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

← Previous: Part 2: The Conflict Between Padroado Real and Propaganda Fide

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