The Pope canonized Joseph Vaz, today 14 January 2015 as Sri Lanka’s first saint. St Joseph Vaz was born in Goa in 1651, a Portuguese colony in India, but spent most of his life as a missionary in Sri Lanka. Joseph Vaz spent 23 years ministering to the Catholic community in Sri Lanka and traveled the island – then Ceylon – ministering to clandestine groups of Catholics.. He arrived during the Dutch occupation that had seen Calvinism become the official religion,
Vaz spent five years secretly preaching in the lush lowlands before making his way to the fortress-like Kingdom of Kandy in the highland rainforests, where he was captured and accused of espionage for Portugal under the guise of religion.
He was detained for nearly a year until he convinced the powerful king that he was a priest, according to texts from the 17th century cited on a website run by Sri Lankan Catholics (www.josephnaikvaz.org).
King Vimaladharmasuriya II protected him from the Dutch and Vaz’s reputation was further bolstered when he was said to have made rain during a drought and by his work with the sick.
Vaz remained in Kandy until his death in 1711, by which time the Church says he had converted 30,000 people and created a network of priests, almost single-handedly re-establishing Catholicism in Ceylon.
Pope Francis bent Church rules and dispensed with a regulation that normally requires a second miracle to be attributed to a candidate for sainthood. Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul during a visit to Sri Lanka 20 years ago.
Tens of thousands of devotees waited overnight at the venue to secure their places for Wednesday’s Mass. In his address to a congregation of more than 500,000 at the seafront grounds of Galle Face in the heart of Colombo, in canonizing Sri Lanka’s first saint, Pope Francis cited three reasons why Joseph Vaz sets an example, even today:
– Exemplary priest: “He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved.”
– Transcending religious divisions: “His example continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka today. (The Church) gladly and generously serves all members of society. She makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion.”
– Missionary zeal: “I pray that, following the example of Saint Joseph Vaz, the Christians of this country may be confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society.”
He called on Christians in the country to take example from the new saint’s life and make a grater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in the society.