Known as the ‘Apostle of Ceylon’, Saint Joseph Vaz is venerated by Roman Catholics and has left a lasting legacy in Sri Lanka. Canonised as the country’s first saint by Pope Francis in 2015, this revered saint’s story actually begins in neighbouring India.
Born in Benaulim, Goa in 1651, St. Joseph Vaz dedicated his life to uplifting the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka, which at the time was under Dutch colonial rule. He embarked on his journey from Tuticorin in India and after a great many challenges, finally set foot on Sri Lankan soil in Mannar. Undeterred by the difficulties ahead, St. Joseph Vaz headed to Jaffna where his mission commenced.
In order to truly be of service, he not only learned the local languages of Sinhala and Tamil, but Sri Lankan customs as well. Through this, he was able to minister to those going through persecution at a time when Calvinism was being spread by the Dutch colonial powers.
His calling took him to Kandy where he tirelessly assisted the people during a smallpox epidemic. According to local Catholic tradition, through prayer, he was also able to miraculously bring about rain in the region at a time of a great drought. It was in Kandy that he passed away in 1711, but not before rebuilding the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.
Several churches which have connections to St. Joseph Vaz can be visited today along with a school named after him; each of these places offers unique insights into the life of a true saint who sacrificially served the people and his faith.