Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 17 – The Apostle of Ceylon and the New King of Kandy


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint Joseph Vaz,  the first saint of  of Sri Lanka (Source: birminghamoratory.org.uk)
Saint Joseph Vaz, the first saint of of Sri Lanka (Source: birminghamoratory.org.uk)

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During the Portuguese rule in Ceylon, the attitude of the rulers towards non-Christians had been oppressive and destructive. The concept of the time was that all religions except Christianity were wrong and had no right to exist.

The Portuguese forces pillaged and plundered Buddhist and Hindu temples and converted a few into Catholic churches. They gave the Franciscans all the lands of the Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Although Joseph Vaz desired people to convert to Christianity, he followed a policy of tolerance, co-existence and friendliness towards the adherents of other faiths. When nursing the sick during the smallpox epidemic or distributing alms to the poor, he treated both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He never resorted to the destruction of their temples nor offered favours and privileges to converts. He convinced the non-Christians by his self-sacrificing charity, service to fellowmen, and by leading an exemplary saintly life.

Joseph Vaz demonstrated to the Church of his time an alternate way to approach the non-Christians, different from that followed by the Church in alliance with the state.

In the olden days, people in India and Ceylon considered their kings divine. Hence, the rulers rarely appeared before their subjects. Even great dignitaries and nobles of the land prostrated on the ground when they approached the king.

Buddhism is an ancient and tolerant religion. It never obstructed the dreams and passions of Joseph Vaz. He revealed this aspect of Buddhism in his communication with the Kings. He never made any distinction of faiths while serving the people on the hostile Island of Ceylon. The unbounded charity of Joseph Vaz was one of the reasons, why King Vimaladharmasurya II respected him. The King considered the priest as an awesome supernatural being. For him, the priest was an enigma.

The way the King conversed familiarly with Joseph Vaz and taking him to his private chambers for chatting astonished the nobles, dignitaries, and the people.

Father Emmanuel de Miranda was stationed in Colombo, the most dangerous and exposed place. He had organized the Catholics of that town so well that they came out openly and even protested against the Dutch penal Laws.

In 1706, when Joseph Vaz wanted to visit Kottiyar on the eastern coast with Father Jacome Gonsalves, he fell mortally sick and was unable to walk. Yet, placing his full trust in God, he continued the 14 days long journey on foot until he arrived in Puttalam.

King Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha of Kandy

King Vimaldharmnasurya II of the Kingdom of Kandy, patron of Joseph Vaz died in 1707. His 17-years-old son Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha succeeded him and reigned for 32 years. He was the last Sinhalese King of the Kingdom of Kandy.

Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha was a pious monarch, and like his father lived in peace with the Dutch invaders. He devoted himself to the furtherance of literature and religion.

The young monarch proved to be an even greater supporter of Joseph Vaz and his Missionaries than his father.

A few days after the death of Father Joseph Carvalho, the young King passed before the church with a large retinue. He ordered his elephant to stop in front of the church. He then sent one of his courtiers with his condolences to Joseph Vaz, saying that he would like him to bring more priests of such great virtue as his deceased nephew to Kandy.

According to the law of the land, the dead ought to be buried outside the towns and villages, but the King allowed Joseph Vaz to entomb the body of Father Joseph Carvalho  in the church. Later on, the King extended this privilege to all the Oratorian Fathers. Such instances of royal favour made a great impression on the people. It helped to boost the Apostolate of Joseph Vaz and his Indian Catholic Missionaries from Goa.

However, persecution of the Catholics by the Calvinist Dutch raged outside the Kingdom of Kandy. Without the protection given to the Missionaries by the Buddhist Kings of Kandy, it would not have been possible to establish the present flourishing Catholic communities in Ceylon.

Having now resident Missionaries in all the principal towns of Ceylon, Joseph Vaz was continually on the move. In 1708, the health of Joseph Vaz began to decline, and yet he visited his Missions.

In 1709, there was a rebellion against the young King Narendra Sinha headed by his own uncle. At that time, Father Manoel de Miranda and Jacome Goncalvez were with him in the capital. Sensing that there would be inevitable robberies and sacking of properties, the priests distributed beforehand everything that was in the Church to the poor, without keeping anything for themselves. Keeping the doors of the Church open, the three priests committed themselves to prayer and sung the office of the dead during the rebellion.

None of the rebels or looters attacked the Church and its properties. After the rebellion was over, a great amount of help from unexpected quarters came to them, which was more than what they had distributed before the rebellion.

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Next → Part 18 – The Last Days and the Death of the Apostle

← Previous: Part 16 – The Return of the Apostate Sparks Accusation of Baptism with Blood

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