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  • » 03/16/2017, 16.21

    SRI LANKA

    Saint Joseph Vaz, a pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a promoter of the laity in Sri Lanka

    Melani Manel Perera

    This year has been dedicated to the Apostle of Sri Lanka. Born in India, he landed on the island in 1687 during the persecution by Dutch Calvinists. At that time there were no priests. He set up a religious congregation to train missionaries. He worked for the poor and the sick, for dialogue with other religions, and for the development of lay leaders.

    Colombo (AsiaNews) – Saint Joseph Vaz was "a precursor of the Second Vatican Council, supporting interfaith dialogue and promoting the laity". He "was a man of faith and prayer," a "man who had a vision but also a clear plan for the Church in Sri Lanka during the period of persecution,” said Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, a Catholic priest, who spoke to AsiaNews about Sri Lanka’s first saint.

    The local Church dedicated 2017 to the Apostle of Sri Lanka, who was canonised by Pope Francis during his pastoral visit to the South Asian nation in 2015.

    Born in India in 1651 into a Portuguese family, he arrived in the island then called Ceylon in 1687 to support local Catholics at a time of persecution at the hands of Dutch Calvinists. Pope John Paul II described Joseph Vaz as the greatest missionary that Asia has ever had.

    "He was an exemplary missionary,” Fr Shelton said. “He came to Sri Lanka because he had learnt that there were no priests to care for Catholic believers."

    Saint Joseph Vaz was the first to understand the urgency of re-establishing the island’s Catholic community and give impetus to priestly training and the work of the laity. With this in mind, he set up the Congregation of the Oratory of Goa to train missionaries to be sent to Sri Lanka.

    "For ten years, he worked all over the island, which he considered a single parish,” Fr Sheldon explained. “He also appointed lay spiritual leaders well integrated in society so that they could work for the welfare of the community."

    The island-nation’s first saint learnt its two main languages, Sinhala and Tamil, in order to create "friendly relations with Buddhist monks.”

    “He encouraged Fr Jacome Gonsalvez, his confrere, to do the same and get involved in cultural activities. He motivated him to compose literary works in both languages."

    According to the clergyman, after 250 years, Saint Joseph Vaz’s example "is still valid today. He had good relations with everyone, and did not seek confrontation with the authorities. He was always a humble person, refusing an episcopal appointment in order to live as a missionary. For lay people, he was a role model for the simple life, in touch with the divine and with ordinary folks."

    "He realised that the Church was not only for the hierarchy, but also for the people. He was also the first who sought good relations with people of different faiths.”

    “This has not come about yet in Sri Lanka, 50 years after Vatican II. The Catholic Church has not become involved in serious dialogue with other Christian denominations and other religions."

    Last but not least, "Saint Joseph Vaz was greatly involved with the poor and the needy. The love he had for them was clearly visible in the way he treated the sick. With his simple lifestyle, he instilled in people's minds [the conviction] that his holy missionary calling full of faith came from God."

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    See also

    20/01/2017 10:34:00 SRI LANKA
    Card. Ranjith inaugurates the Year of St. Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka (Photo)

    The Archbishop of Colombo said that he was an "outstanding example of reconciliation." He spoke both Tamil and Sinhalese and lived in communion with both ethnicities. A relic exhibited for the devotion of the faithful. Foundations laid of the new national shrine dedicated to him.

     



    31/08/2010 SRI LANKA
    “Without the Blessed Vaz, there would be no priest on the island”
    Mgr Vianny Fernando presents this way the movie on the life of the Blessed Joseph Vaz, considered the second founder of the Church in Sri Lanka. His apostolate occurred during the persecution of Catholics by Dutch Protestants. The Jubilee Year celebrates the 300th anniversary of his death.

    05/03/2009 SRI LANKA
    Colombo-Jaffna highway reopens after 24 years
    Highway A-9 runs across the entire island, from north to south, through the Vanni area, scene of clashes between rebels and the army. Next Monday 20 lorries will leave Colombo carrying food supplies to Jaffna. Now aid for people displaced by the war can be brought up the road.

    19/07/2010 SRI LANKA
    Celebrations to honour Fr Gonsalves and the Blessed Vaz, “founders” of the Church in Sri Lanka
    It is the 270th anniversary of the death of Fr Jacome Gonsalves, who wrote 21 religious texts in Tamil and Sinhalese, favouring the spread of the Catholic faith in the island nation. It is also the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Blessed Joseph Vaz, who promoted the Catholic faith despite the persecution of Dutch colonists.

    18/01/2007 SRI LANKA
    Blessed Vaz’s mission, an example to follow in the current political crisis
    The chairman of Bishops’ Conference calls on Sri Lankan Catholics to take the Blessed as a model to follow. Vaz brought his mission to the entire population without distinction despite the Dutch persecution. Let us pray for the miracle of canonisation, Mgr. Fernando says.



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