Catalan is a Western Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin and named after the medieval Principality of Catatonia, in northeastern modern Spain. Pereira is a topographic name derived from Catalan Perera meaning ‘pear tree’.
There are other variants for Perera in the Iberian Peninsula meaning “pear tree”:
In Catalan: Perer
In Extremadura, Salamanca and Valladolid: Perero, Pereros
In Portugal: Pereira, Pereyra, Pereyras, Das Pereiras, Paraira
In the Pyrenees: Pereire, Pereyre
In Galicia: Pereiro, Pereiros
The Portuguese colonists introduced the name Pereira to the Goanese in Goa and to the Paravars in Tamil Nadu in India.
Perera and its variants are common surnames in Portugal, Brazil, India, and Sri Lanka, and in most of the Lusosphere (regions where people speak Portuguese, either as native speakers or as learners).
After Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in February 1510, the Portuguese converted the Hindu Goanese to Catholicism and gave them Portuguese names such as Fernando, da Souza, Pereira and so on.
In 1516, when the Hindu Tamil Paravars of the Pearl Fishery Coast in Southern India sought the help of the Portuguese to circumvent the oppression of the Middle Eastern Arab Merchants and their Muslim Paravar brethren, one of the stipulations laid out by the Portuguese was that the Paravars should convert to Catholicism.
The Middle Eastern Arab Merchants getting wind of these negotiations dispatched two envoys to Cochin to bribe the Portuguese Captain Pero Vaz de Amaral, to not allow conversion of the Paravars to Catholicism, but Pero Vaz refused to do so.
Pero Vaz immediately arranged for the baptism of 85 Paravar leaders in Cochin by the Vicar General, Miguel Vaz, probably in December 1535. The Paravar leaders were given Portuguese names as surnames. Pereira was one of the names given to the Paravars as a surname.
In 1505, Lourenço de Almeida, a Portuguese explorer and military commander made his first voyage to Ceylon and established a settlement there. From then on, the Catalan name “Perera” became one of the surnames among both the Catholics and Buddhist Sinhalese.
The people belonging to the Paravar caste in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India, and in the west coast in Sri Lanka are coastal inhabitants, fishermen, seafarers, maritime traders. The Paravars are also known as Parava, Parathavar, Bharathar, Bharathakula Pandyar, Bharathakula Kshathriyar and so on.
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the powerful seafaring Middle Eastern Arabs having the support of local South Indian rulers started forcing the under-privileged Tamil Paravars of the caste-ridden Hindu society to embrace Islam. They converted a significant number of Paravars to Islam through preaching and by marrying Tamil Paravar women thus giving rise to a new generation of Muslim Paravars.
From 1532 onwards the majority of the Tamil Hindu Paravar community was converted ‘en masse‘ to Catholicism by the Portuguese and were baptized with Portuguese names as surnames. The most popular name amongst these was “Fernando.”
Currently, the Paravars in Sri Lanka are an officially gazette-notified separate ethnic community. There are significant numbers of Paravars in Colombo, Negombo and Mannar. In Colombo, most of the Bharatha community members are prosperous traders and are socially and economically active. Most Paravars in Negombo and Mannar are seafaring fishermen.
Majority of the people belonging to the Paravar Community in India and Sri Lanka bear the surname “Fernando.” In Tamil Nadu, the question: “Are you a Fernando?“ is construed as, “Are you a member of the Paravar Community?“
In Sri Lanka, many Sinhalese people use the name Fernando irrespective of whether they are Catholics or Buddhists.
First, let us look at the origin of the name Fernando.
There were two main branches of the East Germanic tribe known as “Goths”: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Romans labelled them as “barbarians.“ TheRomans initially settled the migrating Goths in their realms. Between 376 and 476 these aggressive outsiders dismantled the Roman Empire in western Europe. In 410, a Visigothic force led by Alaric I, the first King of the Visigoths from 395–410 sacked Rome. By 476, the Goths achieved total independence from the declining Roman Empire. The Goths extended their power from the Loire in France to the Straits of Gibraltar that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Visigoths conquered Spain in the 6th century, and as a result, many Spanish surnames are of Germanic origin.
A Visigothic tribal personal name, Frithnanth, composed of the elements “frith”, meaning peace along with “nanth”, meaning daring or brave gave rise to some twenty different spellings ranging from Ferdinand, Fernandez, Fernando, and Ferrandiz, to Hernan, Hernando and Hernandez. In this case, the given name as Ferdinand was introduced into most parts of Europe from the 15th Century. The Hapsburg dynasty took it to Austria where it became a hereditary name and owes its popularity in large measure to King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon (1198 – 1252), who recaptured large areas of Spain from the Moors and was later canonized.
The Iberian Peninsula also known as Iberia, located in the southwest corner of Europe, is principally divided between Portugal and Spain. The Iberian and Italian name equal to the Germanic name Ferdinand is Fernando and Ferdinando respectively.
Fernando became the Spanish and Portuguese form of Ferdinand. The feminine form of Fernando is Fernanda in both Spanish and Portuguese.
Spanish surnames ending in -ez originated as patronymics denoting “the son of”; thus originated the name Fernández (son of Fernando). And in Portuguese, surnames ending in -es are used as patronymics denoting “the son of” for example Fernandes (son of Fernando).
By the way, I am a Tamil Catholic belonging to the Paravar community and my surname is Fernando.
Most Sinhalese names of the Ceylonese colonial-era are mouth-filling. Here is an interesting name:
Sir Solomon Dias Abeywickrema Jayatilleke Senewiratna Rajakumaruna Kadukeralu Bandaranaike
I wonder whether the bearer of this name would have recited his name without forgetting a single one, and in the correct order.
Sir Solomon Dias Abeywickrema Jayatilleke Senewiratna Rajakumaruna Kadukeralu Bandaranaike, KCMG, Maha Mudaliyar, JP (May 22, 1862 – July 31, 1946) was a Ceylonese colonial-era headman. Appointed as Head Mudaliyar and the aide-de-camp to the British Governor of Ceylon, he was one of the most powerful personalities in British colonial Ceylon.
In 1898, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, married Daisy Ezline Obeyesekere, daughter of Solomon Christoffel Obeyesekere, a member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon. His son, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, became the 4th Prime Minister of Ceylon after independence, and his granddaughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, became both Prime Minister and President of Sri Lanka. His grandson, Anura Bandaranaike, became Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
The monitor lizards are large lizards in the genus Varanus. They are native to Africa, Asia and Oceania. Currently, a total of 79 species has been recognized.
The Bengal monitor lizard, also known as the common Indian monitor lizard, is found in Asia and Africa.
The length of this large, mainly terrestrial lizard, can range from about 61 to 175 cm (24 inches to 69 inches) from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail. While the adults mainly hunt on the ground preying on arthropods, small terrestrial vertebrates, ground birds, eggs and fish, the young monitors are more arboreal.
In Sri Lanka, there are two types of monitor lizards: (1) the Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) (Sinhala: kabaragoya-කබරගොයා; Tamil: kalawathan-களவத்தன்) and (2) the Land Monitor (Varanus bengalensis) (Sinhala: thalagoya-තලගොයා; Tamil: Udumbu-உடும்பு). While the former is shunned as poisonous, the latter is considered somewhat harmless.
It is widely said that Tanaji Malusare, a general in the army of the Maratha ruler Shivaji used the land monitors to scale the fort of Kondana in Pune, India because these lizards have a firm grip. In Tamil, ‘a firm grip’ is expressed as udumbu pidi (உடும்புப்பிடி).
In India, the skin of this lizard has traditionally been used in making the Kanjira, a South Indian classical percussion instrument. Now, however, the skin of the lizard is not in vogue owing to the increased awareness to the dwindling population of the lizard.
In Tamil Nadu and all other parts of South India, the monitor lizards are listed under the Protected Species Act.
The lizard evokes mixed responses from the people across the world. It is killed for sport in North Eastern India.
In Sri Lanka, the meat of the thalagoya is considered a delicacy.
Way back in 1947, when I was 6 years old, I was boarded at St. Gabriel’s School in Yatiyantota, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
In the evenings, we, about 40 boarders walked in two-by-two formation to the playground a kilometre or so away from the school.
On our way, when our seniors saw a thalagoya they immediately broke away from the queue and went after the thalagoya with stones and sticks which they picked up on the roadside.
After killing the thalagoya, two seniors would return to the boarding house kitchen carrying the carcass and hand it over to the chief cook. That night we had thalagoya curry.
It was an unwritten rule that the person who threw the fatal stone should be honoured. The cooked tongue of the thalagoya inserted into a hollowed out ripe banana was ceremoniously presented to the ‘killer’. It is believed that the tongue of the thalagoya is a cure for stammering and asthma.
While travelling to Trincomalee by bus, the drivers used to stop the vehicle at a roadside boutique cum eatery for lunch at Dambulla. The waiter after sizing up the people who sat at the tables would ask in hushed voice whether they would like to savour thalagoya curry. On three occasion I ordered the delicacy and it was not costly.
In 1974, my neighbours at Layards Broadway, Colombo -14, spotted a thalagoya in a vacant plot. It might have sneaked in from the Sebastian Canal that connects with the Kelani Ganga. After killing and skinning the reptile, they inquired whether my wife who was born and bred in Badulla and known as an excellent cook would cook it for them. My wife refused, saying she had never cooked thalagoya meat. That night around 11 pm one of the neighbours brought a dish of the thalagoya meat curry prepared by his wife. My wife and children were apprehensive and refused to eat it and with curiosity watched me eating the delicacy.
The following day one of my neighbours told me he had given the skin of the thalagoya to a maker of musical (percussion) drums.
A hundred years ago, on July 7, 1915, at the height of the anti-Moor riots, the firing squad of the 28th Battalion of the British Punjab Regiment, executed 27-year-old Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris at the Welikade Prison. The young man, a Captain of the Colombo Town Guard (CTG) was a prominent socialite and scion of one of the richest families in colonial British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
On May 28, 1915, a petty incident in the town of Gampola in Ceylon, triggered a spate of communal riots between the Sinhalese and Muslims. It is now known as the ‘anti-Moor riots’ or ‘the 1915 riots’. Like wildfire, the riots swept through several districts of the Central, Western and Southern Provinces.
The Muslims in Kandy Town decided not to allow any perahera (procession) of the Buddhists beating the traditional drums, flutes and using any other musical organs to disturb worship at their mosque. But, on the following full Moon Poya Day of Vesak, the Buddhists held their usual perahera, following the usual route. When the perahera was passing the Mosque, a group of irresponsible Muslims jeered and threw stones at the passing pageant. There was a pandemonium. The Buddhists retaliated resulting in a free-for-all leading to a conflagration.
The riots spread to Matale, Kegalle and even to Colombo. The Sinhala people harassed the Muslims throughout the country, leading to many deaths and loss of property. The Muslims sustained heavy losses.
Sir Robert Chalmers, the 21st British Governor of Ceylon, feared he might lose control of the colony. He mistook the riots as a Sinhalese-Buddhist movement to oust the British from Ceylon, through mass violence. So, the British Colonial establishment waged war on the Sinhalese-Buddhists.
The British used untrained volunteers recruited from commercial establishments, shops, factories, and plantations, to suppress the riots.
The soldiers of the 28th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment brought from India to help quell the riots, along with the volunteers unleashed a reign of terror in villages occupied by Sinhala Buddhists. They shot hundreds of civilians on sight and hauled up hundreds of innocent people before the military courts.
According to the available British records, 86 mosques and 17 Christian churches were burnt or damaged, around five boutiques and shops looted, 35 Muslims killed, 198 injured and four women raped. But unsubstantiated claims say thousands of Sinhalese died of bullet wounds.
Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris
Our protagonist, the young Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris at first attended Royal College Colombo. Later, he joined St. Thomas’ College. He excelled in sports and cricket. He was a member of the school’s first eleven cricket team. After some time, he returned to Royal College where he again played cricket and took part in sports activities.
After he finished school, Henry Pedris was much interested in horse riding. He excelled as a horseman and had a wide knowledge about horses. A Russian Prince gave the Pedris family a horse named “Rally”. Henry rode the horse with the composure of a prince which made the minions of the British rulers envious of him.
Once, at a cinema hall, a British official walked in and demanded his seat. Henry refused and said that he too had paid the same fare and would enjoy the film from that seat.
When World War I broke out, the British mobilized the Ceylon Defence Force and raised the Colombo Town Guard (CTG), a regiment of volunteers to defend Colombo if attacked.
His father, Duenuge Disan Pedris, had great hopes for his son’s future. He wanted his only son to take over his business enterprises and become a leader in the business sector. But Henry Pedris opted to join the Colombo Town Guard as a private. He was the first Sinhalese to enlist to the new regiment. His excellence in marksmanship and horsemanship made him a commissioned officer in the administrative (mounted) section. Within a year, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. Though Henry Pedris was by no means anti-British, he was much envied by the British because of this promotion and his immense wealth.
During the ‘anti-Moor riots’, Captain Henry Pedris was responsible for the defense of the city. He was successful in disbanding several rioting groups after peaceful discussions.
The shooting incidence in Pettah
On June 1, 1915, when Henry Pedris was at his shop on Main Street, Pettah, a mob of Moors advanced towards his shop. Pedris came out with a gun and fired six shots into the crowd. One of the bullets hit police constable Seneviratne in the head.
Many British and jealous Sinhalese henchmen led by Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, the Maha Mudaliyar (chief native interpreter and adviser to the Governor), wished Henry Pedris and his rich family ill. They brought charges against him. They accused Henry Pedris of inciting people to march to Colombo from suburban Peliyagoda. He was also charged with shooting at the Moorish mob and attempted murder of constable Seneviratne, even though the constable survived.
The British officers and Punjabi soldiers raided the Pedris’ residence on Turret Road. They then broke the doors and almirahs and rifled the whole house, searching for any incriminating documents. They arrested Henry Pedris and incarcerated him in the Welikada Jail.
On June 2, 1915, Martial law came into effect throughout the country. Due to the rigor of the enforced martial law, normalcy returned within ten days. However, the Martial law was in force until August 30, 1915.
On July 1, 1915, a military court tried Henry Pedris. Sir Hector Van Culenburg, the elected Legislative Council member pleaded for Henry Pedris. Many prominent citizens and educationists, both British and Ceylonese alike, including Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan appealed against the judgment. An appeal was also made to King George V.
Governor Sir Robert Chalmers and the Inspector General of Police, Herbert Layard Dowbiggin, were adamant that Henry Pedris should die. They wanted to make the swift execution of Captain Henry Pedris a lesson for the ringleaders of the anti-British movement.
The three presiding military judges declared Henry Pedris guilty and branded him a traitor.
The Ceylon Observer of July 5, 1915, records the death sentence passed on Henry Pedris. He was charged with “treason, shop-breaking, attempted murder and wounding with intent to murder.“
The military court sentenced him to death by firing squad and set July 7, 1915, as the date of execution, without any form of appeal.
The British rulers imprisoned more 86 prominent Sinhalese leaders, members of an emerging Ceylonese élite for ‘waging war against the King‘ and abetting the riots against ‘His Majesty’s Moorish subjects.‘ Among the arrested were D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena, F. R. Senanayake, Edwin Wijeyeratne, D. B.Jayatilaka, Dr. Cassius Pereira, Dr. W. A. de Silva, E. T. De Silva, F. R. Dias Bandaranaike, Dr. C. A. Hewavitharana, H. Amarasuriya, A. H. Molamure, A. E. Goonesinghe and several others.
Execution of Captain Henry Pedris
At 7.30 a.m., on the day of the execution, Additional District Judge Arthur Charles Allnut, a graduate of the Oxford University and a member of the Ceylon Civil Service, ordered that the 86 Sinhala-Buddhist notables to line up in the veranda outside L-Hall in Welikade Prison, and watch Henry Pedris walk to his death.
Captain Henry Pedris dressed in his Town Guard uniform, but stripped of his rank, marched with his head held high and chest forward. At the site of the execution, they strapped him to a chair.
Before his execution, Henry Pedris requested that he be shot by a Punjabi firing squad, and not a British squad, as the Punjabi soldiers were Non-Christian and Asians. Allnut acceded to his request. He ordered the soldiers of the 28th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment brought from India, to carry out the sentence. Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris rejected the blindfold offered to him. He faced the Punjabis without any fear.
After the execution, F. R. Senanayake on seeing the limp body of Henry Pedris slumped in the chair to which he was strapped, vowed that he would initiate a concerted struggle to free the country from British colonial rule.
The prison authorities then took the blood-soaked chair on which Captain Hendry Pedris sat when shot to the prison cells to warn the incarcerated Sinhalese leaders, including D. S. Senanayake, the future first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, that they could be next.
Burial of Captain Henry Pedris
The British refused to hand over the body of Henry Pedris to his grieving parents who wanted to accord their dead son a Buddhist burial with attendant religious rites.
Before burying the body of Henry Pedris, the British rulers declared Martial law for the first time in the whole island.
They transported the body of Henry Pedris to the Kanatte cemetery in great secrecy at midnight in the midst of martial law. The British had come to know that his father Duenuge Disan Pedris had owned several family burial plots at the General Cemetery at Kanatte in Borella. They chose one of these plots for the burial. It was the only burial not recorded in the General Cemetery registers or any other official register, since 1910. For the first time, the British rulers declared Martial law in the whole island.
Duenuge Disan Pedris had not only lost his only son, but he also lost two of his sons-in-law who were also incarcerated in the Welikada Prison. Though disheartened, he was silent as he did not want any more of his family members imprisoned by the British.
Most Ceylonese viewed the execution of 27-year-old Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris as unjust. The Sri Lankan patriotic leaders took the cue from his death and projected him as a martyr. His death motivated the pioneering patriotic leaders of the liberation movements organize themselves and strive for a concerted campaign to liberate the country from the harsh British rule.
The execution of Henry Pedris and the many unjustifiable and arbitrary brutal acts committed by the British during the 1915 riots hastened the formation of the Ceylon National Congress on December 11, 1919 by members of the Ceylon National Association (founded in 1888) and the Ceylon Reform League (founded in 1917).
Saint Joseph Vaz was born on April 21, 1651 in the village of Benaulim, Goa, India.
In 2012, Rev. Fr. Anthony Hemantha Peiris of the Diocese of Badulla, Sri Lanka, wrote the Lyrics in Sinhala and also composed the music of the hymn sung in the following video to commemorate the birth of the Saint of India and Sri Lanka.
Rev. Fr. Michael Rajendram Pillai of the Diocese of Galle translated the lyrics were Tamil.
The hymn is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil languages in the same Melody.
During the last months of 1709, Joseph Vaz suffered from a peculiar kind of fever, which subsided for a short time and then recurred with renewed force. Though weak, during the periods when the fever subsided he visited the Mission. He went even as far as Kottyar on the southern coast. He had no proper lodging there. Years of continuous work and hardships fatigued him and broke his constitution.subsided he visited the Mission. He went even as far as Kottyar on the southern coast. He had no proper lodging there. Years of continuous work and hardships fatigued him and broke his constitution.
In January 1710, Joseph Vaz became seriously ill and there was no physician to attend to him. As soon as he felt a bit better, sent him off on a bullock cart. After eight days, he reached Mahanuwara.
In the capital, he was given good medical attention. After careful nursing, infections and fever left him, but he was found himself weak. Though he regained a bit of strength, his legs were partly paralyzed.
He asked Father Jacome Goncalvez to come to the capital and entrusted him with the care of the Catholics.
Inspite of partial paralysis, Joseph Vaz never ceased to work. He could no longer go on distant excursions as before. People saw him daily on the streets of the capital, dragging himself in extreme pain with the help of a stick. He visited the sick in their houses.
Every morning sitting in front of his door, he taught children Catechism. When his sufferings did not allow him even to do that, he spent the whole day in prayer.
Though Joseph Vaz recovered, he was weak. From then on, he was unable to leave the Church premises again, but whenever a call came to attend the sick and if Father Jacome Goncalvez or any other priest was not there, then he would immediately set out, but carried in a dooly (a kind of litter suspended from men’s shoulders, for carrying people or things; a modified stretcher).
On one occasion, when the bearers were descending a hill, he fell off the dooly. He was unconscious when the bearers picked him up. They brought him back to the church. He suffered body pain for about four months. He bore his illness with great fortitude.
In spite of his illness, Joseph Vaz undertook eight days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Oratorian Rule. He considered himself a great sinner. He received the Sacrament of Penance every day as well as Holy Communion.
Joseph Vaz realized that it was time to resign from office, both as Vicar General and Superior. From then on, he spoke of death only.
On January 15, 1711 Joseph Vaz wrote the order of change of charge from him to Father Jose Menezes.
On the morning of January 16, 1711, Joseph Vaz wanted to make his confession. He dragged himself to the church as usual, attended Mass, received Holy Communion and went through his daily spiritual exercises. That day, he requested a stunned Jacome Goncalvez to have the holy oils ready for the last anointing.
When Father Goncalvez anointed him, Joseph Vaz made all the responses to the prayers for the sick and the dying. He kissed the crucifix which Pope Clement XI had sent as a gift to him through Monsignor Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon, the Papal Legate. He requested Father Jacome Goncalvez to send the Crucifix to the Oratory in Goa.
Fathers Goncalves and Miguel Francisco Ignatius de Almeyda asked Josep Vaz to give them a message that they could etch on their stricken hearts. After a few moments of thought, the dying priest said in Sinhalese:
“Remember that one cannot easily do at the time of death what one has neglected to do all his life. Live according to the inspirations of God.”
Just before midnight on Friday, January 16, 1711, Joseph Vaz expired with Fathers Jacome Goncalves and Miguel Francisco Ignatius de Almeyda, beside his deathbed.
The young King Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha, greatly affected by the death of his friend, the saintly priest Joseph Vaz declared a three-day mourning. He ordered all Catholics of his Court to attend the funeral. Many Catholics came from Colombo and other parts of Ceylon to attend the grand funeral.
After a solemn funeral ceremony, the body of the great Missionary was laid to rest in front of the high altar in the church he had built on the shore of the Bogambra lake.
Later on, a rumour spread that the Oratorian priests had exhumed the body of Joseph Vaz and had taken the remains to Goa. This distressed the King. However, Father Jacome Goncalves opened the tomb in the presence of a few nobles of the Court and show them that the body was still lying there.
King John of Portugal bestowed the highest praises on Joseph Vaz in a letter dated April 11, 1726. He called him:
“The model of Missionaries, a great servant of God, and founder of a truly apostolic Mission.”
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.
Joseph Vaz carried his mission to the main centres of the island with his group of Goan Bammon (the Roman Catholic Brahmin) priests. As their Superior, Joseph Vaz directed the work of all the Missionaries. The priests under his leadership and inspiration moved about undercover and served the persecuted Catholic population in Ceylon. Joseph Vaz paid them frequent visits, encouraging them with his indefatigable zeal. He was cherished and venerated by all.
As there were resident Missionaries in all the principal towns of Ceylon, Joseph Vaz was continually on the move. He visited the Missions along with one or two priests and a few devoted Catholics. He went from village to village wherever there were Catholics or the hope of converting the Buddhists and Hindus. Sometimes, he went out of his way to visit a single Catholic.
Many former Catholics, who under compulsion or for worldly interests apostatized, returned to the Catholic Faith after performing required penance.
Joseph Vaz had taught the Christian Faith to a young man from an influential family. He was a page at the Royal Court and was bound to go wherever the King went. As the lad wished to become a Christian, it was not always possible for him to avoid going to the temples along with the King.
Seeing the precarious position of the young man, Joseph Vaz advised him to withdraw from the Court. Following the advice of the priest, the lad went to a remote village to live. Sadly, because of the idle life in the village, the young man, now living far from the saint, lost his innocence. By and by, he plunged into vice. Eventually, he got married.
When Joseph Vaz came to know the fate of the young man, he prayed to God for him, and hoped that he would one day become an instrument in the hand of God for the salvation of many.
One night when the young man tried to sleep, he remembered his early youth, of the saintly priest and of his pious instructions.The thoughts tormented him. Struck with remorse at his apostasy, and at the wicked life he had led since, he spent the rest of the night in prayer. At dawn, he along with a Catholic neighbour went to the capital.
Since Joseph Vaz had gone to visit the Missions, the young man found Father Pedro de Saldanha whom he did not know. So, without revealing his identity to the priest, he humbly begged the priest to admit him among the catechumens.
After a few days, Father Saldanha on observing the young man’s piety and knowing he was perfectly instructed in the Christian Faith wished to baptize him. Then, the young man prostrated himself at the feet of the priest and told him his story. He made a general confession and resolved to expiate his crime by working for the glory of God and left.
Some days later, Father Saldanha went to his place, baptized him and his family, and blessed their marriage. The once recalcitrant young man now brought over to the Catholic Faith forty more people.
The news of such the mass conversion infuriated the anti-Christian mob. They were afraid that the conversion of the young man would induce others to follow his example, and that he would use his influence to help the priests in their Apostolate.
The Buddhist mob knew from their past encounters with the King that neither political considerations nor their threat of rebellion could move him from his sincere affection for the Catholic priests. So, they sought to rouse his religious and his superstitious sensitivity.
At that time, as even now, the Buddhists of Ceylon were imbibed with all the superstitions of the Hindus. For the Hindus, the cow was most sacred. In many countries in India, killing a cow was the greatest and heinous crime that one could ever commit. It was equal to murdering three Brahmins on the shores of the sacred Ganges. And, the punishment decreed for the crime of killing a cow was death.
The mob told to King that Father Pedro de Saldanha had baptized the young man, once a page of the King and all his companions with the blood of a cow. As such, it was clear that his Superior Joseph Vaz and his Missionaries too were killing many cows. The Buddhist King, in dire indignation, ordered the last six converts, whom Father Saldanha had baptized, thrown into prison and to confiscate their properties.
This was a great setback for Joseph Vaz. Fearing a renewal of persecutions, he prayed to God to avert this new danger from His Church. Fortunately, there were then two factions at the Royal Court: one opposed to the Catholics and hostile to the Catholics, and the other enlightened, or indifferent, and hospitable to the Catholics. The latter faction approached the King and proved to him that the Catholic Missionaries had been slandered; that the Catholic Missionaries never killed cows; and that they baptized the converts with water to which they added a little oil with balm.
The King, realizing his folly immediately ordered the release of the six prisoners and restored their properties. The released men went straight from jail to the church to thank God for their liberation.
It was the last persecution that the Catholics of the Kandy Kingdom had to suffer during the lifetime of Joseph Vaz. From then onwards the saintly priest was able to spread the Catholic Faith in peace in the whole kingdom.
.In 1668, after the smallpox epidemic ceased entirely, life turned back to normal in the capital. Leaving Father Joseph Carvalho to take care of the Catholics of the capital, Joseph Vaz went visiting the Missions and the villages.
In 1699, Joseph Vaz went to Gurubevelle, a village to the east of Colombo. There he met Father Jose Menezes, appointed by him as the missionary of Puttalam, Negombo and its districts up to Sitawaka and Colombo. Despite the vigilance of the Dutch, Father Jose Menezes and the Catholics there had instructed their Buddhists brethren in Christianity in and around Gurubevelle. In the short space of 13 days, Joseph Vaz baptized more than a thousand.
The Dutch Governor of Colombo, on knowing what was taking place in Gurubevelle, ordered the arrest of the two priests. A company of Dutch soldiers came to the village and surrounded the house in which Joseph Vaz was staying. At that time, Jose Menezes was not there.
The soldiers then barged in and searched the house, and although Joseph Vaz remained all the time among them, they did not see him.
The anxious Catholics who had assembled outside the house saw Vaz in the midst of the Dutch soldiers. They expected the arrest of the priest at any moment. But the soldiers could not see him. Joseph was invisible to them. Joseph Vaz, with the box containing the requisites for Mass, passed among the soldiers, but they did not see him.
The Dutch soldiers were sure that the priest was hiding somewhere in the house and searched every nook and corner. But they did not find him nor did they find any incriminating evidence to prove that people had assembled there for a Catholic service. However, in one room, they saw a lady and were bewildered. The lady asked them whom they sought. But the officer and the soldiers seized with terror fled from her sight and found themselves outside the house.
Ashamed for having run away from a woman, they once again entered that particular room and found nobody there. And, they saw on the spot where the lady had been standing a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Filled with awe, they went away without touching the statue. The infuriated soldiers returned to Colombo and reported the failure of their expedition to the Governor.
At once the news spread throughout the region that the Blessed Virgin had appeared in that house, and people came in haste to venerate the statue.
The infuriated soldiers returned to Colombo and reported the failure of their expedition to the Governor.
Joseph Vaz left Gurubevelle on a boat on the Kelani River. He went to Seethawakapura (now known as Avissawella), the capital of the Kingdom of Sitawaka. Though the Dutch territory was only a few miles away, Vaz established his headquarters there.
On knowing that Joseph Vaz had gone away from the capital, a group of Buddhists decided to take strong measures to prevent the progress of Christianity in the kingdom. They approached the King and asked him to arrest Father Joseph Carvalho and also forbid Joseph Vaz to set foot again in the Kingdom of Kandy. When they saw that the King would not give in to their demands, they threatened him with rebellion.
Since the leader of this Buddhist faction was a powerful Kandyan Chief, the King out of fear of being the cause of a rebellion yielded to their demands. He agreed to exile Father Josep Carvalho from Kandy. However, the King sent one of his Catholic officials to the priest to assure him that he would suffer no harm and that he was free to take along with him whatever he possessed.
Yet in spite of the King’s assurance, the Buddhist mob manhandled the priest. Carvalho took refuge in a country house that belonged to a Catholic named Anthony de Herta, a few miles from the capital, on the other side of the river.
Twenty-five days after Carvalho’s departure, the Buddhist mob led by their Chief, razed the church to the ground.
On learning about the events in Kandy during his absence Joseph Vaz wept.
A few days later, a dreadful malady afflicted the Chief. He was unable to move his legs. A hideous ulcer appeared on his tongue, and putrid pustules covered his entire body. People considered his fate as a just punishment from God for driving away the priest and demolishing the church after desecrating it.
At the end of 1699, Joseph Vaz returned to Mahanuwara with Father Joseph Carvalho, who had been expelled from the capital at the instigation of Buddhist Bhikkus. The two priests constructed a new church. Joseph Vaz then went into service for the king, translating Portuguese books into Sinhalese. From this vantage point, Vaz intensified his ministry and converted some Sinhalese nobles to Catholicism.
Joseph Vaz declines the office of
the Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon
Pope Clement XI received news of the Apostolate of Joseph Vaz conveyed from Goa. The Pope, sent a Papal Legate, Monsignor Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon, Patriarch of Antioch (and afterwards Cardinal), with instructions to make inquiries about the work of the indefatigable Joseph Vaz in Ceylon and the Mission he founded and render him every assistance.
In December 1703, Maillard de Tournon arrived in Pondicherry, India. Deputed by the Bishop of Mylapore, Father Paulo de Sa, the Parish priest of Kodulur, welcomed him. The Papal Legate inquired from the priest about Joseph Vaz and his Apostolate work in Ceylon. Impressed by what he gleaned, the Papal Legate proposed to make use of his extensive powers to appoint Joseph Vaz the Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon.
The Papal Legate sent a letter to Joseph Vaz through Father Francisco da Cruz, an Oratorian priest stationed in Tamilnadu. The latter sent a courier to Joseph Vaz along with a beautiful crucifix inlaid with silver sent by the Papal Legate as a present to Joseph Vaz.
Being a humble person, Joseph Vaz had not taken pains to describe much about his Apostolate work and had avoided taking the credit for himself. So, he deliberated over what this appointment could lead to. He had seen enough of the ecclesiastic squabbles that resulted from the appointment of the Vicars Apostolic in the Padroado regions. Since his Mission in Ceylon belonged and had its seat in Padroado territory of Goa, he feared that accepting the Papal Legate’s nomination would mean the ruin of the Church in Ceylon, which he had planted and nurtured with great personal sacrifice.
Replying to the letter of the Papal Legate, Joseph Vaz said he was confused when he received the letter, which in his humility he felt unworthy of and signed his reply as an unworthy servant. He excused his delay in replying saying that he was not worthy of corresponding with persons of so high dignity and submissively thanked him for the crucifix.
On receipt of the reply from Joseph Vaz, Monsignor Maillard de Tournon wrote to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide that he had proofs of the virtues the humble priest and the “modesty with which be brushed aside some miracles which are said to be operated by God through him“.
This explains why Saint Joseph Vaz is commonly portrayed in a simple surplice with a bishop’s mitre and crozier beside him.mitre and crozier beside him.
Six more Missionaries come from India
In 1705, the Superior of the Goa Oratory sent six more priests to Ceylon. They were: Pedro de Saldanha, Manoel de Miranda, Joseph de Jesu Maria, Miguel Francisco Ignatius de Almeyda, Basil Baretto and Jacome Goncalvez.
After reaching Ceylon and meeting Joseph Vaz, Father Jacome Goncalvez wrote to his Perfect in Goa:
“That ejaculation ‘Oh my Jesus‘ which he used in his sermons in Goa to excite fervour in our hearts, I have now heard many times repeated by him by day and night…
He always carries with him a piece of white cloth to wipe his face for he often sweats due to fatigue or has tears of compunction…
He is always absorbed in God and forgets himself…
At the first sermon we heard from him in Tamil, we saw the people crying because they understood him. Even though we could not understand him, we felt also like crying because the way he was preaching he was moving our hearts..
During the journeys, he always holds fast to the beads of the rosary and recites it alternately with his companions with great devotion.”
Of these six priests, we have more information about Father Jacome Goncalvez than the other five priests.
Father Jacome Goncalvez
Jacome Goncalvez was the eldest son of Thomas Goncalvez and Mariana de Abreu. They lived in the parish of Our Lady of Piety (Piedade), Divar, Goa. Though the Goncalvez were Konkani Brahmins, they had been Christians for more than two generations. They were among the first converts at the beginning of Portuguese rule in Goa.
Jacome studied at the Jesuit College of Goa. He enrolled in the University of Goa, probably Collegio São Paulo, and obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In 1696, he joined the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Goa to study theology. He also held the post of an organist, and this led him to appreciate poetry, prose and music.
In 1700, Jacome Goncalvez was ordained a priest of the Oratorian Order in Goa, India. On January 1705 he was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the Collegio São Paulo, but he relinquished it the same year to go to Ceylon.
Father Jacome Goncalvez left Goa on May 9, 1705 and arrived at Talaimannar, Ceylon on August 39, 1705. At the time, he knew Konkani, Portuguese, Latin and Spanish.
During the long journey from Goa to Talaimannar, he studied Tamil. He improved his knowledge of Tamil by reading Tamil classics written on ola leaf (palm leaf manuscripts).
There were now ten Oratorian Missionaries in Ceylon, all natives of India. Joseph Vaz was now able to organize the Catholic Mission in Ceylon. He divided the Ceylon Mission into eight districts and appointed a priest to each, to serve the needs of the Catholics. Soon, the number of adherents to Catholicism grew rapidly.
Father Jacome Goncalvez mastered the Tamil language during his first assignment on the islands of Mannar, Arippu, Musali and other places in the Mannar district. He also learnt Dutch. Joseph Vaz then sent him to Mahanuwara to learn Sinhalese in the Malwatta Chapter, known for their high and elegant mastery of the Sinhalese language. He also studied Sinhalese under the tutelage of educated laymen like Gaskone Adikaram.
Joseph Vaz and Jacome Goncalvez worked on the creation of Catholic literature comparable to that of the Buddhist literature.
Jacome Goncalvez, became a specialist in Tamil and Sinhalese languages. He won name and fame in the literary history of Sri Lanka, as a classical poet in Sinhalese and as a writer of about forty books. He is rightly called “the creator of Catholic literature in Ceylon”. He wrote many of his works at Bolawatta, near Negombo. Since there was no printing press, he employed 12 Sinhalese clerks to copy his works.
S.G. Perera, in his book “Life of Blessed Joseph Vaz Apostle of Sri Lanka” says:
“[Jacome Goncalvez has been called] the most successful missionary that this island [Sri Lanka] ever had, the creator of Catholic literature in Ceylon, whose name is still held in benediction and whose literary works in Sinhalese and Tamil are still in daily use in the church of this island.”