Kurunegala (AsiaNews) – Celebrations for the 298th anniversary of the death of Fr Joseph Vaz began two days in advance. Known in the country as the “Apostle of Sri Lanka”, he was beatified by John Paul II during his visit to the island nation in 1995.
Celebrations began today at the diocesan level to coincide with the start of the Tamil Thaipongal festival. The shrine dedicated to the only Sri Lankan blessed, in the village of Maha Galgamuwa where Vaz lived, hosted a solemn Mass celebrated by Mgr Cleatus Chandrasiri Perera, bishop of Rathnapura, together with Mgr Raymond Peiris and Fr Robert Jayatilake, respectively bishop and vicar general of Kurunegala, the diocese in which the shrine is located.
Born in 1651 in Goa, then a Portuguese colony, Fr Joseph Vaz was ordained priest in 1676 when he joined the Congregation of Saint Philip Neri. He arrived in Sri Lanka in 1687 and for the next 24 years he remained in the island till his death (in 1711), crisscrossing it far and wide.
His work with the local population led to a catechism, a summary of the Catholic doctrine, meditations on the Way of the Cross and devotions and litanies to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Sinhala and Tamil.
In remembering the Blessed, Bishop Perera stressed that the trials and difficulties Vaz had to endure are similar to those that Christians must endure today in the island nation.
The prelate urged the more than 1,500 faithful present to pray for the “Apostle of Sri Lanka”, that he may grant each and everyone courage and guidance to face the Christian mission.
Groups came in great number from different parts of the island. In addition to the parishes from Kurunegala diocese, people came to the Maha Galgamuwa Shrine from Kadalana, Ragama, Wattala, Wennappuwa, Colombo and many other towns and villages of Sri Lanka.
Entire families were among the faithful. Anton Cooray, a 55-year-old father of three from Moratuwa parish, told AsiaNews, that “what we are is the result of our beloved Blessed Joseph Vaz’s dedication. We owe him and pray for his canonisation.”
Theresa Fernando, who came to Maha Galgamuwa with her three children, is also devoted to the Blessed; for various years she has participated with her parish in preparing celebrations for the anniversary of his death, which falls on 16 January. She told AsiaNews that the celebrations “give us a strong sense of participation and being in these holy places increases our devotion.”
Mgr Joseph Vianney Fernando, bishop of Kandy and president of the National Secretariat for the Canonisation of the Blessed Joseph Vaz, issued a statement explaining the initiatives that will take place over the next two yeas, leading up to the 300th anniversary of the Blessed’s death.
“The main objective of the programme of preparation is a deep renewal of our faith [and○3 commitment, with special emphasis on emulating the example of Blessed Joseph Vaz in his deep love for Jesus and his unparalleled missionary zeal,” the statement said.