Since his election in March 2013, Pope Francis has, of course, continued the millennia-old tradition of popes canonizing saints. However, he has broken with tradition by waiving the requisite second miracle for some of these holy women and men. As he observed in his recent flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines (on January 15), he specifically chose to move forward with the canonization of some of these saints because of their work as evangelizers. These specially chosen saints include the Counter-Reformation era Jesuit Peter Faber, the Brazilian missionary José de Anchieta, Ursuline Sister Marie of theIncarnation and the bishop François de Montmorency-Laval, who could be honored as the founders of the Catholic Church in Canada. Reflecting on these new saints, Pope Francis explained, “These are people who did a lot of evangelization and who are in line with the spirituality and theology of ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, that is the reason why I chose them.” The day before, on January 14, Pope Francis added another name to this unique list: Joseph Vaz, the “Apostle of Sri Lanka.”
Joseph was born in Goa, India, in 1651. The child of devout parents of a prominent family, he was eventually sent to study at the Jesuit College of St. Paul, in Goa, where he received degrees in both theology and philosophy. Ordained to the priesthood in 1676, he began living among the poor and acquired a reputation as a popular preacher and confessor. He soon opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians and began to feel drawn to serve as a missionary to the small underground Catholic community in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon).
Unable to receive the needed permission from his superiors, Joseph was sent to serve the small Christian community of India’s Canara region. Returning to Goa in 1685, he joined the Congregation of the Oratory (the “Oratorians”) and, finally, in 1686, he began his mission to the Catholics of Sri Lanka, then suffering persecution at the hands of the Dutch (Protestant) colonial authorities.
Father Vaz conducted a clandestine ministry, working in disguise as he traveled from village to village, preaching and celebrating Mass. After spending time in a colonial prison because of his missionary work, he was eventually joined by other Oratorian priests who built upon the strong foundation laid by Father Vaz.
Revered by Catholics and Protestants alike for his tireless works of charity, wisdom, and holiness, Joseph Vaz died at Kandy, Sri Lanka, on January 16, 1711. His commemoration is celebrated on January 16.
In his homily at the canonization of Saint Joseph Vaz, Pope Franics reminded us: “In Saint Joseph we see a powerful sign of God’s goodness and love for the people of Sri Lanka. But we also see in him a challenge to persevere in the paths of the Gospel, to grow in holiness ourselves, and to testify to the Gospel message of reconciliation to which he dedicated his life.” This challenge isn’t just the responsibility of select groups within the Church. Each of us is called to do our part to help make the message of God’s love known in our small corner of the world: within our relationships and families, in our schools and workplaces, and, of course, within our church communities. This week, pray for the grace to recognize opportunities to share the Good News of your faith and ask God to bless and protect those missionaries—like Saint Joseph Vaz—who have dedicated their lives to proclaiming the Gospel at home and abroad.
Thought for the Week: “Humanity is loved by God! This very simple yet profound proclamation is owed to humanity by the Church. Each Christian's words and life must make this proclamation resound: God loves you, Christ came for you, Christ is for you ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6)!”—Saint John Paul II in Christifedeles laici
A Prayer in Honor of Saint Joseph Vaz +O God, who gave increase to your Church through the zeal for religion and apostolic labors of Saint Joseph Vaz, grant, through his intercession, that she may always receive new growth in faith and in holiness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Pastors-for Missionaries )
Originally written for Mayslake Ministries and published on their website the week of January 18, 2015.