‘Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News’
Today marks the feast of St Joseph Vaz, a Father of the Oratory at Goa and the Apostle of Sri Lanka. Born to Catholic parents in 1651, he was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Goa at the age of 24. From the first days of his priestly life, he felt an ardent desire to go to Sri Lanka as a missionary. The state of the church there was dire: in 1640, the Dutch had conquered the island from the Portuguese, and the vast majority of those who had previously been converted either reverted to paganism or were forced to abjure Catholicism in favour of Dutch Protestantism. Initially, his bishop refused to send him to Sri Lanka, instead sending him to the mission territory at Canara on the mainland. It was during this time that he joined the nascent Oratory of Goa and quickly became Superior.
Our intrepid Apostle soon gained permission to go to Sri Lanka, finally landing at Jaffna after a difficult journey in 1689. He must no doubt have gained significant inspiration from our Holy Father St Philip, who found himself in a Rome which was almost as de-Christianised as Vaz’s Sri Lanka. St Philip’s mission was, perhaps, less exotic than St Joseph’s: we do not hear of him only avoiding being mauled to death by bears and elephants by divine protection, or escaping the clutches of the Dutch militia thanks to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin. Nonetheless, both, in their different ways and different settings, took to heart the commandment to ‘Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News’ (Mk 16:15). Both St Philip and St Joseph Vaz were deeply moved by what they saw as the sorriest state a man can be in: not knowing and loving Jesus Christ, his Redeemer. Just as St Philip reconverted Rome, St Joseph restored the Faith in Sri Lanka. His mission (consisting of himself and nine other Fathers from the Goa Oratory) saw not only religious toleration for Catholics in Sri Lanka, but the baptism of 30,000 pagans and the reconciliation of the vast majority of those who had abjured the Faith in the face of Dutch persecution. May he and St Philip pray for us.
This week’s ‘mid-week’ reflection is a bit early, to share with you one of our Oratorian saints. There will be Solemn Benediction in honour of St Joseph Vaz after the evening Mass today.
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