08/08/2011, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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We need prayers and funds for the canonization of Joseph Vaz, the "apostle of Ceylon"

by Melani Manel Perera
The cause of Blessed Father Vaz (1651-1711) is at a "critical" stage. Fr. Vaz, beatified by Pope John Paul II, has dedicated the last 24 years of his life's mission to Sri Lanka, doing pastoral work in secret, from home to home, when priests were forbidden to live in the country.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – There is an "urgent need" for intense prayers and to find funds to advance the cause of canonization of Blessed Father Joseph Vaz, "the Apostle of Ceylon." This is the appeal of Mgr. Fernando Vianney, president of the Secretariat which deals with the cause of canonization of Blessed of Indian origin who spent the last 24 years of his life's mission in Sri Lanka. In 2010 the Church of Sri Lanka celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of Fr Joseph Vaz, beatified in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.

At a meeting in Lankarama Borella (on the outskirts of Colombo), Mgr. Fernando explained that the Secretariat has submitted miracles to the postulator general, but the process of canonization of Blessed is at a "critical" stage. For this reason, he said he will bring the issue before the next meeting of the Conference of Bishops.

Known as the '"Apostle of Ceylon', Bl Joseph Vaz was born in Benaulim (Goa, India) in 1651. Ordained a priest in 1676, Fr. Vaz began his mission as a priest in Canara (Karnataka) in 1681. In the early years of his mission, he was struck by the news of the Catholics of Ceylon (Sri Lanka as it was called). On the island, a Dutch colony at the time, the Calvinist presence was strong and pervasive, to the point that Catholic priests were forbidden to set foot in the country. In 1687 Fr Vaz arrived in Sri Lanka, in Jaffna, disguised as a beggar, not to be imprisoned and expelled.

Thus he began his ministry on the island: wearing a large rosary, the priest went from door to door looking for Catholics, fearful of persecution against them by the Calvinists. In 1692 the priest moved to Kandy, the capital of an independent kingdom, which will become the true center of his mission. Imprisoned on his arrival - on suspicion of spying for the Portuguese (in Goa, where he was born, he spoke Portuguese because part of the Portuguese Indies, ed) – he learned Sinhala and built a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. From 1696 Fr. Vaz was free to move across the country: a story goes that by his prayers, having erected an altar in the center of Kandy, he unleashed a storm that ended a long drought. His mission on the island was completed at his death in 1711: although he was very weak, Fr. Vaz wanted to make one last visit, but on his return to Kandy he died of a fever contracted during the trip.

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