THE DUTCH PERIOD (1658-1796)
THE DUTCH PERIOD
When Răjasimha II was king of Kandy (1635-1687), the Dutch East India Company was active in Indian waters. The king sought the help of the Dutch to get the Portuguese out of the country. The Dutch took the Portuguese fort at Batticaloa in 1638 and after that several other coastal forts including the strategically important one of Galle which was taken in 1640. With the capitulation of Colombo to the Dutch in 1656 and of Jaffna in 1658, Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka terminated. Răjasimha was however dismayed when he saw that the Dutch were going to be the new masters of the territories formerly held by the Portuguese, with the exception that the region to the north of the Maha Oya, would remain part of his kingdom.
The Dutch feared that Lanka's Catholics might not be loyal to them and might want the Portuguese back. Religion wag a strong link between the Catholics and the Portuguese, The Dutch therefore took measures to stamp out Catholicism from the country. The Catholic faith was proscribed. Catholic churches and schools were confiscated. All Catholic priests were banished from the country. A proclamation was made that anyone harbouring or aiding a priest would be subject even to the capital punishment. Catholics were required to attend services in Dutch kirks and to have their children baptized, their marriages solemnized and their dead buried according to Calvinist rites. The fact that the Dutch took such stringent measures against Catholicism shows that at the end of the Portuguese period the number of Catholics in the island had been considerable. If it had been negligible, they might not have bothered about them.
A FLOCK WITHOUT A SHEPHERD
The heaviest blow to the Catholics was their total deprivation of the ministry of priests. We learn from a contemporary document that there had been over 120 priests in the country at the close of the Portuguese period. But now there was none. This went on for about 30 years. We have no information as to how the Catholics attended to their religious duties during this time. There was no one to perform the priest's function of celebrating Mass, so central to Catholic faith and life.
Had the European missionaries of the Portuguese period trained a native clergy, the latter could have continued to serve the Catholics at least in secret. But this had not been done. The European missionaries had not expected a situation like this and had thought that missionaries could continue to come to the island from Europe.
When the Catholics of Sri Lanka were thus reduced to the position of being a flock without shepherds, who came to their rescue? Neither the Archbishop of Goa who was head of the ecclesiastical province to which Sri Lanka belonged and head of the Church in Portugal's empire in the East; nor the Bishop of Cochin who was bishop for Sri Lanka as well and had been so for over a century and a quarter; nor the European missionaries who had worked in Sri Lanka and knew the country well and were now working in India or Europe; nor the Indian priests of the dioceses of Goa and Cochin, some of whom at least would have known of the plight of Lanka's Catholics. None of them took the trouble to see if they could help Sri Lanka in any way.
When the Holy See came to know of the situation in the island, the solution it saw was to somehow send some European missionaries back into the country. 'Missionary' those days meant the European missionary. It was he who made converts in non Christian lands and took pastoral care of them. European missionaries had therefore to be sent to Sri Lanka. The Pope at the time was Innocent XI (1676-1689). Attempts were made by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide to get the Catholic emperor Leopold I of Austria and the Vicar Apostolic of the Netherlands, Johannes Neercassel, to prevail upon the Dutch government to permit at least a handful of European missionaries acceptable to it to go to Sri Lanka to minister to its Catholics. But these attempts were unsuccessful. The government of the Netherlands refused to allow any Catholic missionaries to enter the island.
GOD SENDS A SHEPHERD
When there was no help from anywhere for Lanka's Catholics, Divine Providence sent them and in a very remarkable manner. God touched the heart of a humble Indian priest and inspired him to dedicate his life to the service of the abandoned Catholics of Sri Lanka. Born on 21 April 1651 into a Konkani Brahmin family of Goa, Joseph Vaz was deeply religious from his early days and later as a youth studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1676 for the Archdiocese of Goa. For about five years (1676-1681) he worked in Goa itself and in 1681 was sent as Vicar Forane to Kanara, a region to the south of Goa, where he laboured for the next three years (1681-1684).
When he came to know of the situation in Sri Lanka, he was deeply to touched and disturbed. There were so many priests in Goa, both European and native, but not one in that neighbouring country, and nobody seemed to care much about it. Couldn't he go and serve the Catholics there? But Lanka was a country where a persecution raged. especially in the parts where most of the Catholics lived. How could he get into the country?
He got an idea. There were Dutch traders from Colombo and Jaffna who came to Kanara and Goa. Couldn't he be sold as a slave to one of them? Then he will be able to go to Sri Lanka with his master. Fr Vaz therefore begged of a brother-priest, Nicolăo de Gamboa, to effect the sale, but the latter was not willing. Fr Vaz then returned to Goa, Fr Gamboa succeeding him as Vicar Forane of Kanara.
PROVISION FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW
Since the religious orders that came from Europe to mission countries were originally reluctant to admit indigenous candidates into their ranks, an elderly priest of Goa, Paschoal da Costa Jeremias, had made an attempt with three others to live a community life, but it had failed. However, he tried again, with two others. Then a fourth person sought admission. He was Fr Vaz who had returned from Kanara, He was admitted on 25 September 1685.
Fr Vaz's decision to join this community is somewhat puzzling. But we see in it God's guidance for the good of Sri Lanka. One wonders why Fr Vaz, who was so keen on going to Sri Lanka, decided to join a community which could be a hindrance to his project, for he would have to submit to the wishes of his superior and of the community, who might not favour his going to Sri Lanka. Or was he expecting the community to support his work in the island? If so, one is surprised that he had so much hope in a community which still did not have a sure foundation and the future of which was very uncertain.
He was soon elected superior of the community. He got the building where they were living repaired. He brought order and fervour into the life of the community, especially by the example of his own fervent religious life. There were others now coming forward to join the group. With the consent of all the members he decided to have the community established as a Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri and wrote to the Oratory in Lisbon for the statutes. The Oratory of Goa, thus initiated by Fr Vaz, the first and so far the only Oratory in Asia, became providentially a source of supply of Indian missionaries to Sri Lanka at a time when European missionaries could not enter the island. This went on for over 150 years. Fr Vaz demonstrated to the Church at a time when Europeans were the missionaries, that Asians (Indians) too could become missionaries.
It is clear from later events that Fr Vaz had not given up the idea of going to Sri Lanka. Towards the end of the following year (16 8 6), having persuaded Fr Paschoal to resume the superiorship, he left Goa for a mission tour in Kanara and further south, taking with him two members of the community, Fr Paul de Souza and Brother Stephen Siqueira, who were not told about his final destination since secrecy was absolutely necessary in the context of the situation. Having come as far as Tellicherry. he informed his companions of his intention to proceed to Sri Lanka, but they were unwilling to face the dangers and hardships of such a venture and turned back, while he, disguised as a coolie, left Tuticorin by boat with John, a domestic employee, with the intention of reaching Jaffna. A storm carried the boat to Mannar where he landed (1687) and fell ill, but as soon as he recovered he proceeded by land to Jaffna.
LANKA'S SOLE PASTOR
Fr Vaz revealed himself to the Catholics of Jaffna who were overjoyed to see a priest in their midst after so long. He secretly ministered to them, mostly under cover of darkness, celebrating Mass in their homes, administering the sacraments, and bringing back to the Church those who had given up the practice of the faith or had strayed into the Dutch Reformed Church, as had Dom Pedro, a prominent citizen of Jaffna. He thus served the Catholics of Jaffna for about two years.
On Christmas night 1689 he had arranged to say the midnight Mass in three houses one after the other. The people had gathered in the houses and were praying while they waited for Fr Vaz. Information about the arrangements had been given by someone to the Dutch authorities, and suddenly troops appeared and not finding Fr Vaz in any of the three places, arrested about 300 of the Catholics, both men and women, and the following morning produced them before the Dutch Commissary in Jaffna, Hendrick Adriaan van Rheede, who released the women but dealt severely with the men, singling out for harsher punishment as a lesson to others eight of the leading citizens, including Dom Pedro. They were ordered to be flogged and Jailed. Dom Pedro, who had abandoned the Dutch Reformed Church to come back to Catholicism was so severely flogged that he died in jail, the first martyr of the Dutch period.
Fr Vaz managed to escape and made his way to Puttalam where he met an Indian secular priest, Joăo de Braganza, who had recently come to help him. Leaving him at Puttalam. Fr Vaz went on a missionary tour of the island (1690) and returned in 1692.
At Puttalam he met one Antonio Sottomayor from Kandy, a Portuguese descendant who told him of Christians in the hill country who needed the ministrations of a priest. Fr Vaz consulted Fr Braganza about going to Kandy, and when he saw that the latter was keen on going. gave in to his wishes. But Providence willed otherwise. Fr Braganza fell ill and had even to return to Goa and Fr Vaz was again left alone as Lanka's only pastor, and that for the next four years.
A PROVIDENTIAL IMPRISONMENT
Fr Vaz left for Kandy in August 1692, and the king of the Kandyan kingdom, Vimaladharmasuriya II (1 (1687-1707) being misinformed that he was a spy of the Portuguese, ordered his imprisonment which, though rigorous at first, was relaxed when the king saw that he was no spy but a deeply religious man and an ascetic and his only concern was to minister to the Catholics, who were therefore permitted to visit him.
It will be remembered that Fr Paschoal da Costa Jeremias assumed the duties of superior of the Goan community when Fr Vaz left for Sri Lanka. But Fr Paschoal died the following year (1687), and was succeeded by Fr Custodio Leităo. On hearing of this, Fr Vaz wrote to his new superior on 15 August 1690 to ask him whether he should continue in Sri Lanka or return to Goa. This is because he was very particular in doing the will of his superiors which he regarded as a manifestation of God's will. He wished to know his new superior's will regarding his future.
As stated above, in 1692 Fr Vaz went to Kandy where he was imprisoned. When in Kandy, he received a letter from his superior with instructions to return to Goa. Had he not been a prisoner, he certainly would have gone back, and what a loss it would have been to Sri Lanka! The imprisonment providentially prevented his return.
In 1696 there occurred a severe drought in the Kandyan regions and there was also the danger of famine. Various traditional religious rites were performed with a view to obtaining rain, but still there was no rain. Some Catholics at the court, suggested to the king to ask Fr Vaz too to pray to his god for rain which the latter accepted to do. He set up a small altar in a public square of the city, placed a crucifix on it, and while a crowd watched, knelt before it and began to pray. Before long rain clouds covered the sky and there was a heavy downfall of rain, though not a drop fell on the spot where Fr Vaz remained kneeling. All this is recorded in a report of the time, now at the Bilblioteca da Ajuda in Lisbon.
we see in contemporary records a marked change of attitude towards Fr Vaz on the part of the king and the people after this event which appears to confirm the fact that there had been a 'miraculous' shower of rain. The king permitted Fr Vaz to travel freely for the purpose of his ministry to the Catholics.
In the same year (1696) the Bishop of Cochin, Dom Pedro Pacheco, appointed Fr Vaz as his Vicar General for Sri lanka with all the powers he needed for the administration of the Church in the country. Also his first priestly collaborators, after the departure of Fr Braganza in 1692, arrived in the island this year, Frs Joseph de Menezes and Joseph Carvalho from the Oratory, and Fr Pedro Ferrăo, a secular priest.
In the following year (1697) smallpox broke out in Kandy. The traditional preventive measure to escape the dread disease was flight, leaving behind even one's close relatives who had fallen victims. This happened this time too, but Fr Vaz, with his companion Fr Carvalho, went round visiting the victims, nursing and feeding them, and burying the dead. He could have caught the disease himself, but he didn't. What he did during the epidemic was in the eyes of the king and his people another 'miracle', a miracle of charity. It is reported that Fr Vaz's charity on this occasion brought in quite a number of conversions.
CATHOLIC LITERATURE IN THE NATIONAL LANGUAGES
As we saw earlier, some of the European missionaries of the Portuguese period mastered the national languages and wrote books for religious instruction. But these do not seem to have survived up to the time of Fr Vaz's arrival in Sri Lanka. He saw the need therefore of getting books written in Sinhala and Tamil for adult catechesis. He had learnt both the languages well and insisted that his fellow-missionaries should do the same. But writing needed special talent. Who was going to do it? Fortunately, among the four missionaries who arrived in Sri Lanka in 1705 there was one, Fr Jacome Gonsalves, who possessed not only a brilliant mind but also linguistic and literary talent.
Fr Gonsalves first worked in Jaffna after his arrival in the island and learnt Tamil. Fr Vaz next summoned him to Kandy and gave him the opportunity to learn Sinhala, which he assiduously did with the help of some bhikkhus and Pedro Gaskon, the king's first adigar, noted for his knowledge of Sinhala and skill as a folk poet. Having acquired proficiency in Sinhala as well Fr Gonsalves began to write, in the midst of his other labours and even when later he was Vicar General and Superior (1730-1742).
He wrote in both Sinhala and Tamil, in prose and verse, in the literary language as well as in the language of the common man; his works reveal his wide knowledge of the vocabulary of the two languages; he wrote on a variety of themes pertaining to Catholic faith and practice, so that he produced almost a small library of Catholic literature for the need of the time, he got copies of his books made for distribution among the people.
I was happy to discover in 1955 at the Biblioteca da Ajuda in Lisbon a manuscript copy of the writings of Gonsalves in Sinhala and Tamil, except the dictionaries he had composed. The Sinhala works run to 1094 folios with writing on both sides, hence 2188 pages. This is the most complete manuscript copy of his writings so far available. I have been able to obtain from the Ajuda a photocopy of this manuscript collection, the Franciscans in Holland meeting the expenses.
Gonsalves' writings are important not only as religious and spiritual literature but also for their literary and linguistic value. He was a master in the use of the simile to elucidate his thought. In fact, in the history of Sinhala literature he appears to be the most outstanding writer in the use of the simile. Thus Fr Gonsalves very creditably and creatively fulfilled the wishes of his superior, Fr Vaz, in providing Lanka's Catholics with a Catholic literature in the national languages. What he did for Lanka's Catholics is similar to the contribution made to Buddhist literature by the Indian Buddhist monk Buddhaghosa who was in. Sri Lanka in the fifth century A. D.
During Fr Vaz's lifetime, the number of missionaries, all of them Indians, who came to serve in the island rose to about a dozen. He assigned to each one a part of the country for pastoral work. Since the kings of Kandy. both Vimaladharmasuriya II (1687 - 1707) and Sri Vira Narendrasimha (1707-173 9), were friendly to him and his brother-missionaries, Fr Vaz made Kandy his headquarters and from there went from time to time on missionary tours throughout the country, to visit, guide and encourage the other missionaries and to meet the people. Up to his death in 1711, he served the Church in Sri Lanka not only as its chief administrator (Superior and Vicar General), but also as. a model, inspiration and guide to both priests and the people. He revitalized the faith of the people and built it on surer foundations.
The Holy See had now come to know of Fr Vaz's work in the. island. When Pope Clement XI (1700-1721 sent Archbishop Charles Maillard de Tournon as his special legate to India and China to look into complaints against some missionary methods, he instructed him to inquire also about Fr Vaz and his work in Sri Lanka, for, whereas the attempts of the Holy See to help Sri Lanka by sending missionaries from Europe had failed, he had succeeded. When the legate reached Pondicherry in 1703 he collected information from persons who had known Fr Vaz. especially from some Jaffna Catholics who had come there to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. On 26 August 1704 he despatched a report to Rome with the highest praise for Fr Vaz. Moreover, he made known to Fr Vaz that he would wish to appoint him a bishop, but the latter declined, no doubt fearing that the appointment of a bishop directly by Rome might irritate Portugal, which in retaliation might prevent Goan priests from coming to Sri Lanka, which would disastrously, affect the Church in the island.
What Fr Vaz did for Sri Lanka in coming to its rescue and saving the faith of its Catholics at a time of persecution and when there was no help forthcoming from any quarter is unique in mission history. But there are also other important ecclesial aspects of his life and work. He has lessons for the universal Church.
ASIAN MISSIONARY PAR EXCELLENCE
Though Christianity, like the other world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam) had its birth in Asia and its early missionaries were Asians. it initially moved westwards and spread extensively in Europe, which consequently became deeply Christianised in the course of over a millennium, while all that time Asia remained almost entirely, non-Christian especially when, after the rise of Islam, the Christian communities of south-west Asia were wiped out. Christianity also influenced the culture of European nations and in the process was itself influenced by European culture.
It was with the colonial expansion of European nations, which commenced in the late 15th century, that the evangelization of Asian, African and American peoples was undertaken by missionaries from Europe, which went on continuously up to the 20th century.
As we have seen, it was by European missionaries that the Catholic faith was brought to Sri Lanka in the Portuguese period. In the Dutch period, European Catholic missionaries could not come into the island because of the persecution. In the British period, after religious freedom was restored to Catholics, they came back again. In the crucial period of persecution, when the attempts of the Holy See to send some European missionaries had failed and there seemed no hope of helping Lanka's Catholics, it was an Asian, an Indian, Fr Joseph Vaz, who came to the rescue of the Church in the Island.
By his life and work Fr Vaz demonstrated to the Church of the time that in newly Christianized lands, sons of the soil themselves were fit enough and ready enough to undertake even so arduous a task as serving a persecuted Church, which called for heroism and sacrifice. Though his activity was confined to Sri Lanka, Fr Vaz had a message for the whole Church. His missionary undertaking became an object-lesson to the Church. He showed what the native clergy were capable of. He showed that the Church should therefore have greater confidence in them. He became God's chosen instrument to bring to the Church the realization of the need and worth of the native clergy in the great task of the evangelization of peoples. In Lanka itself in the Portuguese period the European missionaries had made the great mistake of not training a native clergy. It was an Asian, Fr Vaz, who, on his own initiative, took steps to make up for it.
INDIGENOUS MINISTERS OF SALVATION
The European missionaries of the colonial period were mostly members of religious orders founded in Europe, like the Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits and Augustinians, though they were not orders specifically founded for missionary work. In later centuries, other orders or institutes were founded in Europe expressly for evangelistic activity, such as the Paris Foreign Mission Society, Mill Hill Fathers and Verona Fathers. But as early as the 17th century we have in Asia, at Goa, a missionary institute, founded by an Asian, for Asian recruits, to do mission work in an Asian country. It is Fr Vaz's Oratory. Though founded as an Oratory of St Philip Neri, it deviated from the character of ordinary Oratories by its missionary dimension.
Ecclesially it is important to note that at a time when missionaries were Europeans coming from European religious orders, here was an Asian institute supplying missionaries exclusively Indian, to an Asian country, which went on for over a century and a half. This is something unique in mission history and Church history.
It is relevant to mention that in the early, part of the same century (17th), another Indian and Goan like Fr Vaz, who became Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur in 1637, Bishop Matthew de Castro, attempted to establish an Indian religious community, but it became a failure. If the Oratory of Goa succeeded, it was largely because of Fr Vaz, whose heroic and apostolic work in Sri Lanka became an inspiration to other Indians and brought in recruits.
By his own labours and the labours of the members of the institute he founded, Fr Vaz proved to the Church that the indigenous clergy, were capable of serving the Church as competently as the European clergy, that they could not only be pastors to their own people but also go out to other lands as missionaries. He showed already in his day the aptness of what Pope Leo XIII (1878 - 1903) said two centuries later in establishing the Papal Seminary in Kandy that Filii tui, India, administri tibi salutis (Your sons, O India, shall be the ministers of your salvation).
On the subject of the training of native clergy in mission lands, Fr Vaz became also an inspiration to Mrs Bigard and her daughter Jeanne who founded about a century ago the Pontifical Society of St Peter the Apostle for the support of indigenous priestly vocations. Mrs Bigard was so enthralled by the story of the heroic and unique apostolate of Fr Vaz that she, obtained a copy of an Italian version of his life, translated it into French and published it in Caen. The pastoral service rendered by Fr Vaz and his brother-missionaries to Sri Lanka in very trying circumstances proved to the Bigards the legitimacy of the cause they had espoused, and encouraged them to go ahead in spite of the difficulties they had to encounter.
INDIGENOUS ADMINISTRATORS OF LOCAL CHURCHES
In the days of Fr Vaz and for long afterwards, not only were the missionaries Europeans but also European missionaries themselves were appointed to high administrative positions such as that of bishop or vicar apostolic of the newly established Christian communities. It was only in the present century, in 1911, that for the first time a Sri Lankan was appointed a bishop in Sri Lanka, Bishop Bede Beekmeyer of Kandy. The question of the appointment of a bishop for Sri Lanka was looked into by Propaganda in 1648, in the Portuguese period, but was postponed. Had a bishop been appointed then, he, would have been a European missionary. Had there been no persecution in Sri Lanka in the Dutch period, it is again most likely that, if a bishop was appointed, a European missionary would have been chosen for the post.
After Fr Vaz had been in the island for about ten years, the Bishop of Cochin, to whose diocese Sri Lanka had been attached since 1558, appointed him, by letter dated 10 February 1696, his Vicar General for the whole island with all the powers he needed to administer the Church. Though not a bishop, Fr Vaz, an Asian, became head of the Church in an entire Asian country with all the missionaries working with him being also exclusively Asian. The Church in Lanka thus became totally Asian, which was something unusual at the time.
This situation of Indian clergy of the Oratory founded by Fr Vaz serving the Church m Sri Lanka with one of them as Vicar General of the Bishop of Cochin, continued for 142 years until in 1838 Vicente do Rosayro, one of the Indian Oratorians in the country, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Sri Lanka. The next Vicar Apostolic, Caetano Antonio, was also an Indian Oratorian, but was succeeded thereafter by European bishops until recent times.
In successfully administering the Church in difficult times, Fr Vaz and those who succeeded him proved to the Church that in mission lands too sons of the soil were as capable as their European counterparts in holding positions of responsibility in the Church.
APOLITICAL MISSIONARY ACTION
We have seen that in the colonial period the Church turned to Spain and Portugal for help in spreading the faith, conferring on them the status of 'patron' of the Church in the missions, Patronato in Spanish and Padroado in Portuguese. This brought the political factor into the relations between the Church and these nations on the one hand, and between these nations and the non-Christian nations on the other. Although this alliance of Church and State had certain advantages for the Church there were also disadvantages. What was expected to be productive for the Church became also counter-productive.
In Sri Lanka itself, the involvement of the Portuguese in the political affairs of the country, the wars they fought against the Sri Lankans, the bloodshed and destruction they caused, their cruelty and terrorism when reduced to desperation, the exploitation of the people, the deprivation of a large part of the country of its political independence and the scandalous life of some of the Portuguese, all these affected the Church on account of its close association with the state. The inhabitants of the country who hated the foreigner for his aggression and misdeeds also regarded with disfavour the religion he ostentatiously professed and sought to propagate.
Fr Vaz had seen in Goa itself the weaknesses and blunders of the Padroado system. He came to Sri Lanka, not sent by the Padroado authorities but impelled solely by the desire of ministering to a persecuted and abandoned Church. He had no political alliance, interests or intentions. He had no military forces to protect and support him. He came to serve under local rulers, not to reduce them to subjection to a foreign power for the purpose of Christianization of the people. He came, not as a quasi-emissary of a foreign power, but only as a servant of God and of the Church. He came in utter simplicity and humility without the trappings of ecclesiastical or civil display of power.
The kings of Kandy and their subjects had therefore no reason to fear him, for he was only a humble ascetic and a religious guru and totally apolitical unlike the missionaries of the previous regime. No wonder he was respected and revered by both the rulers and the people.
RESPECT FOR OTHER FAITHS
In the previous regime the attitude to non-Christians had been oppressive and destructive, since it was thought that, as non-Christian religions were in error, they had no right to exist, a concept of the tune. We saw how Buddhist temples and their lands and revenues were given over to the Franciscans; how some temples were converted to churches; and how some were pillaged and plundered by the Portuguese forces.
Fr Vaz had almost a post-Vatican II attitude towards the adherents of other faiths. Although he desired their conversion, he followed a policy of tolerance, co-existence and friendliness. For instance, when nursing the sick during the smallpox epidemic in Kandy or distributing alms to the poor, he treated both Christians and non-Christians alike. He sought conversion, not by the annihilation of non-Christian religions, or by the offer of favours and privileges to converts, but rather by his self-sacrificing charity, service to fellowmen, and the example of his saintly life. Thus by his life and work he demonstrated to the Church of his time another approach to the non-Christian different from that followed by the Church in alliance with the state, when conversion, as happened in Mannar, made the local rulers suspect that it was a preliminary step towards foreign domination of the country.
In this way Fr Vaz not only rendered a unique service to the Church in Sri Lanka by coming to its rescue at a time of persecution when there were no priests at all in the country, and by founding an Indian institute to carry on the work after him, but by his lifestyle and methods of evangelisation pointed out to the Church that there could be other methods of approach to the non-Christian, methods more peaceable and effective than those followed by the Church at the time. In the history of the Church and of the missions, Fr Vaz thus stands out as an ecclesially important figure.
CONTINUITY OF SERVICE OF THE INDIAN MISSIONARIES
When Fr Vaz died in 1711, he was succeeded as Vicar General and Superior by Fr Joseph de Menezes, one of the earliest to come to Sri Lanka after Fr Vaz. This arrangement of one of the Indian Oratorians in Sri Lanka being Vicar General of the Bishop of Cochin continued until in 1834 (in the British period) Sri Lanka was detached from Cochin and constituted as a Vicariate Apostolic and in 1836 the then Vicar General Fr Vicente do Rosayro, was appointed as Vicar Apostolic.
During this period of 123 years, that is, from Fr Vazs's death (1711) up to the setting up of the Vicariate Apostolic of Sri Lanka (1834), and for another 8 Years, that is, till the first European missionary was sent by Propaganda (1842), the Church in Sri Lanka was served by Indian missionaries from the Oratory of Goa. The number of missionaries varied from 10, towards the end of Fr Vaz's life, to 18, the highest reached. From 1737 the number was around 16. It will be seen that this was still a very small number compared with the number of European missionaries in the island in the latter part of the Portuguese period.
It has to be mentioned, moreover, that the original fervour, dedication, spirit of sacrifice, heroism and asceticism of the early missionaries who had known Fr Vaz, imbibed his spirit, and followed in his footsteps, waned as the years passed by, especially after the Dutch relaxed their hold on the Catholics in the last three decades of their rule. One sees in the letters and reports of some of the European missionaries of the early British period criticisms of the lifestyle and work of the Indian Oratorians of their time. Although there is some exaggeration in these criticisms, it is nonetheless true that the later Indian missionaries had drifted away from the ideals and apostolic spirit of Fr Vaz and his fellow-missionaries of the early days.
However, the Church in Sri Lanka has to be grateful to these Indian missionaries for keeping the faith alive in the Island in spite of the lapses of some of them. Towards the end of the Dutch period a few European priests who had probably come as chaplains to mercenary troops employed by the Dutch had stayed on and worked in the island, but otherwise from the time Fr Vaz came alone to Sri Lanka (1687) until the arrival of the first European missionaries in the British period (1842), that is, during a period of 155 years, the Church in the island was served by Indian missionaries, a unique episode in the history of the missions and of the Church.
CATHOLIC PRIESTS BANISHED FROM KANDY
During the period, of, over a century of Indian missionary activity after Fr Vaz's death, there were two noteworthy events. Although the Buddhist kings of Kandy, Vimaladharmasurya II and Narendrasimha, were friendly to Fr Vaz and his brother-missionaries there were also some sections of the Buddhists and bhikkhus, who did not view with favour the kings' benevolent attitude towards the Catholics and their priests. This became more pronounced when Fr Vaz was no more.
Fr Gonsalves himself was nearly being executed on the orders of King Narendrasimha. And this, surprisingly, by a king who, on account of a rumour that Fr Vaz' s body had been secretly removed to Goa, wanted the tomb to be opened in the presence of his ministers to be sure that it was there, because of his great regard and veneration for Fr Vaz. Among the books written by Fr Gonsalves was one on Buddhism which angered
some of the Buddhists. They complained to the king and demanded that the author be punished. Not long after, Fr Gonsalves was falsely accused of hiding the treasure of Pedro de Gaskon, the first adigar, whom the king had executed, and who had been very friendly with the priest. The king ordered his ministers to interrogate Fr Gonsalves, and when the evidence though false, of his accusers was conveyed to the king he ordered him to be tortured and beheaded. But when the king was told that Fr Gonsalves had welcomed with joy the opportunity for martyrdom, he was so touched that he ordered his release.
Narendrasimha had married a Năyakkăr princess from South India, and when he died (1739) without issue, it was the queen's brother who succeeded him as Sri Vijaya Răjasimha (1739-1747), whence arose the Năyakkăr dynasty of the Sinhalese royal family, to which the next three kings, who were the last, also belonged.
Being an alien, Sri Vijaya Răjasimha needed the support of the people to remain on the throne. He needed the support of the Dutch as well. Some of the Buddhists and Buddhist clergy of Kandy on the one hand, and the Dutch authorities on the other, who did not like the presence of Catholic missionaries in Kandy and their evangelising activity, demanded that the king banish them from the hill country. Several priests were arrested and brought before a tribunal in Kandy. In 1746 the king (Sri Vijaya Răjasimha ordered their banishment from the kingdom. The missionaries found refuge in the Vanni. Kandy that had been a haven for them from the days of Fr Vaz now became forbidden ground as was Dutch territory. This was a trying moment for both the priests and their flock. However, from the Vanni the priests continued to serve secretly the Catholics of both the kingdom of Kandy and the domains of the Dutch.
THE DUTCH RELENT
In 1762, sixteen years after the banishment of Catholic priests from Kandy, the tide turned in favour of the Catholics in Dutch territory. Strained relations between the then king of Kandy, Kirti Sri Răjasimha (1747-1780), and the Dutch led to war. The Catholics and their priests in Dutch territory gave their support to the Dutch. There were, besides, Catholics and their chaplains among the European mercenary troops brought in by the Dutch. The war gave the Dutch the opportunity to see that in spite of the religion which linked them to the Portuguese, Lanka's Catholics could be depended upon to support them.
Although the laws passed against the Catholics remained, the Dutch government now began to be more lenient towards the Catholics. They were allowed to practise their faith unmolested. Priests who had for so long been in hiding and in disguise were now able to go about freely, even wearing their religious dress. Twelve years later, in 1774, the Dutch government in Sri Lanka adopted the practice prevailing in the Netherlands, which was that each priest had to take an oath of allegiance to the Dutch government. Besides, each priest coming to a district for pastoral work had to obtain a permit for it.
Thus the Dutch period which commenced with a violent persecution of the Catholics, which went on for over a century and brought Fr Vaz and other Indian missionaries to the rescue of Lanka's Church, ended with a good measure of freedom for the Catholics in its last three decades.
23 August 1999