Saint Joseph Vaz
Saint Joseph Vaz was born in Goa, India, in 1651 to devout parents who had converted to the Catholic faith. At that time, Goa was a colony of Portugal allowing the Catholic faith to spread. At the age of 25 Joseph was ordained a priest, and after some time he became associated with a group of priests and suggested they start an Oratory of St Philip Neri.
St Philip himself had desired to become a missionary to the Indies, and while St Philip’s Indies was to be Rome, his desire would be fulfilled by these spiritual sons.
The zeal St Joseph Vaz had for souls filled him with a deep concern for the people of Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). Ceylon was a Dutch colony at the time, and the authorities were Calvinistic and sought to stamp out Catholicism from the island. There had not been a Catholic priest there for some years.
Feeling this call to mission, Joseph made his way to Ceylon where he ministered to the Catholics and won many converts for God. Always hot on his heals were the Dutch Calvinist authorities, but he would evade them by disguising himself as a beggar. He was so successful that many people believed he was under a special protection from God.
Joseph Vaz still needed a safe base from which to work in Ceylon. At that time, there was an independent state in the middle of the island only nominally under the Dutch, this was the Kingdom of Kandy. Joseph Vaz entered this kingdom but was arrested as a potential spy.
At that time a great drought was affecting the kingdom, and the king, a Buddhist, had his pagan priests pray for rain to no avail. The King heard of this Holy Man, Joseph Vaz, in prison, so he asked him to pray to his God for rain. Joseph built an altar, and before the people prayed for rain. Low and behold, clouds darkened the sky and torrential rain came soaking everyone except Joseph and his altar. From this moment the King of Kandy placed Joseph under his special protection and allowed him to go throughout the land.
Eventually Joseph was joined by some other priests, and together they were involved in the building of many churches and winning over 100’000 souls for God.
As time went on, Joseph realised the time of his death was approaching. He retired to a quieter life of prayer to prepare himself, and he died peacefully on 16 January 1711 in the presence of his community, bidding them “Always live according to God’s inspiration.”
He was beatified in Sri Lanka by Pope John Paul II on 21st June 1995, and was canonized there by Pope Francis on Wednesday 14th January 2015.
O God, who granted your Church to shed light throughout the lands of Asia through the ministry and example of your priest, Blessed Joseph, look upon your people, who were instructed by him with the Word of God, and nourished with the heavenly Sacrament, and grant that through his intercession our faith may flourish more and more, and we be made faithful witnesses to your Gospel. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.n.