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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 18 – The Last Days and the Death of the Apostle


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com.

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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.”

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← Previous: Part 17 – The Apostle of Ceylon and the New King of Kandy

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


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

.

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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