A statue of St. Joseph Vaz at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, Sri Lanka. CNS photo/Paul Haring

St. Joseph Vaz, the great missionary saint

  • January 22, 2015

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - Passing through Rome on the way to the Jan. 14 canonization of Fr. Joseph Vaz, Apostle of Sri Lanka, I heard something extraordinary from Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints.

“Blessed Joseph Vaz is more important than St. Francis Xavier as a missionary,” he said, somewhat implausibly. Francis Xavier is generally thought to be the most important missionary in all of Christian history, with the sole exception of St. Paul the Apostle. Contrariwise, most people have never heard of St. Joseph Vaz. So what could the cardinal, in charge of reviewing all the causes of saints for the Church, possibly mean?

Joseph Vaz was born in 1651 in Goa, the headquarters of Portuguese colonial activity in Asia since 1505. Portugal also controlled at that time what is now Sri Lanka, but were battling the Dutch for it. A tradition had already grown up in Goa of priests being formed for missionary work in Sri Lanka. In 1658, the Dutch finally expelled all the Portuguese from Sri Lanka and the commander was able to write home that “the entire Popish gang and its idolatry has now been banished.”

A severe anti-Catholic persecution followed...

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