri Lanka. CruxNow reports that Vaz converted 30,000 locals in Ceylon and took gratification in serving the poor, essentially re-establishing the Catholic faith in a nation predominantly filled with Buddhists and Hindus.

St Vaz founded several churches and chapels, helping revive the faith amidst persecution of Catholics by Calvinists.

1697 - Is joined by three of his Indian Oratorians from the Oratory of Goa. They gave him the news that Don Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin, had appointed him Vicar General in Ceylon.

During a small-pox epidemic in Kandy, the King and the people flee the capital. Fr. Vaz and Fr. Carvalho, tend to the dying and abandoned victims for almost two years. He was organizing the basic mission structure when smallpox broke out in Kandy. His work with the sick convinced the king to allow Father Joseph every possible freedom in his labours.

Joseph carried his mission to the main centres of the island.

1699: He returned to Kandy with Father Joseph de Carvalho who had been expelled at the instigation of Buddhist monks. He completed the construction of his new church, and went into service for the king, translating Portuguese books into Sinhala. From this vantage point, he intensified his ministry, and converted some Sinhalese notables, which gave rise to slanders against him and persecution of converts.

1705: New missionaries arrived in, which enabled him to organize the mission into eight districts, each led by a priest. He worked on the creation of a Catholic literature comparable to that of the Buddhists, and to affirm the rights of Catholics with the Dutch Protestant Government.

1705 – St Vaz dedicated the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu.

1707: King Vimaldharna Surya II, Father Joseph’s mentor, died, but Narendrasimha, his successor, was an even greater supporter.

1708 New missionaries arrived

Last days

1710: despite health problems, Joseph took another apostolic trip. On his return, he fell ill from his carriage, and reached Kandy in serious condition. He recovered from a series of infections and fevers.

1711: age, work, and disease had finally worn him out. He undertook nine days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Rule, but before the seventh day, he was called home to God.

1711, 16/ 17 January: The Goan priest died of illness, late night, at the age of 60 and was buried in the church which was erected by him, in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Due to the size of the crowds of mourners, his body had to be exposed for three days

Towards Canonisation

1713: Pursuit of his Cause begins.

1989, 13 May: Venerated by Pope John Paul II

1995, January 21: beatified by Pope John Paull II, in Colombo.

Declared as: Apostle of Sri Lanka, Patron of Archdiocese of Goa, Daman (Damão).

2014, 17 September: Canonised by Pope Francis (papal confirmation of plenary session sentence)

2014, 20 October: Canonised by Pope Francis (consistory for canonization)

2015, January 14: Pope Francis declared Blessed Joseph Vaz a saint at an Eucharistic celebration at Galle face green park. Church bells rang and lakh of people clapped as Pope Francis said, "We declare and define Blessed Joseph Vaz to be Saint and we enroll him among the Saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated as such by the whole Church."

Pope Francis lauded the perservance and hard work of Vaz, stating that he lived as a true icon of the Lord's Word.

Early mission

Vaz was a priest of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, where he founded the Oratory of the Holy Cross of Miracles in Goa. He chose to work in Sri Lanka due to persecution of Catholics by Dutch colonial rulers, when Calvinism was the official religion. He has been credited for having revived the Catholic faith in the country.

Vaz travelled throughout the island bringing the eucharist and the sacraments to clandestine groups of Catholics. Later in his mission, he found shelter in the Kingdom of Kandy where he was able to work freely. By the time of his death, Vaz had managed to rebuild the Catholic church on the island.

A shrine dedicated to Blessed Joseph Vaz was set up in Sancoale, where lakhs of devotees faithfully converge to seek the intercession of the saintly son of Goa’s soil.

The Work of St. Joseph Vaz

His missionary work was not colonial, not helped, authorized, associated with conquest by a colonial power.

He gained the protection of a non-Christian King, Vimaladharma Surya II, a devout Buddhist.

He used Inculturation as a missionary method. He founded a Catholic para-liturgy and literature using the two languages and cultures of Sri Lanka, Tamil and Sinhalese; he practiced and taught Meditation.

He educated his servant John Vaz, a member of the Indigenous tribe of Kunbis, and sent him back to Goa with a letter of recommendation to the priesthood. At that time, the Portuguese Church Councils reserved the priesthood only for the two higher castes in Goa.

He rescued and expanded the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, one of the 5 officially crowned Marian Shrines of the Church. It was crowned for its fame for miracles and for pilgrimages in 1924, even 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 th 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:

The significance of St. Vaz’s work

British writer, Fr. H. Lesser, wrote in his book Sages and Saints of India:

i) Vaz...had no support from anyone, ecclesiastical or civil...When he went to Ceylon, no one, apart from the Archbishop of Goa and his own local superior even knew he was going. His only companion was his faithful servant , John. They had no money, no resources, no luggage, except a breviary and Mass kit. He always travelled barefoot. He would accept no gifts, not even a Mass stipend...His first two years in Jaffna were spent in daily danger of death from the Dutch...His entry into Kandy was in chains. He was for two years a prisoner, for the first five days without food. One is tempted to compare him with St. Paul (1 Cor., 4:10-13).

ii) Vaz worked mainly among Catholics, weak and lapsed [and not among non-Christians, seeking to convert them]. When he arrived in Ceylon, there were some of these scattered, frightened, deprived of the Sacraments for 30, 40, or 50 years. When he died, after 24 years' work...there were 70,000 practicing Catholics, served by catechists whom he trained...Of these no less than [30,000] were converts from other religions. Not one had come in through motives other than religious, since Vaz had neither money to bribe nor power to influence or entice them." (Note: Vaz' converts suffered persecution loss of hereditary titles, property, and political rights). Apostle of Canara

Mudipu: Miracle Hill

Near Mangalore, Karnataka, India.

Mudipu which is about 8 km from Fajir Church is in between and borders Fajir, Ammembal and Vorkady parishes. Mudipu is an extensive village out of the 19 wards of Fajir Parish, 4 wards come under Mudipu Chapel. They are Pandikatta, Yermatti, Arkan and Kurnad. There are about a hundred families coming under these 4 wards.

Besides there are 25 families of Ammembal and Vorkady, who are living closer to Mudipu Chapel and later joined to Mudipu Parish made into Ira, Church, Sunangala and Kanthoor Kutatajje wards. Earlier Mudipu was a part of Panir Parish which was known as Pandikatta. Now it is divided into 4 wards. There is a hill in Mudipu which also belonged to Panir Parish. In 14.9.1937 the Pandikatta ward of Panir Parish was handed over to Fajir Parish together with the hill, the later as a donation.

Mudipu Hill, a convergence of miracles, an abode of peace and serene atmosphere, is a little hill near the village called Mudipu, close to the outskirts of the Mangalore city, on the way to the Mangalore University campus. Said to be a 'Miracle Hill,' it is at a distance of about 2 miles from Mudipu town. There stands a statue of a patron of this hill, St. Joseph Vaz near the entrance.

It was when Fr Vaz was a parish priest at Ullal Panir church in Deralakatte (Mangalore, Karnataka, India) some deviant people plotted to eliminate him and one night they requested him to inunct a dying person. Fr Joseph readily agreed and set out to visit the sick person with them. As they were approaching the deserted area on the hill, they tried to kill him. Fr Joseph suddenly hit his stick to the ground, knelt down and prayed, it was then water sprang from the hard rock on the top of the hill. People who came to eliminate him said to have fled the place with fear and these three little springs still bear the witness to this miracle because a 60 feet well dug near to these ponds has no traces of water! He is now called by the name 'Guddeda Dever'(God of the mountain) in Tulu language.

A Chapel has been built here like a stadium with oval shaped structure and a gothic pandal has been erected around the shrine. At the entrance of the shrine is the resting place which is called Vihara Dhama. on one side of the hill, you will enjoy the serene beauty of nature and Arabian sea at a distance.

Not only Christians, but devotees of all religions visit this place, kneel down and pray. I am sure Mudipu Hill is a place for peace, meditation and a symbol of communal harmony!

The Process for his Recognition as a Saint

1713 - The Jesuit Bishop of Cochin begins his Cause.

1896 - Mons, Zalesky, Papal Nuncio and founder of the Papal Seminary in India, suggests that a new Cause be started. It begun by the Goan Church.

1953 - The diocesan ordinary process is sealed and sent to Rome. It contains volumes of miracles, including the three required outstanding miracles.

1954 - All 78 Bishops of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka sign a Petition to Pope Pius XII to beatify him.

1976 - Cardinal Cooray of Sri Lanka petitions Pope Paul VI for action. A Positio Historica, summary of the historical documents relating to the life and work of Father Joseph Vaz, is requested.

1985 - The Positio is submitted and the Bishops of Sri Lanka petition Pope John Paul II to beatify Vaz.

1993 - The miracle required for Beatification is approved by the Sacred Congregation for the Saints and the Pope issues the Decree of Beatification.

Miracle: the birth of Fr Costa

Numerous miracles have been attributed to St Joseph Vaz, but only one miracle – the birth of Fr Costa – was officially recognized by the Vatican. Fr Cosme J Costa is a native of Aldona (Goa, India) and in 2014 was serving at the Pilar Theological College.

Narrating the details of the miracle association with his birth, Fr Cosme J Costa said: “the process of a miracle worked by the intercession of Fr Joseph Vaz was submitted to Rome by Fr Urbino Monteiro, Vice-Postulator in Goa and the canonical enquiry was held in 1991 and submitted to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, Rome, by the Postulator Fr James Fitz-Patrick.”

“It was studied by five eminent medical Surgeons from Rome and England. It concerned the difficult pregnancy of my mother, Quiteria de Noronha e Costa, due to “placenta previa.”

“On October 28, 1992, the Medical Council declared, “Sudden and perfect cessation of the hemorrhages followed by the delivery by leg of a premature child that survived: this event cannot be explained in our science.” “On February 19, 1993, the Congress of Theologians was held and on May 4, the session of cardinals and bishops and this fact was declared to be extraordinary. And so on July 6, 1993, Pope John Paul II declared this to be a real miracle. The beatification ceremony was held at Colombo, Sri Lanka, on January 21, 1995,” said Fr Costa.


2014, 18 Sep: Pope Francis approved the votes of the Ordinary Session of the Cardinal and Bishop Fathers in favour of the canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz.

A VIS press release stated, “The pontiff approved the votes of the Ordinary Session of the Cardinal and Bishop Fathers in favour of the canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz, Indian priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory of the Holy Cross of Miracles in Goa (1651-1711).”

Pope Francis, determined to honour Vaz, who is popularly known as the "Apostle of Sri Lanka", set aside one of the norms for bestowing sainthood: performing a second miracle. Calling him as "an exemplary priest", who went "out to the peripheries" to search out the people who needed him most, Pope Francis said that Vaz set the perfect example of "transcending religious divisions in the service of peace."

AP news agency reported that Pope Francis decided to “bend the Vatican's rules once again to bypass the usual requirement that a second miracle be confirmed” in the case of Blessed Joseph Vaz, who will also be Sri Lanka's first saint.

“Pope Francis had approved a decision by the Vatican's saint-making office to canonize Vaz. Usually, the Vatican must approve one miracle for beatification, and a second one for canonization. The pope usually signs an official decree attesting to the miracles.”

“But Francis bent the rules in the case of Vaz, using the same process he applied to canonize St John XXIII without a second miracle attributed to his intercession,” reported AP.

Did the Pope really ‘bend’ rules?

No. Because the church has never required evidence of miracles when there is a case that the person died as a martyr, either by execution or under the duress of a lifetime of persecution and suffering.

The Vatican agreed that Blessed Joseph Vaz could be classed as a Martyr like those martyrs in the Roman Martyrology who were not killed but lived and died under persecution. These Martyrs were canonised without the final miracle.

Therefore, Pope Francis followed one of several traditions that lead to canonisation. He simply signed off on a decision taken by the Vatican's saint-making office that Vaz warranted canonisation.

Belongs to both Goa and Sri Lanka

When Pope Francis officially approved the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, the question arose as to whether Blessed Joseph Vaz would now be considered a saint “belonging” to Sri Lanka, the place where he worked and died, or Goa, the place of his birth and his priesthood?

This became the subject of discussion in various circles in Goa, including the social media. Herald, Goa’s leading newspaper, set the tone by reporting that “Bl. Joseph Vaz ‘belongs’ to both Goa & Sri Lanka”

A church official clarified that though a person is declared a saint for the universal Catholic church, a peculiar situation has arisen where Blessed Joseph Vaz as a saint would “belong” equally to the diocese of Kandy (Sri Lanka) and to the archdiocese of Goa.

“This is a very peculiar situation. Unusually, saints “belong” to the diocese where they have died. Hence, Mother Teresa is known as St Tereza of Kolkata and not of Albania, her native country,” informed Fr Loiola Pereira, secretary to Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao.

“In the case of Blessed Joseph Vaz, the cause for the canonization has been known officially as the “Kandyan or Goan cause”. Therefore, Blessed Joseph Vaz ‘belongs’ equally to the diocese of Kandy (Sri Lanka) and to the archdiocese of Goa,” Fr Pereira added.

See also

Catholic saints and blesseds: India for a complete list, as well as links to the biographies of other Christian saints and blesseds

Saint Francis Xavier

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa

St. Teresa of Calcutta

Saint Joseph Vaz

Saint Alphonsa Muttathupadathu

Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara

Blessed Rani Maria/ Regina Mariam Vattalil

Sister Euphrasia Eluventhinkal

Saint Devasahayam Pillai.

Syrian Christian

Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy

East Indians (Catholics)

The Bombay East Indian Association

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