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Pope Canonises Sri Lanka’s First Saint Joseph Vaz

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altBALLARI, JAN 14: Pope Francis today canonised 17th Century India born missionary Fr. Joseph Vaz at the sea-front service in Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Massive crowds attended the service at Galle Face Green, with many lining up from Tuesday to secure a place.


In keeping with his message of unity for Sri Lanka, Pope Francis urged its citizens to follow the example of Joseph Vaz and learn to overcome religious differences.


Saint Joseph embodied a challenge to "testify to the gospel message of reconciliation to which he dedicated his life" and showed "the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace", he said.


He added: "Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free alone or in association with others to seek the truth and to openly express his or her religious conviction."


The canonised saint, Joseph Vaz, was an Indian-born missionary who served Sri Lanka's Catholic community. He has been credited with re-establishing the Catholic Church on the island.

Joseph Vaz was born on April 21, 1651 in Benovlim, Goa as the third son of Christopher Vaz and Miranda of Goa. He became a priest in 1676 and served in different parishes of Goa till 1681. Later, he was sent to Canara. Fr Joseph Vaz travelled from Goa barefoot. He served in Honnavar, Basrur, Kundapura, Gangoli, Mulky, Mangaluru and Ullal Panir. He was miraculously saved from an attempt on his life in 1684, when he was serving as the parish priest of Panir Church. His ambition was to work as a missionary in Sri Lanka. He entered Sri Lanka in 1687 as a labourer, defying a ban on Catholic priests. He served in various places in Sri Lanka braving all odds, thus rekindling the Christian faith in Sri Lanka.


He went to Sri Lanka in 1687 to minister to the scattered faithful. Fr. Vaz traveled from village to village ministering to Catholics from both the Tamil and the majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

He is credited with caring for smallpox victims abandoned by their families out of fear of contagion.


He had to disguise himself as a beggar because the Dutch had banned Catholic priests from the island, and he spent several of his 23 years in Sri Lanka in jail for his work.


By the time of his death in 1711 he had largely rebuilt the Catholic Church, earning him the title “Apostle of Sri Lanka”


Fr Joseph Vaz was a courageous soldier of Christ, a dedicated Indian missionary and a humble servant of God. Recognizing his missionary work, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him as blessed Joseph Vaz in Colombo on January 21, 1995. He is venerated as the ‘Apostle of Sri Lanka’ and also the ‘Patron of Goa’.


Fr. Joseph Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul II during a brief one-day visit to Sri Lanka in 1995.


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