Saturday , 17 February 2018
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Venerating the saint of the soil: Saint Joseph Vaz

The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint Joseph Vaz, the patron of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman and the son of Sancoale, today. An apostle of Sri Lanka, the feast of this recently canonised saint is celebrated with great devotion in Sancoale at the old Our Lady of Health Church. Earlier, celebrations would take place at the Blessed Joseph Vaz Sanctuary, near his ancestral house. NT BUZZ finds about the feast and more 

SHERAS FERNANDES | NT BUZZ

 

The village of Sancoale will celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph Vaz, the patron of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman and the son of Sancoale at the old Our Lady of Health Church.

Joseph Vaz lived a life and dedicated his service to the welfare of society and for the good of human race in accordance with the teachings of the gospel. He neglected his own self and inflicted undue suffering upon himself for the love of God.

This year the celebrations have been shifted at the church premises that retains only the façade of the old church which was ruined due to a fire in 1834. The open area along the banks of the river Zuari is spacious and can accommodate a large congregation that descends to pay their homage to this Goan saint. “This was decided by church authority considering the space and parking problems at the old traditional venue and to ensure whole hearted participation of the devotees which wasn’t possible at the old venue due to several distractions,” says rector, Blessed Joseph Vaz Sanctuary, Fr Manuel Dias. History tells us that Saint Joseph Vaz would visit this old Sancoale church very often, soon after his ordination and spent hours in prayer. “It was on August 5, 1677 that Joseph dedicated himself as a humble slave of Mother Mary with great eagerness to do whatever her son Jesus would ask of him. This he did on his knees at the main altar of the old church and is called the famous deed of bondage,” says Fr Manuel.

Joseph was born to very pious and devout Catholic parents on April 21, 1651 and grew up in deep religious sentiments, devoting time to pray and other spiritual practices. After completing his education in Portuguese and Latin he joined the seminary and was ordained in 1676. While Joseph was still a boy he decided to visit the Blessed Sacrament at nights from his paternal home at Sancoale. “The doors of Cortalim Church, the neighbouring church, opened on its own when he went to visit the Blessed Sacrament at night. As a young boy he was called ‘the little saint’ in his paternal and maternal village,” narrates Fr Manuel.

After ordination he ran a school at Sancoale and during that time he learnt about the utter misery and complete abandonment of Catholics in Sri Lanka. The Dutch had been prosecuting the Catholics since 1637 and had expelled all priests and forbade their presence in the island under the pain of death and destroyed churches. He requested permission to go to Sri Lanka but instead he was sent to Mangalore. After working for few years he came back to Goa and joined a small group of priests and founded Oratorian order in Old Goa and proceeded to Sri Lanka as a disguised labourer wearing traditional clothes. As a baker, he reached out to the faithful and would organise them to administer the holy sacrament to them at night.

St Joseph Vaz saved the Catholic Church in Ceylon, Sri Lanka from extinction in the 17th – 18th century. Though he had everything he often went barefoot from place to place and survived on ‘kanjee’.

In 1696 in Kandy, Sri Lanka there was a severe drought. “The local king asked the priests to pray for rain. And later sent for Joseph and asked him to obtain rain from his God. Saint Joseph erected an altar and a cross and prayed for the rain and soon after he finished, the skies turned dark and it started pouring,” Fr Manuel tells us.

In 1697, an epidemic of small pox broke out in Kandy, Ceylon. All the health service providers fled, the king took shelter on the mountain but St Joseph remained there ministering the sick and dying, often feeding them with ‘kanjee’ irrespective of their religion. “He washed the victims of the contagious disease and buried dead Christians himself, as there was no one to do that work,” says Fr Manuel. After the scourge was over the king of Kandy was very pleased and gave him all the freedom for his missionary work. His charity and care brought a longing for the Christian faith.

He died on January 17, 1711 after very long was canonised saint on September 9, 2014. Even today, the saint plays an integral role in the lives of many people. They believe that it is through his intersession that their lives have changed. “One of our nuns in our convent was very ill; however she had a strong devotion to Saint Joseph Vaz. She prayed to him and kept faith that she will recover some day. Today, she is like any other sister and is recovering quite rapidly,” says Sr Jaya, St John of Cross, Sanfona – Sancoale.

 

(Masses will be held at 8 a.m. 10 a.m. (high mass), 12 noon (Oratory of St Joseph), 4 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.)

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