Bishop of Kandy: Without Joseph Vaz, many Asians would not be Christians
by Melani Manel Perera

On the day of the feast of the first Sri Lankan saint, Msgr. Vianney Fernando recalls his "unparalleled holiness" and "burning missionary zeal". An invitation to the Church of the country not to be "a static church, which only cares about bureaucracy, but a true missionary Church".


Tewatta (AsiaNews) - Without the "unparalleled holiness" and the "burning missionary zeal" of St Joseph Vaz, "many Asians would not be Christians," affirms Msgr. Vianney Fernando, bishop of Kandy.

He was speaking to faithful today during the Mass celebrated in memory of the feast of the missionary and martyr of Sri Lanka, beatified in 1995 by John Paul II and canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.

The mass was celebrated in Sinhalese, Tamil and English in the chapel of the Risen Christ in Tewatta, in the headquarters of Verbum TV and broadcast live on television.

Joseph Vaz is the first canonized saint of Sri Lanka. Born in India in 1651 to a Portuguese family, he arrived on the island of Ceylon in 1687 to evangelize and support Catholics during the persecution by the Dutch Calvinists. He died in 1711. John Paul II called him the greatest missionary in Asia; Pope Francis spoke of him as "an exemplary priest", a model of "disciple-missionary" for the whole Church.

Bishop Vianney Fernando recalled "what Joseph Vaz accomplished 300 years ago, in exceptional circumstances, while a bitter persecution spread": "he saved the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka ... He arrived on the island at the risk of his life, when there was not even one priest in the country.” He was the only priest "to serve Catholics for almost 10 years. And for 24 years, he [he worked] with a handful of priests until the end of his life."

He "formed the first Asian religious institute", in a period in which vocations were not found among the native peoples, founding the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Goa, which allowed the Catholics of Sri Lanka to have missionaries from India for 150 years, “until 1806, when the British arrived and guaranteed freedom of religion for this country”.

Bishop Vianney also underlined "the great respect" that Saint Joseph Vaz had for non-Christians; his cultural commitment in producing "a large number of volumes of Christian literature and sacred music to serve our people"; the impetus he gave towards the mission of the laity.

Thanks to Joseph Vaz, today the Church of Sri Lanka is endowed with "a conference of bishops, a large number of priests, good lay leaders". The bishop asked the faithful to imitate St. Vaz.

"We must find inspiration from his great missionary life to make our Church in Sri Lanka not a static church, which only cares about bureaucracy, but a true missionary Church, faithful to the original mandate of the risen Savior Jesus Christ".

During the mass he prayed for all those who contributed to the evangelization of Sri Lanka. A special prayer was also offered for the victims of the Easter 2019 terrorist attack and for the dead from the coronavirus pandemic.

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