Colombo (AsiaNews) – This year’s celebration of the Blessed Joseph Vaz, the “Apostle of Sri Lanka,” takes on a special meaning for the local Church. In two days a three-year preparatory period for the tricentennial of the death of the Blessed (16 January 2011) will begin, commemorating the “rebirth of Christianity from its ashes” in the country that was once known as Ceylon.
Joseph Vaz was born in Portuguese-held Goa, now an Indian state. He became a priest in 1676 in the congregation of Saint Philip Neri. He travelled from his native land to Ceylon, where the ruling Dutch East Indies Company had expelled Catholic missionaries and threatened any priests they found on the island.
Upon his arrival Father Vaz went underground, bringing his help to local Catholics as far as the capital Colombo. One of his greatest accomplishments was the translation of the Gospels into Tamil and Sinhalese. He died in Kandy on 16 January, 1711. Pope John Paul II beatified him on 21 January 1995 in Colombo.
Solemn celebrations are scheduled for tomorrow at the shrine dedicated to the Blessed in the village of Maha Galgamuwa, diocese of Kurunegala, where Joseph Vaz lived for many years.
Mgr Raymond Peiris, the local bishop, and Mgr Marius Peiris, Colombo’s auxiliary bishop, will celebrate the Mass.
Meanwhile the President of the National Secretariat of Blessed Joseph Vaz, Mgr Vianney Fernando, has issued a statement explaining the significance of the upcoming three-year period for the Church of Sri Lanka.
“This preparatory period will serve to renew and deepen our own Christian faith. Emulating the example of this heroic missionary shall awaken in all members of the Church their missionary commitment and zeal for mission. This period of preparation will give added impetus to the dream of the Sri Lankan Catholic Church to be an evangelising Church.”
Lastly, the message urges all the faithful to continue their prayers in favour of the Blessed’s canonisation.