Joseph Vaz began his apostolate in Kandy amidst great difficulties. He devoted himself to the spiritual needs of the Catholics of Kandy. He assembled them for regular Mass and catechism classes, and visited those who were unable to come to the Church due to old age and infirmity. Due to the dearth of priests for many years the once faithful had reverted back to their old customs and superstitions. Now, many of these came to his Church from remote villages as soon as they came to know that a priest was in the city.
In 1695, Nauclairs de Lanerolle, the French Huguenot unable to bear the progress of Joseph Vaz’s ministry, used all his influence to poison the King’s mind against the priest.
King Vimaladharma Surya II was, as mentioned before, a sovereign with a superior mind. He had high regard for Joseph Vaz. The King admired his virtue and his spirit of renunciation of worldly pleasures.
Lanerolle sought an audience of the King. He brought with him a few Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks). During his meeting with the King, the Huguenot focussed on the dangers which were threatening the Kingdom unless the King used drastic steps to stop the advance of the Catholic Religion. He once again asserted that Joseph Vaz was a Portuguese agent beyond doubt, who organized the Catholics and converted Buddhists to the Catholic faith to create a powerful group; then when he had enough number of adherents to his faith, he would raise a rebellion and call the Portuguese from Goa to help him. Lanerolle therefore entreated the King to save his Crown, before it was too late. He asked the King to raze to the ground the church built by Vaz and the Catholics, and expel the priest from the Kingdom of Kandy.
The King replied sternly to the Huguenot, that he was fully convinced that the priest was not a Portuguese spy, but had undertaken a perilous journey and had undergone many hardships only for the sake of bringing spiritual help and solace to the abandoned Catholics of his Kingdom; and it would, therefore, be unworthy of him to persecute a poor man who had sought refuge in his capital.
The rebuked Frenchman was quiet for some time. A few weeks later he came before the King surrounded by more Bhikkhus. He again insisted on the expulsion of Joseph Vaz from the Kingdom of Kandy. He told the King that the strength of his political power was founded on the religious conformity of the people of his Kingdom. He pointed out that at the time of the Portuguese rule, three Kings of Kandy on becoming Catholics, lost their throne because their Buddhist subjects rebelled against them. So, he warned that the same would certainly happen to him if the priest was allowed to convert his subjects to the Catholic Faith. He then went on to advise the King to never tolerate a foreign religion being preached in his Kingdom, least of all the religion of the Portuguese, the greatest enemies of the Kings of Kandy.
The King after listening to the long tirade of the Huguenot, answered him curtly that though it was true that he hated the Portuguese who had fought his father, he anyhow, had high regard for the Catholic Religion, which was anyhow much better than the creed of the Calvinists.
The Bhikkhus then complained that the church built by Joseph Vaz was now much more frequented than the Buddhist temples and wanted the King to stop the priest from preaching his faith.
The King told the Bhikkhus, that they should emulate the Catholic priest: preach and instruct the people about Buddhism, attend to the sick, teach people to give alms to the poor, gain the love of the people, and so on. If they did so, he said, their temples would not be deserted, and the people would flock to the temples, instead of going to the Church built by Joseph Vaz.
The Bhikkus then complained that the servants of the palace whose duty was to bring flowers to the Buddhist temples now refused to do so saying that they had become Catholics.
The king replied that if Catholics in his service were not willing to carry flowers to the temples, he could dispense them from it as there were so many Buddhists who will be too glad to render that service.
Humiliated by the manner of the King, who openly favoured the priest, Lanerolle conspired with some Buddhist chiefs, powerful enough to give orders in spite of the King. They threatened Joseph Vaz and ordered him not to admit the Catholics and others who came to his Church. Joseph Vaz answered them, saying:
“We have an obligation to search and invite the Christians and to see that others become Christians, and it would be a grave sin not to receive those who come in search”.
Instigated by Lanerolle and the few Buddhist chiefs, rowdies ridiculed, vilified, harassed, the Catholics on their way to the Church. They even went to the extent of plucking away the rosaries from the necks of women and children. But the Catholics did not stop coming to the Church.
This kind of persecution increased day by day and Joseph Vaz became anxious. The King, it is true, was favourable to the Catholics and resisted the solicitations of their enemies, but Joseph Vaz doubted whether the King would protect the Catholics when threatened with an uprising by the Buddhist mob as planned by Lanerolle and of his Buddhist confederates.
When the situation became critical, a remarkable miracle came to the rescue of Joseph Vaz.
The Miracle of the Rain
The rainy season in Ceylon begins usually between the middle of May and the beginning of June, but in the year 1696, there was a severe drought in the central region of Ceylon. As rain is necessary for the cultivation of rice the harvest failed. All other crops suffered as well. The drought caused much hardship to the people in the Kingdom of Kandy.
King Vimaladharma Suriya II requested Buddhist monks to perform Pirith (spiritual chant) to invoke the gods to provide rain and the Hindu Brahmins to conduct special Pooja to invoke Lord Varuna, the Hindu god of rain. Even after a week of ceremonies by the Bhikkus and the Brahmins, not a single drop of rain fell anywhere in the kingdom.
Then the king requested Joseph Vaz to pray to his God for rain. Vaz replied that he “would pray with greater fervor in obedience to the royal command.” He then told the king to “remain firm in faith, and if it would serve divine glory the land would abound with water since all the elements obey His divine commands as the Creator of heaven and earth”.
With firm faith in God, Joseph Vaz erected an altar in the open at a central place. A large crowd surrounded him. After placing a cross on the altar, he knelt down and prayed to God for rain.
.While he prayed, the sky filled with heavy dark clouds, and an abundant rain poured down. In a short time the deluge inundated the famished Kingdom. Water seeped into the cracks of the parched paddy fields. All the irrigation tanks filled to the brim.
Amid such a torrent the people saw with amazement the altar, the cross, and the spot where Joseph Vaz was kneeling while praying, remained dry. Not a drop of water had fallen on them. The King and the people marvelled, at this phenomenon and called it a miracle.
Now, at the place where this miracle was wrought in Kandy stands St. Anthony’s Cathedral.
This miracle impressed the people, and many Buddhists and Hindus came to Joseph Vaz for baptism. Many apostates who had become Calvinists, after having performed penance reconciled with the Church.
King Vimaladharma Suriya II was so pleased he gave Joseph Vaz protection, and freedom to travel anywhere in the Kingdom of Kandy to preach the Catholic doctrines. Joseph Vaz also obtained the king’s permission to get more priests from Goa.
Joseph Vaz then built a proper church and dedicated it to Our Lady, the Mother of Christ. He used the missionary method of inculturation. He composed a para-liturgy in Sinhalese and Tamil.
Joseph Vaz used his newly acquired freedom to visit all the regions of the kingdom of Kandy. Now he was able to cross the Mahaweli Ganga without any hindrance. At times, he also sneaked into the territories possessed by the Dutch.
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 1 – THE EARLY YEARS
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 2 – THE CONFLICT BETWEEN PADROADO REAL AND PROPAGANDA FIDE (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 3 – THE APOSTLE OF KANARA
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 4 – PERSECUTION OF CATHOLICS IN CEYLON BY THE DUTCH (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 5 – TRAVEL TO CEYLON (SRI LANKA) tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 6 – THE APOSTLE OF SRI LANKA IN JAFFNAPATTINAM (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 7 – THE APOSTLE OF SRI LANKA IN PUTTALAM (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 8 – THE APOSTLE OF SRI LANKA ARRESTED AT WEUDA ON THE WAY TO KANDY (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 9 – THE APOSTLE OF SRI LANKA IN PRISON IN KANDY (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 10 – BEGINNING OF THE APOSTLATE IN KANDY (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 12 – THE APOSTLE VISITS DUTCH COLOMBO (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 13 – MISSIONARIES ARRIVE FROM GOA (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 14 – SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC IN KANDY (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 15 – SIX MORE MISSIONARIES COME FROM INDIA (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 16 – THE RETURN OF THE APOSTATE SPARKS ACCUSATION OF BAPTISM WITH BLOOD (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 17 – THE APOSTLE OF CEYLON AND THE NEW KING OF KANDY (tvaraj.com)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ: PART 18 – THE LAST DAYS AND THE DEATH OF THE APOSTLE (tvaraj.com)
- Joseph Vaz (en.wikipedia.org)
- BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ (josephnaikvaz.org)
- Blessed Joseph Vaz (newadvent.org)
- “Without the Blessed Vaz, there would be no priest on the island”(asianews.it)
- The relevance of Blessed Joseph Vaz to the evangelization of Asia today (oratoriosanfilippo.org)
- Bl. Joseph Vaz, first saint to Sri Lanka (en.radiovaticana.va)
- The Apostle of Sri Lanka: Blessed Joseph Vaz (1651-1711)
- Kingdom of Kandy (en.wikipedia.org)
- APOSTOLATE IN KANDY (blessedjosephvaz.org)
- KANDY AND ITS STRUGGLE WITH EUROPEAN POWERS
- St.Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy (kandydiocese.net)
- History of Ceylon: An Abridged Translation of Professor Peter Courtenay’s Work (books.google.co.in)
- Pope Francis lauds first Sri Lankan saint’s ‘undivided love for God’ (catholicnewsagency.com)