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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 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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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

← Previous: Part 1: THE EARLY YEARS

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