Category Archives: India

Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 10 – Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The First Church in Kandy

To keep John occupied, Joseph Vaz taught him enough Latin to recite the divine office intelligently with devotion. He also taught John all that was required to become a priest. He called his servant “my brother” and gave him his own surname “Vaz”.

Joseph Vaz wondered why he was still in prison. Was it because he was a priest or was it because there lurked in the mind of the King some suspicion of his being a Portuguese spy.

As the rigours of imprisonment waned, Joseph Vaz and John constructed a hut of cadjan, in a corner of the prison yard. They built an altar and Vaz put his crucifix on it. He without fear showed himself as a Catholic prostrated and venerated the Cross in public. Every evening he would pray the Rosary and sing the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No one interfered with his devotions.

On Christmas of 1692, he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at this Altar. The Dissawe, his guards and other prisoners kept at a respectful distance. When he found no objection from the Dissawe, he continued to offer Mass every morning from the following day onwards.

The small cadjan hut was the first Church in Kandy.

People started noticing what was going on in the small straw hut Church. Almost all the Catholics in Kandy had not seen a priest for over forty years after the death of Father Vergonse, the Jesuit priest. But none of them dared to approach the priest for the memory of the arrest of Antonio Sottomayor was alive in their minds.

Eventually, a Catholic, who embroidered rich clothing for the Kandyan nobles, worked out a plan. He made with great perfection embroidered a silk cloth with gold and presented it as a gift to King Vimaladharma Surya II. The king much pleased with the workmanship asked the artisan to name his price. The artisan threw himself at the feet of the king and said that he wanted no money, but begged the king to allow him to speak with the confined priest on matters related to his soul. Since the king now regarded Joseph Vaz as a devout priest and not a Portuguese spy, he readily gave permission to visit Joseph Vaz.

When other Catholics saw that the King was in a good frame of mind, they too approached him and obtained permission to visit the priest. The King moved by the piety of these Catholics gave permission to all the Catholics to visit the priest in his prison, whenever they liked.

Many Catholics visited Joseph Vaz in his prison and participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every morning. They also came for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and to baptize their children and grandchildren. Vaz also validated the marriages contracted without the presence of a priest. He instructed those who had no proper knowledge of the Christian faith.

Around September 1693, the king freed Joseph Vaz from the prison house. He was, however, prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga (river). The boatmen had orders not to carry him across the river.

Restricted freedom

Around September 1693, the king freed Joseph Vaz from the prison house. He was, however, prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga (river). The boatmen had orders not to carry him across the river.

Though forbidden, Joseph Vaz crossed the Mahaveli Ganga many times in secret to visit the scattered Catholics in remote regions.. On February 2, 1697 in a letter to the Prefect of his Oratory he wrote: “… Trusting in the help of the King of kings and His promises…”, he crossed the river eight times to administer the sacraments to the sick and dying Christians, living in remote places.

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Boatmen do not see Saint Joseph Vaz getting on to their boats to cross the Mahaveli Ganga (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)
Boatmen do not see Saint Joseph Vaz getting on to their boats to cross the Mahaveli Ganga (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)

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According to traditional legends the priest could do so because God made him invisible to the soldiers when he was passing through the gates, and also to the boatmen when he entered their boats.

In 1693, the Propaganda Fide asked Bishop Custodio Pinho, Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur to visit and report on the state of affairs of the Church in South India. Bishop Pinho described Joseph Vaz as a man “totally detached from the world”.

Using utmost prudence in his letter dated October 27, 1693, Joseph Vaz advised his Prefect of the Oratory in Goa, when writing letters, not to reveal to others his whereabouts. He also told the Prefect to send him the letters through the Jesuits of the Fishery Coast; to send them open to avoid suspicions and not to mention therein how he had received his letter, neither the place nor the date; not to write to him as to one whose permanent address was surely known, also not to give him any news of the Civil Government because “our work is only to be busy with the service of God and the salvation of souls”. So, to avoid all suspicions, he said, he was not writing to the Prelate nor to the Inquisitor in Goa.

After getting the restricted freedom to minister to the Catholics of the capital, people helped Joseph Vaz to build a simple thatch covered Church, which he dedicated to “Our Lady for the Conversion of the Faithful“. At the beginning, the Dissawe posted some of his men in the Church to keep an eye on the priest. Later, when the priest did not show the least disposition to escape from Kandy, he withdrew his men. However, the regular supply of King’s ration continued.

Joseph Vaz recommends John for Priesthood

On August 14, 1694, two years after leaving Puttalam, Joseph Vaz wrote to the Prefect of his Oratory. In a postscript to the letter, Vaz recommended John to the priesthood since he regarded all men as equal. He wrote:

“Although when he came here, Joao Vaz did not know to read and write, now that God has given him the ability, he reads and prays the divine office in my company”. Then he praises John for his knowledge of Latin, Portuguese (negredas), Tamil and Sinhalese languages. Naturally, John had picked them up in his seven years company of Blessed Joseph Vaz, especially in the prison. Then Blessed Vaz vouches for John thus: “Joao has the will to dedicate himself purely to the service of God as a priest to work for these Christians… he has no canonical impediment. Please ask one of the prelates vs.. the Archbishop of Goa (or any other) to ordain him. So that sent back to Sri Lanka he can work for the service of the missions… inform me if this is agreeable and I will send him to Goa. He has made the vow of poverty… his conduct is upright… and example for me… and as far as I know he will not commit a venial sin even though for this it be necessary
for him to die a thousand times.”

John Vaz thus became the first Gauda of Goa and the first Dalit tribal of India recommended to the priesthood.

Whenever Joseph Vaz faced any pastoral problem, he wrote them down and later sent letters to the Prefect of his Oratory and to Fr. Henry Dolu, a Jesuit in Pondicherry, asking them for guidelines.

When the Prefect of his Oratory asked him to come back to Goa, Vaz wrote that he would gladly obey his Superior as Christ, but with great prudence he made known to his Superior the risk involved if he should do so. He reminded his Superior that though he was free from prison, he was still prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga. So, he asked the Prefect for helpers from the Oratory.

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 Next → Part  11: The Miracle of Rain in Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 9 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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Imprisonment in the Kingdom of Kandy

Espionage was loathed in Kandy and foreigners  were not allowed to Espionage was loathed in Kandy and foreigners  were not allowed to enter the city without permission. If any foreigners did happen to enter in a dubious manner, they were not allowed to get out of the kingdom. They were imprisoned in the “Maha Hiragé” (“Great prison”) and were held there for four to six years.

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Robert Knox (1642-1720) of the East India Company, by P. Trampon
Robert Knox (1642-1720) of the East India Company, by P. TramponTramponTramponTrampon

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Robert Knox was an English sailor. His father, also named Robert Knox was a sea captain. In 1657, Oliver Cromwell issued a charter granting the East India Company a monopoly of the Eastern trade. Father and son joined the service of the Company. On January 21, 1658, when the younger Knox was almost 17 years old, both he and his father boarded the ship “Anne” that left London on trade missions to the East Indies.

After sailing for about a  year and nine months, the ship encountered stormy weather in the Bay of Bengal. The ship lost its mast. With torn sails, they put ashore near Kottiar Bay, the estuary of Mahaweli Ganga, in Trincomalee, on November 19, 1659. There, the officials of King Rajasinghe II impounded the ship. The two Knoxes and 16 crew members were taken to the capital as captives.

After sailing for about a year and nine months, the ship encountered stormy weather in the Bay of Bengal. The ship lost its mast. With torn sails, they put ashore near Kottiar Bay, the estuary of Mahaweli Ganga, in Trincomalee, on November 19, 1659. There, the officials of King Rajasinghe II impounded the ship. The two Knoxes and 16 crew members were taken to the capital as captives. Although the crew was forbidden from leaving the kingdom, they were treated fairly leniently.

At that time, tension prevailed between King Rajasinghe II and some of the European powers.

When the king heard of their arrival in the capital, he sent for them. Sadly, the elder Knox had inadvertently angered the king by not observing the expected formalities in the presence of the king. Later, while the elder Knox was resting under a tamarind tree the king’s men took him captive.

Most of  the sailors engaged themselves in knitting garments.  Others took on animal husbandry, breeding poultry, growing paddy, and even distilling arrack. Young Robert Knox became a lender like the Afghans of old in Ceylon. He did not lend money, instead he gave paddy with 50% interest charged on it.

Some sailors became the favourite boys of the king and were mobilized into his armed forces. Among them, a Richard Varhan was appointed commander of the king’s 970 soldiers’ regiment.

A few married local women and settled down in the country.

In due course, the two Knoxes were separated from the rest of the crew and were kept for some time in a village called Bandara Koswatte close to Wariyapola in the North Central Province. There, both were afflicted with malaria. Eventually, the father died in February 1661 after a long illness.

In 1679, Robert Knox and his only companion, Stephen Ruthland made their final escape through Anuradhapura. They trekked along the banks of Malwatu Oya, then Dutch territory.

On October 16,1679, after being captive for almost 20 years, Robert Knox and his companion reached the Dutch Fort at Arippu, situated about 10 miles (16 km) away from Mannar Island. From there they went to Mannar. From Mannar, they set sail for Batavia. Robert Knox reached London in September, 1680, when he was 40 years old.

In his book “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, in the East-Indies: together with an account of the Detaining in Captivity the author and divers other Englishmen now Living there, and of the author’s miraculous escape,” Robert Knox wrote that from 1658 to 1681 not less than thirty-four Englishmen had been placed under custody like he was held, in the Kingdom of Kandy.

 Joseph Vaz under “House-arrest”.

Robert Knox was held captive by King Rajasinghe II. Now it was his son, King Vimaladharmasurya II, who held Joseph Vaz, John and Antonio Sottomayor as prisoners.

King Vimaladharmasurya II was an educated, and a superior man. He had broader views than the Indian princes of his time. He dreaded the return of the Portuguese to Ceylon. He was in no way hostile to Catholics. He allowed a certain amount of freedom to the Catholics in his dominions to follow their faith.

Joseph Vaz and Antonio Sottomayor found that there was no way to appeal because even a claim for justice against the king’s order was considered high treason.

The guards would not permit them to move even four steps. No food was provided and they spent five days in extreme hunger. Then, out of pity, the guards gave each of them a handful of Finger Millet (Sinhalese: Kurokkan; Tamil: Kel-varaku) once a day.

The three prisoners were kept under strict observation as ordered by the king. After observing them for five days, the guards reported to the king that they found the priest meek and modest, and they could not conclude whether he was a spy or not.

A few days later the King came to see the prisoners. He spoke a long time with Joseph Vaz and went away quite convinced that Nauclairs de Lanerolle’s denunciation was groundless.

So, the King let Antonio Sottomayor free. He then ordered to remove the priest and his servant from the “Maha Hirage” and transferred to the custody of an official called “Dissawe“. Joseph Vaz was provided a comfortable lodging and was well cared for with food provided at the King’s expense. However, he was forbidden to go out of his lodging. It was like the modern day “house-arrest”.

Gradually, the rigours of captivity relaxed. Since the Dissawe and his guards found the priest and his servant to be harmless, they left them alone, and allowed them to walk freely within the jail premises.

What he could not achieve by preaching, he compensated by resorting to the ministry of charity. From the daily ration allotted to him, Vaz reserved for John and himself the bare minimum required for one meal a day and distributed the rest among the poor.

Joseph Vaz Learns Sinhalese

During his travel on the Coromandel Coast and his stay in Tuticorin and Jaffna, he had studied Tamil. Now he took pains to study the Sinhalese language to help him in his apostolic work. Since he already knew Tamil, he translated the Catechism books into Tamil and Sinhalese. He wrote the Stations of the Cross in the two languages. He also prepared a vocabulary in Sinhalese for the use of future missionaries.

They remained under house arrest for more than two years. By his exemplary life, he won the heart of King Vimaladharna Surya II and the Buddhist monks. The rigors of the imprisonment went on diminishing as the months passed.

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Next → Part  10: Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy

← Previous: Part  8: The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 8 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The Kingdom of Kandy

Located in the central and eastern part of the island, the Kingdom of Kandy known in Sinhalese as Mahanuwara Rajadhaniya, was an independent monarchy founded in the late 15th century. It was initially a dependent kingdom of the Kingdom of Kotte. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Kingdom of Kandy established itself as an independent monarchy. To ensure its survival the Kingdom at various times allied itself with the Jaffna Kingdom, the Madurai Nayak Dynasty of South India, Kingdom of Sitawaka, the Portuguese and finally the Dutch.

The capital of the Kingdom of Kandy has been known by various names. Some scholars suggest that the original name was Katubulu Nuwara. However, the more popular historical name officially is Senkadagala Siriwardhana Mahanuwara (meaning ‘the great city of Senkadagala of growing resplendence’).  This long name is generally shortened to ‘Mahanuwara‘ (meaning ‘Great City’ or ‘Capital’) or simply as “‘Nuwara‘.

The Sinhalese called the region “Kanda Uda Rata” (“the land on the mountain”) and “Kanda Uda Pas Rata” (“the five counties/countries on the mountain”). The Portuguese shortened this to ‘Candea‘ and used it as the name for both the kingdom and its capital. The English transformed the Portuguese word to ‘Kandy’.

The rugged terrain of the  kingdom of Kandy.
The rugged terrain of the kingdom of Kandy.

Through the thick jungles and the many mountains only a few paths led to the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy. Due to the mountainous terrain was easy to defend the few roads. The subjects of the kingdom kept these routes secret, and they were aware that revealing any paths to a foreigner was an offense punishable by death.

The mountains and the thick forests hindered commerce with neighbouring kingdoms and movement of goods to and from ports and harbours. But this encumbrance proved to be an invaluable asset in guaranteeing the safety of the Kingdom of Kandy from attacks by its neighbours and by the marauding foreign colonialists.

The English East India Company
First flag of the Honourable East India Company (1600 - 1707).
First flag of the Honourable East India Company (1600 – 1707).

The English were first of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. The English East India Company was founded in 1600 as The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. It gained a foothold in India in 1612 after the fourth Mughal Emperor Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir, granted it the rights to establish a factory or trading post, in the port of Surat on the western coast.

The Dutch East India Company
Flag of the Dutch East India Company (1602 - 1800)
Flag of the Dutch East India Company (1602 – 1800)

In 1602, the Dutch  established the Dutch East India Company or the United East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC).   The States-General of the Netherlands granted the chartered company a 21-year monopoly to carry out trade activities in Asia.

Flag of the French East India Company's coat of arms. The motto reads FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR ('I will flourish wherever I will be brought')
Flag of the French East India Company’s coat of arms. The motto reads FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR (‘I will flourish wherever I will be brought’)

France was the last of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. Six decades after founding the English and Dutch East India companies, and at a time when both companies were multiplying factories on the shores of India, the French still did not have a viable trading company or a single permanent establishment in the East.

In 1642, to revive commercial intercourse with the East, Cardinal Richelieu formed a new Company named “La Compagnie des Indes” for the sole purpose of trading in the Indies. Letters patent, dated June 24, 1642, accorded it privileges for 20 years. On December 4, 1642 Cardinal Richelieu died.

In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances, restructured the Company and designated it as La Compagnie française des Indes Orientales (The French East India Company) to compete with the English (later British) and Dutch East India companies in the East Indies. He sent an expedition to Madagascar, discovered by Marco Polo in 1298, and then forgotten.

In 1667, the French East India Company sent out another expedition, under the command of François Caron. The French reached Surat in 1668 and established the first French factory in India. In 1673, the French acquired the area of Pondicherry from the Kiladar of Valikondapuram under the Sultan of Bijapur and thus laid the foundation of Pondichéry.

The French in Ceylon

François Caron had spent 30 years working for the Dutch East India Company, including more than 20 years in Japan. He suggested to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances that set a firm foot in India, it was necessary to capture some land and hold it in absolute possession. The captured place he said should be unassailable by the natives. Then they could use it as a stronghold for commercial operations with the inhabitants of the mainland. For this purpose, like Albuquerque, he favoured the occupation of the island of Ceylon, then partly occupied by the Dutch. He also pointed out the commercial advantages which France would gain by participating in the spice trade.

The war between King Louis XIV and Holland served as a pretext for the French to attack the Dutch in India and to make an attempt to get for themselves a slice of the wrecked Portuguese Empire.

When Colbert approved Caron’s project, a fleet under the command of Admiral de la Haye, a man with a bad reputation who had quit high civil employment to gratify his passion for warlike operations, was placed at the disposal of Caron to carry out his design.

French Capture Trincomalee

On March 21, 1672, Admiral de la Haye appeared before Batticaloa with a squadron of 14 ships. Seeing Batticaloa Fort well defended, he did not stop there. After saluting the Dutch flag, which salute was returned from the fort, he set sail for Trincomalee.

Having cast anchor in the Bay of Kottyar, Admiral de la Haye landed his troops there because he knew that Trincomalee belonged to the King of Kandy and not to the Dutch.

Overjoyed at the news of the landing of the French, King Rajasinghe II, conceived the plan of an alliance with them to drive out the Dutch.

On March 25, 1672, three days after the French landed in the Bay of Kottyar, King sent a high dignitary of his Court to Trincomalee to welcome Admiral de la Haye and enter into friendly relations with him.

Admiral de La Haye returned the compliment by sending to Kandy three officers, Dorgeret, de La Garde and Fontaine. King Rajasinghe II received them cordially. During the audience, he placed on the neck of each a rich chain of gold and presented them with swords and muskets of the finest Kandyan workmanship. Two of the officers remained in Kandy, the third returned to Trincomalee, accompanied by an ambassador who had full power of concluding with de la Haye a treaty to expel the Dutch from Ceylon.

The King’s ambassador was closely followed by a messenger bearing a Charter by which King Rajasinghe II gifted the Bay of Kottyar and of the surrounding territories to the French.

On May 17, 1672 they planted the French flag both at Kottyar and in Trincomalee taking possession of those places in the name of Louis XIV King of France and of Navarre.

Just when the French finished landing the guns necessary to defend the fortress, a Dutch fleet of 14 vessels under Commodore Rylackoffe van Goens, came in sight. The Dutch officer asked the French to evacuate Ceylon. Admiral de La Haye refused and prepared to defend Trincomalee and Kottyar, and he waited for  King Rajasinghe’s army to arrive to help him fight the Dutch. Thus, three weeks passed.

Meanwhile, the position of the French admiral was becoming more and more difficult. He did not have enough troops. Four hundred soldiers and sailors had become invalids. From some skirmishes with the Dutch, the admiral had already seen how little he could rely on the badly armed Kandyan troops.

The Dutch received reinforcements from Colombo. , Under these circumstances the French admiral deemed it more prudent to give up the contest, at least for the time being.

When the King requested Admiral de la Haye to remain in Ceylon, he replied that he would return soon with a larger army and in the meantime he was sending to Kandy, Monsieur de Laisne Nauclairs de Lanerolle who would stay at the King’s Court as ambassador of King Louis XIV, the King of France.

Admiral de la Haye weighed anchor on July 9, 1672, and the Dutch fleet positioned in battle order, saluted the French flag. Admiral de la Haye set sail for Mylapore, then known as St Thomé or San Thome, on the Coromandel coast. He left behind a few soldiers to guard the garrison at Trincomalee. The French soldiers who had been left behind, had no other alternative than to cede Trincomalee and the garrison to the Dutch fleet.

Monsieur de Laisne Nauclairs de Lanerolle

Nauclairs de Lanerolle was a worthless person. He was a Huguenot, a rabid protestantprotestant

Lanerolle’s conduct from the very beginning clearly showed that he had been ill-chosen to represent the interests of France in the Kingdom of Kandy. He made himself obnoxious to all by his stupid vanity.

It was the custom in Kandy that no one could pass in front of the royal palace except on foot. There was certainly nothing disparaging in it, a simple show of respect to the King. Lanerolle and his suite had to pass through that street to reach the quarters, which the King had allotted for him and his men. When asked, Lanerolle refused to dismount. Uttering profanity he rode under the balcony of the King’s apartment. The rascal had forgotten that the French fleet was no longer in Trincomalee and that he was  at the absolute mercy of the King of Kandy. The King was much embittered by the Frenchman’s attitude, but pretended to ignore his bravado.

A few days later, Lanerolle and his men arrived at the palace. The Court dignitaries received them. It was the custom that every foreign envoy should await the royal audience for two hours.

Even though Lanerolle knew of this strange etiquette, yet after a few minutes expressed his surprise that the King did not appear. After having waited for about fifteen minutes, he exclaimed that it was an insult to leave him waiting so long, and left the hall. All the entreaties from the gentlemen of his suite had no effect. Some officials of the Court, wishing to avoid a scandal, tried to stop him. But when the vain Frenchman drew his sword, they let him go, and he returned to his quarters without having seen the King.

The King felt much offended, ordered Lanerolle to be seized and flogged until he fainted. After the flogging was over, Lanerolle and his men were put in chains and cast into prison.

The gentlemen of Lanerolle’s suite managed to explain that they did not approve the conduct of their Ambassador. They said that they had done all they could to prevent this stupid conduct of their Chief. When the Court officials corroborated to this fact, they were set free of the chains, but Lanerolle had to spend six months in prison in chains. After that, there was no more chance of their return to France, and they were kept prisoners in Kandy.

They were supposed to be maintained at the King’s expense, but in reality they were so neglected that in order not to starve, they distilled arrack and sold it to the natives. They bitterly reproached to Lanerolle to have been the cause of their distress, and scandalous quarrels arose among them.distilled arrack and sold it to the natives. They bitterly reproached to Lanerolle to have been the cause of their distress, and scandalous quarrels arose among them.

Such was the state of things when Robert Knox came to Kandy.

Nauclairs de Lanerolle, remained in Kandy. He married and settled there and later gained some influence at the King’s Court. He tried to influence some Catholics to embrace Calvinism, among them being the family of the relative of Antonio Sottomayor who had befriended Joseph Vaz.

Joseph Vaz arrested at Weuda

Joseph Vaz hoped to make Maha Nuwara, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy, the centre of his future missionary activities.

In August 1692 after his apostolate of one year and nine months in the Puttalam area, Joseph Vaz along with his servant John and his new acquaintance Antonio Sottomayor left for Maha Nuwara, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy, ruled by King Vimaladharmasurya II, who had succeeded his father, King Rajasinghe II.

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Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda
Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda

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The distance between Puttalam and Kandy is about 82 miles (132 km). On their way, they had to pass through the village named Weuda situated 18 miles from Kandy. Weuda was an important check-post before entering the capital. In this village, Antonio Sottomayor had a house and was staying there with his family. It took them about eight days to walk from Puttalam to Weuda.

Leaving Joseph Vaz and John with his family, Sottomayor went to Kandy to get the visa for the priest to enter the city. Meanwhile, Vaz started preaching to Sottomayor’s family and their neighbors.

Antonio Sottomayor was not aware that  Nauclairs de Lanerolle had converted his relative to Calvinism. As soon as the French Huguenot, learned that Sottomayor wanted to bring a Catholic priest into Kandy he went to the King’s court. He told the king that Antonio Sottomayor was trying to help a Portuguese spy to enter Kandy in the garb of a Priest.

The king directed his soldiers to arrest Sottomayor first and then go to Weuda and bring the priest and his servant staying in his house.

Joseph Vaz and John bound in chains were taken to the Capital by the king’s soldiers. Charged as Portuguese spies, they were incarcerated along with Sottomayor in the “Maha Hiragé” (“Great prison”).

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Next → Part  9:   The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy

← Previous: Part  7 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 7 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leaving behind his home, his family, the comfort of his familiar surroundings, he responded to the call to go forth, to speak of Christ wherever he was led. Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility. This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today.
– Pope Francis in his homily at the canonization of Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s first saint on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The kingdom of Kandy comprised the interior of the island of Sri Lanka. The Dutch occupied the western coastal region with three administrative command posts in Jaffnapattinam, Colombo and Galle.

In the northeast, the island had two harbours, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, which the Dutch occupied on behalf of the king of Kandy. In fact, the king did not want the presence of the Dutch there. Nevertheless, the Dutch manned the two harbour towns to prevent any other foreign nation communicating with the king.

Puttalam was the only commercial harbour on the island that was free from Dutch control. It was under the direct control of the king of Kandy. Yet, Puttalam was constantly a bone of contention between the kingdom of Kandy and the Dutch colonialists.

In Puttalam too, Joseph Vaz had no problem of communication with the local people because most of them were conversant in Portuguese Creole.

Ceylon Portuguese Creole

When the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in the early 16th century and conquered the coastal area they used a pidginized version of Portuguese – the Ceylon Portuguese Creole, for communication with the natives. By the early 17th Century, the Ceylon Portuguese Creole was in use in the Portuguese controlled littoral. It was also known in the kingdom of Kandy.

Due to the dearth of women, the Portuguese soldiers took Tamil and Sinhalese women as wives. From this union, sprang the “Portuguese Burgher” population of Sri Lanka, which soon adopted the Portuguese Pidgin as their language, which eventually Creolized. When the Dutch evicted the Portuguese in the 17th century, history repeated. The Dutch soldiers took local wives. In contrast to the time of the Portuguese, there was a semi-European nubile population available on the island, and the Dutch mainly married Portuguese Burgher women. This kind of union formed the base for the “Dutch Burgher” community.

The Dutch continued to use Creole Portuguese so that this language continued to thrive until well into the British period, which started in 1798. During the British period, Creole Portuguese was still used by the Wesleyan missionaries, who also produced some literature in the language, but it started to decline when the community switched to English or emigrated to Australia and South Africa.

Catholics in Puttalam

There were a little over one thousand Catholics in the town of Puttalam and in the villages surrounding the harbour. There was a Church constructed by the Portuguese Jesuits. The Catholics of the Puttalam region had been deprived of priests and the sacraments for almost fifty years  from the time the fort at Negombo fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640.

In Puttalam, most of the Catholics had received baptism, but had not participated in the holy sacrifice of the Mass at any time in their life. So, they welcomed Joseph Vaz in their midst.

Unlike Jaffna, in Puttalam Joseph Vaz administered the sacraments openly without fear.  The Catholics of the surrounding villages too profited spiritually by his presence in Puttalam.

On August 15, 1690 Vaz wrote a letter to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa about his ministry in Putalam.

Joseph Vaz often visited the villages of the Kalpitiya peninsula, which consists of 14 serenely beautiful islands. Most of the people of Kalpitiya are fishermen.

He also visited the interior villages in the district of Puttalam, inhabited by Mukkuvars and Paravars such as Manattivu, Tetapola, Manpuri.

A village called Maha Galgamuwa

On the banks of the Maha Galgamuwa tank, about 37 miles (60 km) from Puttalam via Miyellewa, was a Catholic settlement. In 1667, when the Dutch captured the coastal belt of Kalpitiya, the Catholics there feared persecution and decided to seek a place of safety to practice their faith. King Rajasinghe II of Kandy provided the freedom of worship to Catholics in his kingdom. Some Catholics from Kalpitiya, belonging to the ‘Mukkuwa‘ Community and spoke Tamil, left their villages and homes, and settled down in a small jungle area in Maha Galgamuwa close to the tank which came under the protection of the King of Kandy. The place they settled down in Maha Galgamu, is now known as Joseph-Vaz-Puram in Tamil and Juse Vaz Pura in Sinhalese. Their kinsmen still live in Puttalam and the Kalpitiya peninsula.

Route from Puttalam to Galgamuwa (Google maps)
Route from Puttalam to Galgamuwa (Google maps)

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The settlers constructed a church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua.

Joseph Vaz often visited this vibrant Catholic community in Maha Galgamuwa. On one occasion, the villagers complained to him about their lives and crops threatened by wild animals, especially the wild elephants and lived in constant fear of snakes. So, Vaz blessed a wooden cross made of two unpolished pieces of ebony wedged together and planted it at the entrance to the village to safeguard the village from wild elephants and venomous snakes.

The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Maha Galgamuwa

The inhabitants Maha Galgamuwa today are mostly Catholic. There is a large,  400-years-old Palu tree at the Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa. According to the locals, it is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers. Now, this ancient Palu tree, supported by concrete columns, is under the protection of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

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The Palu tree at Maha Galgamuwa. It is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers.  (Source: ceylontoday.lk)
The Palu tree at Maha Galgamuwa. It is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers. (Source: ceylontoday.lk)

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The locals consider the ground under the shade of the Palu tree sacred. Also, they believe that those bitten by snakes survive after drinking water mixed with the sand. The villagers also use the sand in their homes as protection against wild animals. The elephants still come to the village at night, wading along the banks of the Maha Galgamuwa tank, but they do not harm the village.

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A video grab of the Cross planted by Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa .
A video grab of the Cross planted by Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa .

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The villagers have treasured the cross up to this day. Sadly, the candles lit to it by the faithful over the centuries have partly burnt the cross. Now the cross is enshrined in an altar beside the Palu tree.

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The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)
The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)

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The shrine also has a separate altar for the wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India. It is enshrined between life-size statues Saint Joseph Vaz and Saint Francis Xavier.

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The wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India, presently placed at Galgamuwa Church, in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)
The wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India, presently placed at Galgamuwa Church, in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)

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The Catholics of the Kurunegala diocese celebrate the Annual Feast of Blessed Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa Shrine on a grand scale.

Joseph Vaz visits the villages of Sath Korales

In 1597, after taking over the Kotte kingdom, the Portuguese divided the regions under their rule into four administrative divisions: Matara, Sabaragamuwa, sathara korale and sath korale.

Joseph Vaz had contact with the villages of Sath Korale, the seven districts lying between the coast of Puttalam and Kammala where the command of Colombo commenced. There were more Catholics in these villages than in Puttalam, but they were without a priest after the fall of Negombo into the hands of the Dutch in 1640.

Ten years later, around 1650, two Jesuits, tried to help the Catholics in secret from Jaffna. But the Dutch apprehended them. One of the priests fled and the other was imprisoned. The Dutch then passed strong legislation banishing all Catholic priests, especially the Jesuits from entering the island.

Joseph Vaz was the first priest to have contacted these Catholics after 40 years. He understood their sad plight and furtively administered the sacraments.

Joseph Vaz visits Madhu
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka.  (Source: Lakpura Travels)
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka. (Source: Lakpura Travels)

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During the first half of the 16th century, the Portuguese missionaries from India, especially under the authority of Saint Francis Xavier brought Roman Catholicism to the Kingdom of Jaffna. Catholicism soon spread southward in the coastal regions.

Manthai, historically known as Maanthottam in Tamil (“Garden of the Deer”) is a coastal town in the Mannar district of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is about 9 miles (14 km) from Mannar. In the ancient days, there was a harbour in Manthai, but it is now buried in the sand.

Madhu, then a small hamlet, in the Mannar district is 18 miles (29 km) from Manthai as the crow flies.

In 1670, to escape the persecution of the Catholics by the Dutch, 20 families from Manthai came over to Madhu. They brought along with them the statue of Mary installed in their church. About the same time, around 700 Catholics migrated from Jaffna peninsula into the Wanni forests. After these two communities met in the jungles, they built a shrine in the forest for Mary’s statue.

In the late 17th century, Joseph Vaz, and later the Oratorian priests who came from Goa expanded the small shrine in the forest into a Church.

In a corner, inside the present Madhu Church is a pit containing the blessed soil of Madhu, known in Tamil as “Madu mannmann” (Tamil: மடு மண்) which the faithful take home. It is believed that applying the soil on the affected areas of the body will cure the maladies of the afflicted. It is held that when Joseph Vaz arrived first came to that location he planted a cross about 100 metres away from the church and blessed the soil. The place is known in Tamil as metres away from the church and blessed the soil. The place is known in Tamil as Siluvai Sumantha Veli (Tamil: சிலுவை சுமந்த வெளி)  and it is from here that the soil is taken and placed in the pit.

Joseph Vaz leaves Puttalam for Kandy

In 1687, Pascoal da Costa Jeremias to whom Joseph Vaz relinquished his duties of Superior of the Goan Oratory died. Father Custodio Leitão took charge as the new Superior.

Many businessmen from the Kingdom of Kandy frequented the Puttalam port. A Catholic businessman of Portuguese descent named Antonio Sottomayor, met Joseph Vaz. He said that there were many Catholics in the Kingdom of Kandy and they wanted a priest to minister to them. Sottomayor further said that he had a relative in the court of Kandy and through his influence he could obtain the necessary permission for Vaz to enter the Kingdom.

At that time, Joseph Vaz met a Portuguese priest named João de Braganza. He had entered Puttalam directly from India and was ministering to the Mukkuva community in and around Puttalam. Vaz consulted Braganza about going to Kandy. He wanted Braganza to explore the possibilities of securing an entry into Kandy for him. When Braganza showed interest on going himself to the Kingdom of Kandy, Vaz gave in to his wishes. Unfortunately, Braganza fell ill and returned to Goa.

After Braganza’s departure, Vaz wrote a letter on August 15, 1690 to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa asking him whether he should continue his apostolate in Ceylon or return to Goa. In that letter, he mentioned Father Braganza:

“… in case any letter or order is to be sent, it should be done in a way Fr. Joao de Braganza will tell and he will give other particulars of this mission”.

In 1691, after four years of missionary work Joseph Vaz was almost captured by the Dutch. He decided to go to Kandy to avoid the vigilant Dutch from Colombo and to take refuge there.

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Next → Part  8:  The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy

← Previous: Part 6:  The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Blessed Joseph Vaz was our beloved Apostle. In many ways, he was a pioneer in the history of our country and the Christian faith. In fact, after Dutch persecution, which lasted 150 years, there would be no priest on the island without him.
– Bishop Vianny Fernando, President of National Joseph Vaz Secretariat.

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Entrance of Jaffna Fort built in 1618, by Portuguese Philip de Olivera (Photo: thehistoryhub.com)
Entrance of Jaffna Fort built in 1618, by Portuguese Philip de Olivera (Photo: thehistoryhub.com)

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In 1591, André Furtado de Mendonça led the second Portuguese expedition to the Jaffna kingdom. The capital of the Jaffna Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom of the Aryacakravarti was Nallur. During that expedition, the King of Jaffna, Puviraja Pandaram (Tamil: புவிராஜ பண்டாரம்) was killed.

The Portuguese then installed the dead king’s son Ethirmanna Cinkam (Tamil: எதிர்மன்னசிங்கம்) as the King of the Jaffna kingdom. This arrangement gave the Catholic missionaries freedom to propagate the Christian faith. However, the incumbent king, resisted the missionary activities. In 1595, the King of Portugal ordered to remove him from the throne. But colonial authorities in Goa did not oblige as Ethirimanna Cinkam was not overly disruptive to their colonial interests.

In 1617, Cankili II (Tamil: சங்கிலி குமாரன்) a tyrant, came to the throne after a bloody massacre of the royal princess and the regent Arasakesari. The Portuguese colonists in Colombo rejected his regency. He then invited military forces from Thanjavur Nayaks and Malabari Corsairs to help him fight the Portuguese.

In 1618, Phillippe de Oliveira built the Portuguese Fort in Jaffna.

Phillipe de Oliveira moved the center of political and military control from Nallur to Jaffnapatao (Jaffnapattinam).

The subsequent rule by the Portuguese deployed forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism. Most people fled the core areas of the former Jaffna kingdom due to excessive taxation.forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism.

After a three-month siege, the Portuguese lost their last stronghold in Ceylon, Fort of Our Lady of Miracles (Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres de Jafanapatão) to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) on June 24, 1658 . With the fall of Fort at Jaffnapattinam, the Dutch took Portuguese as prisoners of war and expelled all Portuguese from Ceylon.

Joseph Vaz in Jaffnapattinam

Joseph Vaz presumed that like in Mannar, there ought to be Catholics in  Jaffnapattinam too. Cured of dysentery, Vaz wanted to find the Catholics in  Jaffnapattinam and begin his mission. So, he wore a rosary around his neck and started begging for food, all the while observing and studying the reactions of the natives. He was fully aware that if the Dutch or any native Calvinist knew that he was a Catholic he would be subjected to ill-treatment, and death would soon follow.

Dom Pedro of  Jaffnapattinam

One family in particular treated him well and he guessed that they were Christians. One day he asked the head of that family, whether he would like to see a priest and receive the sacraments. The man froze. The next time Vaz went to beg at that house, the man took him to the house one of his friends, a young man named Dom Pedro.

Dom Pedro belonged to the Tamil Vellalar caste, a dominant group of agricultural landlords who migrated from the neighbouring Southern Tamil kingdoms in India since the 13th century. He was rich and his family members, all Catholics, were held in esteem by the Tamils of Jaffna.

In the hope of getting an appointment to a high Government position under the Dutch, he had renounced the Catholic Faith and had become a Calvinist. However, a few years later, Emmanuel de Silva, an old friend of his father, made him realize the enormity of his defection from the Catholic faith. Troubled by his apostasy, Dom Pedro disavowed Calvinism. He did severe penance and reconciled with the Catholic Church.

Joseph Vaz then understood through his friend that though Dom Pedro was on good terms with the Dutch, he was, in fact, a fervent Catholic, but behaved as if he were not, to hoodwink the Dutch.

After the preliminary introductions, Vaz revealed his identity to them. He showed his credentials as Vicar Forane of Kanara, which he had conscientiously brought with him.

The apostleship of Joseph Vaz began that night when he celebrated the first Mass in Jaffna. The Catholics were happy because for more than 30 years they did not have the privilege to attend Mass. The young members of the community had never seen a priest. They had been baptized and instructed in the Catholic Faith by their parents.

From then on the Catholics of Jaffnapattinam met in Dom Pedro’s house in secret for some time. Dom Pedro and his friends told Vaz that  Jaffnapattinam being the headquarters of the Dutch command in the north of Ceylon, it was dangerous for him to remain there. They advised him to go to Sillalai, a hamlet ten miles away from Jaffna.

Joseph Vaz in  Sillalai

Rich in vegetation, and surrounded by paddy fields in the North and West and villages in the South and East, Sillalai got its name from a ‘small oil mill’ (Tamil: ‘siria aalai‘) in the area which extracted oil from gingelly seeds, margosa (neem) seeds and the seed of the honey tree or butter tree (ill upai). Over time, ‘siria aalai‘ became Sillalai.

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Kathirai Matha of Sillalai, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.
Kathirai Matha of Sillalai, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.

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The villagers (even now), venerated the statue of ‘Kathirai Matha‘ (‘Chair Mother’) – a rare depiction of Mother Mary seated on a chair holding baby Jesus on her lap. The Portuguese who landed at the small port of Sambil, about three to four kilometres west of Sillalai brought the statue to the hamlet.

The villagers took great pains to protect the statue from the Dutch. They moved it from place to place and hid it in deep wells and abandoned huts.

As advised Vaz went to Sillalai. The Moopar (local catechist) provided a walled house for Vaz and John. The villagers built a hut nearby and Vaz used it as the church. From then on, Sillalai became the headquarters of his apostleship. From Sillalai, he visited Jaffnapattinam and the surrounding villages. Wherever he went, the Catholics hid him in their houses.

To avoid suspicion, he performed his apostolate at night with small groups of Catholics in attendance. He would walk from Sillalai to Jaffnapattinam at night to avoid the Dutch.

In Sillalai, if anyone gave him any gift or money he would send that person to his host, the Moopar. He distributed the entire collection of money among the poor.

The “sammanasu swamy”

Joseph Vaz lived a simple life. He always ate sitting on the ground with rice served on a banana leaf. He slept on a grass or bamboo mat spread on the floor. His life of poverty can be summarized in his own words from a letter written to his nephew:

“Be content with what you are provided in the Community; be it in the refectory, or in the infirmary or in the wardrobe or in the cubicle, do not desire anything more by any other means, take the things assigned to you as the best in these places.”

Joseph Vaz a model of chastity. He was a modest, well composed, grave, cautious and reserved person. In the confessional, his eyes were always low and would never raise them to stare at the ladies confessing to him. In a letter to his nephew, Joseph Vaz wrote:

“Grid us Lord with the girdle of purity and extinguish in our loins the fire of lust, so that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in us”.

The people admired Joseph Vaz. Because of his virtues they called him “sammanasu swami” (Tamil: “சம்மனசு சுவாமி”) meaning the “angelic priest”.

Guided by the catechist, Joseph Vaz traveled throughout the Jaffna peninsula. He found the task of caring for the flock, was a bit burdensome for one priest. On December 14, 1688, Vaz wrote his first letter from Ceylon to the Provost of the Oratory requesting him to send a helper.

At that time, Laurens van Pyl was the Governor of Dutch Ceylon. The Dutch commander of Jaffna region was forcing the people to follow Calvinism. He was annoyed to note many people believed to be apostates of the Catholic Church and enjoyed the favours of the Dutch authorities were no longer frequenting the Calvinist Kirk. Dom Pedro, in particular, was one such person.

The Commander imputed the change in the Catholics of the Jaffna peninsula to the Jesuits of Manapad in South India, who, he believed, had succeeded in coming over to Ceylon in secret.

The Dutch arrested many people they believed to be Catholics. He tortured them to denounce the person or the Jesuit priests responsible for bringing about this situation. The Commander then announced a reward for the head of the Catholic priests. But the faithful Catholics watched over Joseph Vaz.

On Christmas night of 1689, Dutch soldiers surrounded the house where the congregation was celebrating the midnight liturgy with Joseph Vaz administering the sacraments. On entering the house, the soldiers arrested those inside. They desecrated the sacred images and divested the women of their clothes. They rounded up around 300 Catholics that night in and around the neighbourhood. But to their dismay, the priest was not among the prisoners. The soldiers wondered how he could have escaped.

In 1690, Father Andre Freyre, the Jesuit Provincial of Malabar, gave an account of this incident in a letter he wrote from Manapad to Dom Miguel de Almeida, the Portuguese Governor of Goa. He wrote:

“Fr. Joseph Vaz, a Brahmin, who was sent from Goa to take charge of the Christians at Jaffna, discharges his duties with such devotion, that all consider him a saint. He not only looks after the natives but after the Europeans too. Although the heretics search everywhere for him, they can never come upon him, for, like another Proteus, he escapes them under a variety of disguise.”

In the morning, all the arrested people were brought before the Commander of Jaffnapattinam. He let off the women and children. He retained eight rich and influential men, including Dom Pedro and Emmanuel de Silva. He let the others go after imposing heavy fines.

The Commander ordered them to abjure the Catholic Faith or face death. All said that they were ready to die for their faith. Thinking that the sight of torture would denounce their Faith. the Commander ordered Dom Pedro, the youngest among the eight, to be beaten with rods, until he should abjure Catholicism or die under the blows. Dom Pedro bore the torture unflinchingly. When the young man lost consciousness, the Commander ordered his bloody body to be thrown into prison with the other seven. When Dom Pedro regained consciousness, he beseeched his companions to persevere in their Faith with courage, and then died peacefully.

The Commander, then confiscated the properties of Emmanuel de Silva and the six others and condemned them to hard labour for life.

The Commander, then confiscated the properties of Emmanuel de Silva and the six others and condemned them to hard labour for life. He sent them to a fortress, which the Dutch were then restructuring, as labourers. None of them even thought of escaping this torture by renouncing the Faith. Eventually, they all died martyrs. The martyrdom of Dom Pedro and of his seven companions was the most glorious fruit of the apostolate of Joseph Vaz at Jaffna.

Joseph Vaz fled Jaffnapattinam and went deep into the jungle to escape from the Dutch. He crossed to Vanni, the mainland area of Northern Sri Lanka. From there, he reached Puttalam, then, a part of the Kandy kingdom, ruled by King Vimaladharma Surya II, who had ascended the throne in 1687, the same year that Joseph Vaz had entered Ceylon. He was the son of King Rajasimha II (1635  – 1687).

With the help of some Catholics, he continued his apostolate in Puttalam.

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Next → Part  7  – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam

← Previous: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Map - Goa to Jaffna
Map – Goa to Jaffna

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In March 1686, Joseph Vaz left Goa secretly and set out on foot to go to Ceylon without informing anyone. However, he obtained the blessings of his Prefect and the Cathedral Chapter of Goa.

Father Paulo de Souza, Brother Stephen, accompanied Joseph Vaz along with his loyal domestic servant John.

They traveled to Tellichery where people told them that the Dutch were ever vigilant and might deem Father de Souza to be a European because of his fair complexion. Moreover, Vaz noted that it would not be possible for them to land in Ceylon as a group without arousing suspicion. So, Vaz sent his two companions, Father Paulo de Souza and Brother Stephen back to Kanara.

Vaz proceeded to Cochin (now Kochi) with his servant John carrying a bag that contained sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass.

From Cochin, they traveled on a Moorish ship to Quilon (now Kollam). The ruthless captain of the ship demanded more as fare. Since they had no more money to pay the extra sum, the captain started scolding them. With great patience, they bore the affronts and the insults. The captain then seized their only possession – the bag containing the sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass. A Christian from Quilon was about to help him, but the Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was there  paid their fare.

In the 17th century, the Portuguese maintained their power in Kerala with their settlements and trade centers. They concentrated mainly on the port towns of Cochin, Calicut, Cannanore, and Quilon. In 1663 due to the Dutch Invasion Portuguese Empire declined. The Jesuits in Kerala transposed their Vaippicotta Seminary to Ambazhakad (Sambalur). The Jesuits started a house of Jesuits, Vidyapeeth (St. Pauls’ College) and a seminary for Christians of St. Thomas.

When Joseph Vaz and John reached the Jesuit College, the Jesuit priests received them cordially. They advised Vaz that if he wanted to enter Ceylon he should put aside his torn, threadbare soutane, and dress like a “coolie”. The Jesuits offered them coarse loincloth like the ones used by the slaves of the Dutch. Vaz humbly accepted their advice and the loincloth.

After reaching the Coromandel Coast, Vaz studied the Tamil language assiduously for that was the language spoken in the Northern part of the Island of Ceylon.

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View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672.  'Tutecoryn' by Philip Baldaeus, from 'Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon', Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)
View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672. ‘Tutecoryn’ by Philip Baldaeus, from ‘Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon’, Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)

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By the end of March 1687, Joseph Vaz and John reached the Coromandel Coastal town of Tuticorin captured by the Dutch in 1658. The harbour in Tuticorin was even then well known as a pearl diving and fishing centre of the Paravar community.

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'Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni' from 'La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.', published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)
‘Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni’ from ‘La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.’, published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)

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The Paravars used the thoni, one of the oldest known indigenous country sea vessels for pearl fishing. The thoni was also used to transport goods and people between India and Ceylon in the Palk Strait. So, Vaz envisaged to board a thoni from Tuticorin to go to Ceylon. But, the town of Tuticorin and the harbour were under the control of the Dutch.

In Tuticorin, Vaz met a Jesuit priest who had been his companion in the College of St. Paul in Goa. On knowing the reason for Vaz’s disguise as a coolie and to maintain the camouflage, the Jesuit priest treated Vaz like a bondservant. Whenever Vaz ventured out he went about disguised as a mendicant.

A hawk-eyed Dutch officer in charge of the harbour area suspected the furtive ways of Vaz. He presumed that, Vaz in disguise, was waiting for the opportunity to travel to Ceylon by sea. He ordered his subordinates, not to allow anyone to embark for Ceylon without his permission. However, the Dutch officer died shortly. The new officer who took charge, not knowing the reason for the order given by his predecessor allowed Joseph Vaz and John to board a thoni that set sail to Ceylon.

The thoni met with a storm and drifted away from the normal course. After several days of drifting, the vessel reached the island of Mannar. Joseph Vaz, John and the others on the vessel were reduced to skeletons for want of food.

There were many Catholics in Mannar, but Joseph Vaz was not aware of this fact. He and John begged to sustain themselves.

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Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)
Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)

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Two months later, Joseph Vaz and John were taken in a kattumaram (catamaran)  by local fishermen to the town of Jaffna, located at the Northern tip of Ceylon.

When Joseph Vaz and John landed in Jaffna, they were famished and almost half dead. Since they needed food and a place to rest, they knocked on many doors, but were chased away by almost all the Tamil households there.  Finally, a woman allowed them to spend the night in a dilapidated hut near her house.

As a result of fatigue, hunger and thirst, Joseph Vaz suffered from an acute form of dysentery. As dysentery often led to epidemics and death at that time, any form of dysentery was much dreaded by the people both in India and Ceylon. When the neighbours saw that Vaz was not even able to walk, they carried him on a litter to the nearby forest. They left the ailing man there exposed to the intemperate weather and to the mercy of the wild animals.

John looked after his master, day and night. During the day, he went to the town and begged for food to feed the sick man. Eventually, John too contracted the disease.

Without any other alternative left for them, they prayed to God and awaited death.

Their faith was rewarded in the form of a lady who had come to the forest to gather firewood. Out of pity, she supplied them daily a bowl of kanji (broth). After some days, thanks to the kind-hearted woman, their health was restored.

However, Joseph Vaz knew that greater trials and tribulations were in store for him on the island.

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Next → Part  6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

← Previous: Part 4: Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 4 – Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Early handcoloured woodcut 1513 map of Ceylon from M. Waldseemuller (Source: vintage-maps.com)
Early handcoloured woodcut 1513 map of Ceylon from M. Waldseemuller (Source: vintage-maps.com)
Portuguese Ceylon

Early in November 1505, Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first viceroy of Portuguese India sent his son Dom Lourenço de Almeida with a fleet of nine vessels to attack the Moorish spice ships making for the Red Sea by way of the Maldives. Adverse winds drove Dom Lourenço’s fleet to the coast of Ceylon in the neighbourhood of Galle. After replenishing their stock of water and fuel, they set sail for  Colombo.neighbourhood of Galle. After replenishing their stock of water and fuel, they set sail for  Colombo.

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Flag of the Kingdom of Kotte (Source: Pheonixter/wikipedia.org)
Flag of the Kingdom of Kotte (Source: Pheonixter/wikipedia.org)

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The identity of the ruler in power in Kotte at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese has been a matter of dispute for some time. The accepted theory propounded by historians S.G. Perera and H.W. Codrington was that the ruler of Kotte at the turn of the 16th century was Vira Parakramabahu VIII.

In 1961, Senerat Paranavitana using evidence from the Sinhala chronicle, the Rajavaliya, a reinterpretation of a Sinhala inscription (the Kelani Vihara Inscription, of 509), and evidence from Portuguese sources made a strong argument that the ruler was not Vira Parakramabahu VIII but Dharma Parakramabahu IX and fixed his reign from 1491 to 1513.

G.P.V. Somaratne in his 1975 monograph accepted this conclusion, though he concluded that Dharma Parakramabahu IX ruled from 1489 to 1513. Most scholars have accepted this theory.

So, in 1505, Dharma Parakramabahu IX was the King of Kotte. He succeeded his father Parakramabahu VIII as king of Kotte.

The arrival of the Portuguese flotilla was reported to the King’s Court in Kotte and it was decided to receive them amicably. A message was sent demanding of the strangers what they desired at the King’s port. Lourenço sent back a reply that he was a merchant, a servant of the King of Portugal, driven out of his course to Ceylon, and that he would be glad to open a friendly trade.

The King directed the Portuguese to send a representative to discuss matters with him. An officer named Fernão Cotrim appointed as a Factor set out with a native escort. The natives did not want the foreigners to know that their Capital was mere two hours’ journey from the sea. So, the escort took Fernão on a circuitous route. They travelled for three days crossing hills and fording many streams.  “As the ‘Parangi’ went to Kotte” is the Sinhalese proverb that is still used in Sri Lanka preserving the memory of this ruse.

Fernão explained to the King’s Ministers the errand on which the Portuguese had come. He asserted that their only wish was for peaceful trade. Moreover, he assured the King that the Portuguese would undertake to protect his coasts against all enemies.

The offer found acceptance with the King and his Council, and they consented to the proposed terms. Fernão returned to the fleet and reported the success of his mission. The offer found acceptance with the King and his Council, and they consented to the proposed terms.

Fernão returned to the fleet and reported the success of his mission. Lourenço was highly pleased. To celebrate, he ordered a salvo of artillery to be fired. The terrified peaceful inhabitants of the port regarded it as a hostile demonstration.

Thus began the realm of the Portuguese Ceylon.

Gradually, the Portuguese occupied Kotte and went on to conquer the surrounding Sinhalese kingdoms. In 1565, the capital of Portuguese Ceylon moved from Kotte to Colombo.

Attempts by the Portuguese to convert the locals to Christianity caused friction with the native Sinhalese Buddhist and Hindu people.

Dutch Ceylon

The natives in Ceylon found the Portuguese rule was rather burdensome. So, the king of Kandy invited the Dutch to help defeat and liberate the country from the Portuguese. The Dutch signed the Kandyan Treaty on March 28, 1638 with King Rajasinghe II. Article XVII of the treaty stipulated:

“will not allow in his kingdom any priest, fri ar or ecclesiastic (Roman Catholic) personality, because they foster rebellions and are cause of the ruin of the kingdom, and will expel all those living there at present.”will not allow in his kingdom any priest, friar or ecclesiastic (Roman Catholic) personality, because they foster rebellions and are cause of the ruin of the kingdom, and will expel all those living there at present.”

After signing the treaty, the Dutch became the protectors of the country. They embarked on a war against the Portuguese. They captured the Portuguese forts, one by one.

The Dutch captured the Portuguese forts at Batticaloa on May 18, 1638, at Negombo in 1640, at Colombo on May 12, 1656 and finally on June 21, 1658, the last Portuguese fort in Jaffna fell into the hands of the Dutch. The Portuguese, after being forced to sign a treaty with the Dutch, left Ceylon.

There were 415 Churches and Chapels and about 70 thousand Catholics in Ceylon when the Portuguese left the island.

The Dutch drove out around 50 missionaries from Colombo and closed all the Catholic churches and chapels. They persecuted the Catholics.

The Dutch Ordinance dated September 19, 1658 decreed the penalty of death against all Catholics who would give shelter to a priest.

The Dutch took elaborate precautions to prevent Catholic Missionaries from India who wanted to land secretly in Ceylon. All people, even the lowliest coolie, who wished to go to Ceylon had to appear before the Dutch commander of Tuticorin to get a pass from him.  Dutch cruisers guarded the South Indian Coast. Their captains had special instructions to make sure that no priest  lands in Ceylon.

With the Catholics deprived of churches, priests, and the holy sacraments, the Dutch completely wiped out the practice of Catholicism in Ceylon. Calvinism became the official religion of the Island of Ceylon.

Carmelites and other missionaries working in South India sent reports to the Propaganda Fide in Rome about persecution of the Catholics in Ceylon. The authorities in Rome tried to find a solution. Pope Innocent XI requested Leopold I, Archduke of Austria to impress upon the Stadtholder William III of Orange (Dutch: Willem III van Oranje) ruler of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic to allow the entry of non-Portuguese missionaries sent by Rome. But the Dutch authorities in Ceylon were adamant in their refusal.

Plight of the Catholics in the Kingdom of Kandy

In the Kingdom of Kandy, King Rajasinghe II allowed the Catholics full freedom to profess their faith. In fact, he favoured them, for he considered them as more honest and more faithful than his Buddhist and Hindu subjects. Even then, the lot of the Catholics was pitiable.

Now that the Portuguese had left the Island of Ceylon, and with the intrigues of the Dutch Calvinists, the Catholics found themselves deprived of the ministry of the priests and of their spiritual help. The old Catholics bore it better, but it was not the same with the new converts, who, to persevere needed to be under the guidance, otherwise they would relapse, by and by, into their own olden ways.

The arrival of twelve Missionaries, expelled by the Dutch from Colombo sought refuge in Kandy. They revived for a time the faith of the abandoned converts. But some of the priests were recalled to India as there were too many for the needs of the Christian community of Kandy. But later on, when those priests who were left in Kandy died, they could not be replaced, for the Dutch watched carefully the coasts of India and Ceylon to prevent the landing of any Catholic priest from India.

Ten years after the Portuguese lost Colombo to the Dutch, there remained only three priests in Kandy. Sadly, two of them, forgetting their sacred calling apostatized and had accepted high positions at the King’s Court.

As such, only one priest, Father Vergonse, a Jesuit, remained in Kandy in 1668. He was a venerable old man, but his age and infirmities rendered him almost useless. He took care as much as he could of the Christians of the capital, but those who lived dispersed in the Kingdom of Kandy were for many years deprived of all religious aid. Robert Knox, the English sailor, a contemporary, gives us a sad picture of the religious state of the Catholics:

“For they have no churches, no priests, and so no meetings together on the Lord’s days, or Divine Worship, but each one reads and prays at his own house as he is disposed. They sanctify the day chiefly by refraining from work, and meeting together at drinking houses. They continue the practice of Baptism; and there being no priests, they baptize their children themselves with water in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and give them Christian Names.”

In 1678, Father John of Jesus of the Augustinian Order, on his way from Macao to Goa, landed secretly in Colombo. He remained there for a few days. During that time, he heard 800 confessions, and reconciled with the Holy Church five apostates, who for the sake of an employment under Government had become Protestants.

Again, two years later, in 1680 a Canon of the Cathedral of Goa, whom the Archbishop Dom Anthony Brandão had sent to visit the Portuguese Missions in China, on his way back from Macao to Goa, landed in Colomb on account of repairs to the ship on which he travelled. He had to put on a disguise and to hide his character as otherwise the Dutch Calvinists would have cast him into prison. Even so, he made himself known to some Catholics, and many came secretly at night to receive the Sacraments.

These were the only priests whom the unfortunate Catholics of Ceylon saw during the first 38 years of the Dutch domination.

The Canon of the Cathedral of Goa, on his return to Goa, related what he had seen. He spoke with emotion of the misery of the poor persecuted Christians of Ceylon. Among those who listened to him was 29-years-old Joseph Vaz.

When Joseph Vaz wanted to go to the island to help the Catholics there to keep alive their faith in Christ. But the Padroado in Goa denied him permission as they feared that the Dutch would kill him.

Determined to risk his life and undertake the perilous journey, Vaz made no plans nor cared about the provisions for his journey.

Joseph Vaz relinquished his post of Provost of the Goan Oratory and asked Father Pascoal da Costa Jeremias to act as the new Provost.

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 3 – The Apostle of Kanara


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Joseph Vaz showed both in his lifestyle and missionary methods that he belonged to the centuries-old Indian yogi tradition. Though nearly 300 years before their time, he could well be the model for the modern Indian native missionary, or rather, evangeliser! This fact is so little known and appreciated among Indian Christians who still regard Francis Xavier, Robert de Nobili, John de Britto  and other western missionaries with the very high esteem – which indeed they deserve, while burying in the graveyard of their ignorance the claims to similar, if not greater, renown of one of their own native sons! Of course, yogi-like our Joseph would renounce all claims to greatness and would spurn all the encomiums heaped on him.
– Rev. Fr. Denis G. Pereira in THE GREAT INDIAN MISSIONARY – A CHRISTIAN YOGI!

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The statue of Blessed Fr. Joseph Vaz (Source: mudipushrine.in)
The statue of Blessed Fr. Joseph Vaz (Source: mudipushrine.in)

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With great humility and diplomacy, Joseph Vaz met Bishop Thomas De Castro in Mangalore. He saw the documents of appointment of the Bishop De Castro as Vicar Forane of Kanara. Convinced of the legitimacy of the documents he recognized Bishop Thomas De Castro’s authority. The Bishop in turn agreed to delegate jurisdiction to Joseph Vaz, conditionally. This brought about a truce and they waited for a direction from the new pope, Innocent XI.’

Joseph Vaz continued to adhere to the Padroado system. He often spoke to the Bishop. Vaz told him that the ongoing arguments between their two factions bewildered the Catholics of Kanara. He pleaded with the bishop not to issue any more excommunications, but to wait for a final decision from the pope.

Missionary Work in Kanara

In Kanara, Joseph Vaz undertook serious missionary activities in Kanara from 1681 to 1684. He zealously worked for the religious welfare of the people. He helped to revive the spirits and faith among the widely scattered Roman Catholic communities in Mangalore, Basroor, Barcoor, Moolki, Kallianpur and other areas. He worked for the upliftment of the poor and the downtrodden.

Joseph Vaz established many Irimidates (Confraternities) throughout Kanara. The Irimidates helped him bring together the Catholics in areas where there were no churches or resident priests. He built huts where the local Catholics gathered and prayed together. Through the Irimidates, he kept alive the religious fervor for Christianity among the congregation. He celebrated all festivals with great solemnity.  He reconstructed the Rosario Cathedral in Mangalore and built new churches at Onore, Basroor, Cundapore, and Gangolim.  He also set up schools in some of the villages with the co-operation of their residents.

“The Miracle Hill Shrine”
The Miracle Hill of Shirne at Mudipu (Source: mudipushrine.in)
The Miracle Hill of Shirne at Mudipu (Source: mudipushrine.in)

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During his short stay in Kanara from 1681 to 1684, Joseph Vaz worked in the Diocese of Mangalore. He went house to house teaching catechism and serving the poor and the marginalized. This brought great joy to the people and they eagerly looked forward to his coming to visit them. In due course, Vaz acquired a saintly reputation and people attributed many miracles to him.

According to a local legend, Joseph Vaz was serving as parish priest at the Church of Our Lady of Mercy of Ullal (Portuguese: Igreja Nossa Senhora de Mercês de Velala) in Paneer, a short distance from Mudipu, Bantwal, and 15 km South of Mangalore. To stop him from continuing his zealous missionary activities, some people plotted to kill him. One night a group of people asked Joseph Vaz to come with them to administer the last rites to a sick parishioner. When they reached the top of a Hill, they tried to kill him.

As the serene priest knelt to pray, he struck his stick on the ground. A bright light engulfed him and water gushed from the spots on the hard rock where his stick touched. When the assassins saw the bright light and water gushing from the hard ground they fled in fear. Vaz returned to his parish unharmed.

Three little springs still bear witness to this miracle. A 60-feet well dug nearby has no traces of water. From then on Joseph Vaz was addressed in Tulu language as “Guddeda Dever” meaning “God of the Mountain.”

The Miracle Hill Shrine” constructed at that site at Mudipu and dedicated to Joseph Vaz attracts thousands of pilgrims and devotees seeking blessings and cures for various ailments.

Return to Goa

In 1681, after Archbishop Alberto da Silva, O.S.A., a new archbishop, Manuel de Sousa e Menezes, arrived in Goa. He was displeased with Joseph Vaz for making an agreement with Bishop Thomas de Castro. When Vaz sought permission to return to Goa, the archbishop refused to agree to his request.de Castro. When Vaz sought permission to return to Goa, the archbishop refused his request.

In 1684, after Archbishop Menezes died, the cathedral chapter of Goa allowed Joseph Vaz to return to Goa. Nicholas de Gamhoa, one of Vaz’s former assistants replaced him in Kanara.

After arriving in Goa, Joseph Vaz preached in the surrounding villages.

The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri

St. Philip Neri
St. Philip Neri

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The “Oratório de São Filipe Néri” (“Oratory of St. Philip Neri”) is a society of apostolic life of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community. They are bound together by no formal vows, but only by the bond of charity.

St. Philip Neri founded this religious community in 1575 in Rome and received papal recognition. The new community was to be a congregation of secular priests living under obedience, but bound by no vows. The members of this religious community are commonly called Oratorians or Oratorian Fathers. Today the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri has spread around the world, with over 70 Oratories and about 500 priests. The post-nominal initials commonly used to designate members of this society are “C.O.” (Congregatio Oratorii). The abbreviation “Cong. Orat.” is also used.

On the southern outskirts of Old Goa, is a hill on which stood the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles, built in 1619, especially to house the Cross of Miracles. When the church crumbled, the present church was built on the same spot in 1674. Built of laterite, plastered with lime mortar, the plain looking church and the single-storeyed convent with many cells are again now in ruins.

Joseph Vaz joined a group of native Indian priests of the Archdiocese headed by Father Pascoal da Costa Jeremias who had decided to form a religious congregation and live together as a religious community.da Costa Jeremias who had decided to form a religious congregation and live together as a religious community.

On September 25, 1685, at the church of the Holy Cross of Miracles, Old Goa, the group was formally erected as a community of the religious congregation on the lines of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri of Rome and of the Congregation of the Oratory in Lisbon, Portugal, founded by Frei Bartolomeu de Quental. It was named the “Congregação do Oratório da Santa Cruz dos Milagres de Goa” (“Congregation of the Oratory of the Holy Cross of Miracles of Goa”). Joseph Vaz was elected as the first provost of the community.

The community took charge of the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles, Old Goa, and established their residence there.

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Next → Part 4: Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 2 – the Conflict Between Padroado Real and Propaganda Fide


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The Goa Inquisition

The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Portuguese Inquisition acting in Portuguese India, and in the rest of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, to punish apostate New Christians, Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, as well as their descendants suspected of practicing their ancestral religion in secret.

In Goa, the Inquisition also turned its attention to Indian converts from Hinduism or Islam, suspected to have returned to their original ways. Also, the Inquisition prosecuted non-converts who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites or interfered with Portuguese attempts to convert non-Christians to Catholicism.

Front page of the book The History of the inquisition as it is exercised at Goa by Monsieur Dellon. (Source: openlibrary.org)
Front page of the book The History of the inquisition as it is exercised at Goa by Monsieur Dellon. (Source: openlibrary.org)

A young French physician named Charles Dellon (1650 – 1710) was incarcerated by the Goa Inquisition during his travels in Asia in 1673. When he returned to France, he wrote about his experiences of the Inquisition titled “Relation de l’Inquisition de Goa” and was published in 1687. The book became famous. It was then translated to English titled “The History of the Inquisition as it is exercised at Goa” by Daniel Horthemels and was published in 1688.

Banniere de l'Inquisition de Goa. Provenance - Private Collection. Photographic Rights The Bridgeman Art Library.
Banniere de l’Inquisition de Goa. Provenance – Private Collection. Photographic Rights The Bridgeman Art Library.

The above picture is an engraving of the Banner of the Goa Inquisition, published in Charles Dellon’s book. The banner shows Saint Dominic holding an olive branch in one hand and a sword in the other. Below him is a dog holding a burning brand in its mouth and an orb surmounted by a cross. The title above the saint’s head reads “MISERICORDIA ET JUSTITIA” (“Justice and Mercy”).

In the early phase of the Goa Inquisition, the Portuguese authorities used many ploys to convert the natives to Christianity during the Christianization of Goa. One of which was to kidnap boys from influential Hindu families before they attained puberty and enroll them in seminaries. Besides the families being influential, male children from the upper castes of Hindu society were mostly literate. Hence, the indoctrination was much easier. These young converts were then used to influence and convince their relatives and people in their community to embrace the new faith.

Some present day historians say there was no racial differentiation anywhere in the Portuguese colonies. But the truth was the Portuguese empire was a “pigmentocracy.” Characterized by a strong and tenacious colour bar, the Portuguese looked down upon the Indians as a base, cowardly and unreliable members of a “contaminated,” and hence an inferior race (raça infecta).

The Padroado Real suppressed the Goan clergy. An arrogant display of colour bar by the Portuguese went hand-in-hand with the corrupt ecclesiastical administration which was steeped in scandal. The Portuguese practiced racial discrimination in filling up higher positions in the Church hierarchy. It was blatantly flaunted in the ordination of local priests. This resulted in discontentment among the indigenous aspirants to the priesthood. It bred a feeling of protest and revolt against the Padroado Real.

Bishop Matheus de Castro, the first Indian Bishop of the Catholic Church and the first Goan to be elevated to an episcopal position was a typical example of a Goan priest suppressed by the Padroado Real. However, the Propaganda Fide which facilitated the rise of qualified local priests to the upper echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy encouraged him.

The seal of the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide  (Source: saints.sqpn.com)
The seal of the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Source: saints.sqpn.com)

Founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV’s bull Inscrutabili Divinae, the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) was charged with fostering the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of Catholic ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries. The intrinsic importance of the duties and the extraordinary extent of its authority and of the territory under its jurisdiction caused the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda Fide to be known as the “Red Pope“.

Dom Matheus de Castro Mahale

Dom Matheus de Castro was born into the influential Hindu Goud Saraswat Brahmin family named Mahale in Divar, Goa, Portuguese India (c. 1594). It has been said that he was kidnapped and sent to the Franciscan seminary at Reis-Magos, Bardez and taught the new religion.

The Padroado policy in 1621 was not to admit Indians into their ranks. Hence, the Archbishop of Goa refused Matheus ordination to the priesthood.

In 1625, a dejected Matheus proceeded to Rome along with some Carmelite priests he had befriended.

The headquarters of the Propaganda Fide in Rome. North facade on Piazza di Spagna by architect Bernini, the southwest facade seen here by Borromini. (Etching by Giuseppe Vasi, 1761)
The headquarters of the Propaganda Fide in Rome. North facade on Piazza di Spagna by architect Bernini, the southwest facade seen here by Borromini. (Etching by Giuseppe Vasi, 1761)

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In Rome, Matheus met Francesco Ingoli, the dynamic secretary of the newly established Propaganda Fide. Ingoli recommended his admission to the Collegio Urbano in Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest in 1630.

After his ordination, Matheus de Castro pursued studies for a doctorate in theology. His superiors were impressed by his abilities.

In 1633, he was appointed Protonotary Apostolic to the Kingdoms of Idalxa (ruled by Muhammad Adil Shah II ), Pegu and Golconda.

On November 14, 1637 Matheus de Castro was ordained  a titular Bishop of Chrysopolis in Arabia. Thus, he became the first Indian Bishop of the Catholic Church and the first Goan elevated to an episcopal position. He returned to India and proceeded to work as Vicar Apostolic in the Bijapuri lands, with his headquarters at Bicholim.

Muhammad Adil Shah II with courtiers and attendants. (Source: asia.si.edu)
Muhammad Adil Shah II with courtiers and attendants. (Source: asia.si.edu)

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Bishop Matheus de Castro was held in great esteem in the courts of the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan and other rulers of India, including those of the Kingdom of Bijapur who belonged to the Adil Shahi dynasty, which ruled Goa prior to the Portuguese. The Mohammedan rulers allowed him to erect dwelling houses and residences in their dominions for the accommodation and convenience of converts. He helped establish commercial relations between the Catholics of Goa and the peoples of those Kingdoms. He founded the Apostolic Mission of Bombay when it was a mere village in the 17th century.

Bishop Matheus de Castro vehemently opposed the Goa Inquisition. He believed that the Portuguese practice of colour bar deterred the progress of evangelisation in the sub-continent. In 1653, when he returned to India from Rome for the third time,  he was determined to liberate his people from the shackles of Portuguese colonialism. He evolved a strategy to achieve this goal. He planned for a local rebellion within Goa which was to coincide with a Bijapuri invasion on land, and a simultaneous Dutch offensive from the sea. But he was betrayed and the Portuguese authorities promptly strengthened the land and riverine defenses of Goa.

Overconfident of an easy victory over the Portuguese, Mohammed Adil Shah, the ruler of Bijapur, sent a meagre force on August 12, 1654. His army was easily repulsed by the already alerted Portuguese. Adil Shah then signed a treaty with the Portuguese and the influence of Bishop Matheus de Castro at the court of Bijapur waned. He was forced to return to Rome. He spent the last years of his life in Rome.

Bishop Matheus de Castro died in 1669, an exile from his motherland that he had attempted to liberate from the colonial yoke of the Portuguese.

Like him, his nephew, Bishop Dom Thomas de Castro was in constant confrontation with the Padroado with the backing of the Propaganda Fide, and he boldly opposed the Goa Inquisition.

The conflict between the Padroado faction and the Propaganda Fide faction pitted the Catholics of Kanara against each other subsisting in a long, sullen mutual co-existence in hostility. The Padroado-Propaganda Schism sometimes lead to physical violence and insults. Those who recognized the authority of the Padroado were excommunicated by Bishop Thomas de Castro, while those who recognized the authority of the Propaganda Fide, were excommunicated by the Padroado authorities in Goa. Both groups forbade their followers from receiving sacraments from the priests of the rival group on penalty of excommunication.

Upon his arrival in Kanara, Joseph Vaz found the situation highly explosive. In a letter dated 14 September 1681, Joseph Vaz lamented:

“Many, in fact, believe that the Catholic Church is divided and that we and the Bishop’s priests are not children of the same Mother Church; and that our doctrines and our sacraments are different; and what the ones do, the others destroy. Thus, the Catholic Church is much despised and is not acceptable.”

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Next → Part 3: THE APOSTLE OF KANARA

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 1 – The Early Years


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Kanara and Ceylon
Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Kanara and Ceylon

St. Thomas, the Apostle of Christ brought Christianity to India. For centuries, Christianity remained almost dormant until the arrival of  the missionaries who tagged along with the colonial powers.  Under colonial rule, the Christian faith spread gradually in different parts of India.

In 1510, the Portuguese with the help of Timayya, a local ally, defeated the Bijapur Sultan Yousuf Adil Shah. They set up a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). Thus, began the Portuguese rule in Goa that lasted until 1961.

By a series of treaties the Vatican delegated the administration of the local Churches to the kings of Portugal. In 1514, Pope Leo X confirmed this arrangement known as the Padroado (English: patronage).

Joseph Vaz

The third of six children, Joseph Vaz (Konkani: Zuze Vaz) was born in 1651 at Pulvaddo, Benaulim in Goa, India. His parents Cristóvão Vaz and Maria de Miranda were devout Catholics. The day Joseph Vaz was born, his father saw a star in the Sky during mid-day and wrote in his personal diary that his son would become a great man.

Benaulim House, where Saint Joseph Vaz was born (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)
Benaulim House, where Saint Joseph Vaz was born (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)

Cristóvão Vaz belonged to a prominent Goud Saraswat Brahmin Naik family of Sancoale, a village in Goa. This village was once the home of Hindu Saraswat deities. Around 1560, during the Portuguese Inquisition, the Hindu devotees shifted their deities to Veling and Kerim (Ponda).

Cristóvão had his son baptized on the eighth day at the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Benaulim by its pastor, Jacinto Pereira.

Young Joseph attended the elementary school in Sancoale. He learned Portuguese in Sancoale and Latin in Benaulim. He was a bright pupil and his teachers and fellow students respected him. When his father noted that he was making rapid progress in his studies, he decided to send him to Goa City for further studies. In Goa, Joseph completed a course in rhetoric and Humanities at the Jesuit College of St. Paul. To further his education, he joined the College of St. Thomas Aquinas where he studied philosophy and theology.

During the early part of the 16th-century conversion to Christianity by the influence of the Portuguese, waned due to several reasons. As a consequence, many Catholics migrated farther south to Kanara.

The Portuguese administration in Goa supported the missionary activities of the Padroado in Kanara. However, the arrival of the British and the Dutch thwarted these activities. The Portuguese were not able to send the required number of missionaries to Mangalore. To keep the flame of faith burning in Kanara the appointment of a Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore was felt necessary. Shivappa Naik, the king of Bednore, wanted a native priest chosen as the Vicar Apostolic. So the Padroado in Goa chose Father Andrew Gomez as the Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore. But before the nomination papers could reach Mangalore, Father Gomez died.

Dom Thomas de Castro (c.1621 – 1684)
Thomas de Castro, titular Bishop of Fussala and Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. (Source: milagreschurchmangalore.com)
Thomas de Castro, titular Bishop of Fussala and Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. (Source: milagreschurchmangalore.com)

Dom Thomas de Castro (c. 1621 – 1684) son of Caetano de Castro and Maria Josefa Picardo was born in Divar,  Goa, in Portuguese India. He was the nephew of Dom Matheus de Castro (c. 1594 − 1677), the first Indian Bishop of the Catholic Church. While in his teens,  his uncle Matheus de Castro, Bishop of Chrysopolis took Thomas to Rome. There the young de Castro joined the congregation of the Divina Providencia or the Theatine Order.

In 1674, Thomas de Castro arrived in India to begin his missionary work.

On August 30, 1675 to remedy the sad plight of the Kanara Catholics, Pope Clement X acceded to the recommendation of Monsignor Sebastiani, the Vicar General of Verapoly. The Pope first consecrated Thomas de Castro as a titular Bishop of Fussala.

On the same day, the Holy See appointed Thomas de Castro,  as the Vicar Apostolic for the kingdoms of Cochin, Tamor, Madurai, Mysore, Cranganore, Cannanore and the Coast of Kanara. He also remained the Vicar Apostolic of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Verapoly in present day Varappuzha in Kerala from 1675 to 1684.

However, inordinate delays prevented Bishop Thomas de Castro from taking office.

The  “Deed of Bondage“.

In 1675, Custódio de Pinho, the Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur and Golconda ordained Joseph Vaz a deacon for the Archdiocese of Goa.

In the same year, after a vacancy of 22 years, the Archiepiscopal See of Goa was filled with the appointment of Father António Brandão, S.O.Cist. (Cistercians of the Common Observance) as Archbishop of Goa.

In 1676, Archbishop António Brandão, ordained Joseph Vaz as a priest. After his ordination, Joseph Vaz wishing to live like the poor started walking barefoot. Soon, people started acknowledging him as a popular preacher and confessor. He opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians. on August 5, 1677, Joseph Vaz consecrated himself as a “Slave of Mary,” sealing it with a document known as the “Deed of Bondage“.

Three years after his consecration as Vicar Apostolic, Bishop de Castro came to Mangalore to take office.

The Portuguese Padroado authorities in Goa were in direct conflict with the local Catholic authorities in Kanara belonging to the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith). As such, António Brandão, the Padroado archbishop refused to recognize the appointment of Bishop Thomas de Castro as Vicar Apostolic of Kanara, despite the fact the latter carried the letter of his appointment by Pope Clement X. Archbishop Brandão claimed that the jurisdiction over the district of Kanara to be his by virtue of the Padroado granted by former Popes to the sovereigns of Portugal.

Archbishop Brandão forbade the Catholics of Kanara from having anything to do with Bishop Thomas de Castro appointed as the new Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. This was the first discord in the history of the Catholic Church in India.

Archbishop Brandão died on July 6, 1678. After his death, the Cathedral Chapter of Goa administered the diocese of Kanara.

The Vicar Capitular of Goa appointed Joseph Vaz as the Vicar Forane of Kanara and sent him to assert their jurisdiction against the Propaganda Fide. Vaz was ordered not to submit to Bishop de Castro unless he could adduce his Bull of Nomination to establish his title. Three Goan priests accompanied Joseph Vaz.

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Next → Part 2:  THE CONFLICT BETWEEN PADROADO REAL AND PROPAGANDA FIDE

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Note 1: A titular bishop in various churches is a bishop who is not in charge of a diocese. By definition, a bishop is an “overseer” of a community of the faithful. In the tradition of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, a priest is ordained as a bishop for a specific place. There are more bishops than there are dioceses. Therefore, a bishop who does not functionally head a diocese or archdiocese is appointed, an auxiliary bishop, a papal diplomat, an official of the Roman Curia, or is retired from one of those positions. Such a bishop is often appointed to a titular see.

Note 2: Fussala is a town in the Roman province of Numidia that became a Christian bishopric. The town and bishopric disappeared after the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, but the bishopric was revived as a titular see of the Catholic Church.

Note 3: A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a “dead diocese”. The ordinary or hierarch of such a see may be styled a “titular bishop”, “titular metropolitan”, or “titular archbishop”. The term ” titular see” is used to signify a diocese that no longer functionally exists, often because the diocese once flourished, but the territory was conquered for Islam by Jihad, or because of a schism.

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