Vaz, Joseph, Bl.

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Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, apostle of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the country's first blessed; b. Benaulim, Province of Salcette, Goa, India, April 21, 1651; d. Kandy, Sri Lanka, January 16, 1711. Vaz, ordained in 1676, labored incessantly in his native Goa, although he desired to go to Ceylon where the Dutch denied religious freedom to Catholics. In 1681 he undertook a difficult missionary assignment in Kanara. He returned to Goa in 1685 convinced that the task in Ceylon could best be accomplished by a religious society. Toward that end Vaz associated himself with a group of priests that under his leadership formed an Oratory of St. Philip Neri.

In the spring of 1686, accompanied by a lay brother, Vaz arrived in Ceylon. Because of the persecution, he disguised himself as a beggar. Although hunted as a criminal and forced to endure many hardships, he ministered to souls there who had been without a priest for more than three decades. Eventually he won the confidence of the king of Kandy through the working of a miracle, and religious liberty was restored.

In 1697, fellow Oratorians joined him. Under his supervision the territory was geographically divided, each Oratorian being responsible for an assigned area. Through his efforts, more than 70,000 openly professed the faith in Ceylon. Because of his success ecclesiastical authorities wanted to heap honors upon him, but he managed to resist.

By the time he died, he was revered for holiness. He was buried in the church he built in Kandy, which has since been destroyed and the relics lost. A shrine in his honor was inaugurated in Mangalore, February 6, 2000. Vaz's cause for beatification was opened in Ceylon in 1737; the necessary miracle attributed to his intercession was approved July 6, 1993. Finally, Pope John Paul II beatified him, January 21, 1995, at Colomba, Sri Lanka. Bl. Joseph Vaz is the patron of Goa, India.

Feast: January 16.

Bibliography: p. courtenay, History of Ceylon, tr. m. g. francis, abridged translation (New Delhi 1999). c. gasbarri, A Saint for the New India (Allahabad 1961). s. g. perera, Life of the Venerable Father Joseph Vaz (Galle, Ceylon 1953); The Oratorian Mission in Ceylon (Colombo, Ceylon 1936). w. l. a. don peter, Star in the East (Colombo, Sri Lanka 1995). g. schurhammer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, first edition, 10:511.

[j. wahl/eds.]