Fr Gonsalves played a crucial role in the spread of the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka by writing for the first time religious texts in Sinhalese and Tamil, thus enabling the local population to learn and adopt the Catholic faith. In addition to some 20 religious books, he also published a catechism.
This year is also the 300th anniversary of the birth of Fr Joseph Vaz, “the Apostle of Ceylon”, beatified in 1995 by John Paul II.
Born in 1651 when Sri Lanka was a Dutch colony, the blessed Vaz was a priest who consolidated the Catholic Church at a time when the official religion was Calvinism and Catholics were subjected to widespread persecution.
“We can consider the Blessed Joseph Vaz and Fr Jacome Gonsalves, his most famous disciple, as the founders of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka,” said Fr Alex Dassanayake, member of the Joseph Vaz Anniversary Committee, in a statement published yesterday in The Messenger, Colombo’s Catholic weekly.
“The people of his day considered Father Vaz a saint,” Fr Dassanayake said. “Unfortunately, we have not sufficiently worked for his speedy canonisation.”
In order to celebrate the two anniversaries, a national service is planned at the national basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatte.
Meetings and catechism lectures have been organised to raise awareness about the Blessed Joseph Vaz.
In addition, prayers and special hymns will be held after Sunday functions in each of the country’s diocese and parish.