Life of The Blessed Joseph Vaz, Apostle of Ceylon.
by S. G. Perera, S. J.
Brief Life Sketch by the J. M. J. Apostolate
Blessed Joseph Vaz was born at Benaulim, Goa, on the 21st April 1651. His parents, Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, were devout and pious Catholics who took great pains to bring up their six children in the love and fear of God. It was, therefore, not surprising that Joseph, their third child, who was of medium height, slim and wiry, gentle and kindly, extremely pious and very loving to the poor, should have made up his mind at a very early age to become a priest of God. Being the favourite of the, entire household, the others did all they could to foster his priestly vocation, particularly his father who made all manner of sacrifices in order to ensure for Joseph the best education that Goa could give to a bright and intelligent young man who was doing well in his studies. He was ordained a priest in 1676 at the age of 25.
It was about this time that the Dutch had ousted the Portuguese from Ceylon, had destroyed most of the Catholic churches, colleges and schools or put them to other uses, expelled all priests and fixed by law the penalty of death on any priest who dared to enter Ceylon and on any Catholic who ventured to harbour a priest; compelled all Catholics to attend the Dutch kirk, to baptise, marry and bury according to Dutch rites, and send their children to schools set up by the Dutch; made the Catholic faith a disqualification for holding any office under the Dutch regime and held out the most tempting inducements to apostacy. Consequently, there were large numbers of Catholics living in Ceylon without a priest or a church or any chance of receiving the Sacraments. Many of them had fled to the Kandyan Kingdom where they were living in scattered areas, surrounded by those of other faiths and without any bond of union for want of priests and churches. Of those who had stayed behind, some were reduced to destitution, while others conformed at least outwardly to the religion of the conquerors through fear of poverty or for gain. This state of affairs had gone on for a couple of decades and the Catholics still holding out for their religion were in imminent danger of losing their faith.
When Fr. Vaz came to know in 1681 of the utter misery of the Catholics of Ceylon and their complete abandonment by the ecclesiastical representatives in India of the King of Portugal, who was responsible for the introduction of Catholicism into Ceylon during the time of the Portuguese domination, he offered to go to Ceylon but was sent instead to Kanara, on the Western coast of India, which, like Ceylon, had been without priests for a long time. During the three years that he spent there, he saw with his own eyes the spiritual desolation of a people deprived of priests and sacraments and learnt by personal experience the best way of ministering to them. He also gained information about the ways and means of entering Ceylon as his yearning to cross over to Ceylon was still foremost in his mind. Therefore, when he returned to Goa, after the completion of his Mission in Kanara, he set about making plans to make his way to Ceylon where he believed his life's work really lay. It was then that the loving Providence of God led him to a nameless community of three priests who had withdrawn from the world and were leading a life of seclusion without any hard and fast rules of life or constitution or ecclesiastical confirmation but were attempting a life of evangelical perfection based on prayer, penance and good works. Seeing the finger of God in this humble effort he joined the nameless community of three priests in the hope that he might be able to turn the scope and activities of that little community towards the Island of Ceylon, and he therefore organised it into an Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Fr. Vaz, therefore, was the Founder and the foremost member of the Oratory of Goa which worked in Ceylon for a century and a half. His subsequent activities in Ceylon brought the Oratory its chief glory, and, in fact, constituted its first and greatest work during the 150 years of its existence. However, the credit for the splendid achievement of kindling the dying embers of the faith and building the Church anew in Ceylon must go to Fr. Vaz and him alone for he worked single-handed for 10 years from 1687 to 1697 and it was only thereafter that he received reinforcements from the Oratory in Goa. The enormity of his task and the splendid results achieved by him could be understood only by a comparison of the sad state of affairs prior to his arrival in Ceylon and the flourishing condition of the Church at the time of his death in 1711 and thereafter.
As a result of his work with the Oratory of Goa it was only in March 1686 that he began his long and eventful trek to Ceylon without shoes or staff or scrip. He took with him Fr. Paul de Souza, Bro. Stephen Sequeira and also, quite contrary to his usual practice, a family dependant named John as his servant. He made his way leisurely so that no one may have even the faintest suspicion of the real purpose of his journey. In January 1687 when he disclosed to his two companions his intention to cross over to Ceylon they shrank from the perilous and laborious work ahead of them in an unknown land and went back to their homes. His faithful servant John however stuck to him with the fidelity of a dog and the affection of a son. It was in a way providential that he had to continue his journey all by himself for it was easier for one priest to enter Ceylon undetected than for several in company. When in due course he reached Travancore, the Jesuit Fathers there who knew of the conditions in Ceylon gave him much useful advice. On their suggestion he laid aside his priestly garments and wore the garb of a cooly consisting only of a coarse loin cloth. From that time onwards he used this disguise and passed off as one of the labourers employed by the Dutch regime to carry their letters. However, when he reached Tuticorin and met a Catholic priest who was known to him intimately he decided to put away the disguise and take part in the Holy Week services. This proved to be his undoing for when the news reached the ears of the Dutch Officer there, he suspected that Fr. Vaz was trying to enter Ceylon through Colombo and ordered that no vessel should take any passenger to Colombo without his express authority. However, that officer took ill and died within a few days and his successor not knowing, the reasons for his order approved the application made by two labourers to sail to Jaffna in search of employment and issued them passports. Thus did Providence alter Fr. Vaz's destination from Colombo, where there would have been a very close scrutiny, to Jaffna where the precautions against the landing of a Catholic priest were not many.
Fr. Vaz and his servant John embarked, with great trepidation as, in keeping with their disguise as labourers, they carried no baggage and the sacred vessels for Mass and an altar stone were concealed about their person. At that time the journey took 3 or 4 days and never more than a week but a very severe storm which burst soon after the ship put to sea and raged with unabated violence for as many as 20 days delayed its progress and compelled the Captain to take shelter in Mannar. As Fr. Vaz and his servant did not have a stock of foodstuffs and therefore depended on the charity of their fellow passengers who were themselves in short supply, they were put on shore in a state of exhaustion, famished, thirsty and penniless. The remained in the town of Mannar for some days begging from door to door and as soon as they regained sufficient strength sailed for Jaffna on the strength of the passports issued to them at Tuticorin. As they had embarked from Mannar they escaped all scrutiny on arrival at Jaffna. One can well imagine the joy with which Fr. Vaz must have rendered thanks to God for having brought him safe to the Treasure Island of his dreams.
JAFFNA - HIS ILLNESS
After many unsuccessful attempts Fr. Vaz and his faithful companion found shelter for the night in an empty shed in the suburbs of the town. As a result of the very severe hardships undergone by him during his journey from Tuticorin, Fr. Vaz found himself unable to sit up the following morning. So John had to go about begging for some nourishment for his master. Before long it was found that he was suffering from acute Dysentery. As soon as this became known to the neighbours, they carried him away in a rough litter to a lonely spot in the open and left him there to be tended by his servant. John nursed his master for some time but very soon he himself contracted the disease and was forced to lie down by his master's side. The sight of these two strangers lying ill and helpless moved the heart of a woman, who happened to pass by, to such an extent that she brought them every day a cup of rice cunjee. Not long afterwards both master and servant were on their feet again.
JAFFNA - AFTER HIS ILLNESS
When Fr. Vaz regained his health sufficiently to start begging from house to house in the town of Jaffna he also tried to identify the houses where Catholics lived. This was no easy matter as no Catholic dared to use a rosary, a cross or a medal publicly and there was no picture, image or crucifix to be seen anywhere. He therefore adopted the expedient of wearing a large Rosary round his neck and observing the effects of this emblem of the Catholic faith on the inmates of the houses at which he begged for alms. It is to the credit of the Catholics of Jaffna that this simple test succeeded from the start. Within a few days he spotted several houses where he received sympathy and generosity but there was one particular house where his visits were always welcome. One day when he met the master of the house he asked significantly whether the gentleman would like to see a priest and receive the Sacraments. This led the man to think over the implications of the question and he consulted a Catholic citizen of means and of influence who was highly respected even by the Dutch. The latter took it upon himself to go in search of the beggar and find out the facts by direct inquiry. On being asked point blank whether he was a priest and if so to own it as he was in a position to offer shelter in his own house with perfect safety, Fr. Vaz showed him the credential letter empowering him to exercise his priestly ministry. Straightaway he conducted Fr. Vaz and his servant John to his house and treated the former like an angel from Heaven. The Catholics of Jaffna have every reason to be proud of the fact that the work of "The Apostle of Lanka" began in Jaffna for, before dawn of that day in 1687, Holy Mass was celebrated for the first time since 1658 when the Dutch captured the Fort of Our Lady of Miracles, Jaffna.
After some time the townsfolk of Jaffna who had benefited from the ministrations of Fr. Vaz feared that news of his presence might leak out somehow and decided to remove him to a village in the outskirts in which the Catholics were strong and steadfast in their faith and would safeguard him from all danger at the cost of their lives if necessary. It is to the eternal credit of Sillalai that its name occurred to them immediately and that it was selected because the Catholics in that village had succeeded in keeping their faith secret. As soon as this decision was made known to them, a trusty bodyguard from Sillalai went to jaffna and conducted Fr. Vaz under cover of darkness to their village. Sillalai which was then entirely Catholic later came to be known as "Little Rome". Because of its smallness and relative unimportance, Sillalai had escaped the attentions of the Dutch; and it was able to preserve the faith intact because it had continued the system of appointing a Catechist to look after the Chapel, baptise the new-born, instruct the young, bury the dead and in the case of disputes act as an Arbitrator. When Fr. Vaz came to know of this organisation, he adopted it and established it in every Catholic village and the institution has come down to the present time in Catholic villages, where there is no resident priest, the Catechist being now known as the Muppu.
Fr. Vaz made Sillalai his headquarters and for more than two years at a stretch he ministered to those in Sillalai and the neighbouring villages, going out after nightfall and returning before dawn invariably with a safe escort. When his presence became known through a Judas on one occasion and a news leak on another occasion, soldiers were sent to apprehend him but on both occasions he managed to evade them. However, when he saw that owing to his presence the leading Catholics of Jaffna had to suffer a great deal by way of confiscation of property, imprisonment for life, and flogging, he had himself and John conveyed safely firstly to the Vanni and later to Puttalam which was in the domain of the King of Kandy.
This town was then inhabited by a large number of Catholics but although they had a church of their own and were free to profess their religion there had been no Mass or Sacraments or adequate instruction for over 36 years owing to the absence of priests. Consequently there had been much neglect but they had kept their faith. Fr. Vaz first ministered to them and thereafter went from village to village in the Seven Korales preaching, administering the Sacraments, re-building churches and appointing catechists. After 18 months he left for Kandy with a trader from Veueda who was returning home with a stock of merchandise.
This place was the gateway to Kandy and as all strangers had to obtain the King's authority before proceeding to the royal city, Fr. Vaz waited there until authority was obtained by the trader. Meanwhile he spent his time ministering to the needs of the Catholics. When this became known to one Lanerolle, a Frenchman who was violently anti-Catholic, he denounced Fr. Vaz as a Portuguese spy and the King ordered that he be arrested and brought in chains to Kandy.
Fr. Vaz was thereafter imprisoned and kept under very close observation so that his actions may be reported to the King. When the king was satisfied that he was a harmless person who spent most of his time in religious devotions and that John was really his servant, he ordered that they be placed in house detention with strict injunctions that they should not leave the premises. Fr. Vaz made use of his enforced inactivity to study the Sinhala language. After some time John and he put up a rough shed with an altar and a wooden cross and prayed therein, on their knees, morning, noon and night within sight of the public. On Christmas night of 1691 he said Mass for the first time in Kandy and as no objection was raised by anyone he continued to do so thereafter, regularly. When this news spread, one Catholic after another obtained the King's permission to meet him for the Sacraments and Mass. After some time the King permitted him to leave the premises but ordered that he should never cross the river that surrounded the city. Concurrently with this relaxation he got the Catholics to build a church to replace the shed put up by him and on 2nd September 1692 he requested his Congregation in Goa to send priests to assist him. From that time onwards he openly ministered to the Catholics in the town and to those who came from the villages. Whenever he received a message that a Catholic was sick or dying beyond the river, he did not hesitate to go despite the prohibition and it is to the credit of those whose business it was to see that the prohibition was observed that they never reported these infringements owing to his repute as a very holy man.
MIRACULOUS SHOWER OF RAIN
There was at this time a very prolonged drought in Kandy and the customary ceremonies for rain had been performed without avail. Thereupon the King, Vimaladharma Surya, sent some of his Catholic courtiers to Fr. Vaz inviting him to pray for rain. Realising that this was more or less a challenge to test his powers of intercession with God, he sent back word that if His Majesty had faith and if it was to the glory of God rain would assuredly come down; and he set up an altar in the public square opposite to the Palace, placed a cross thereon, and prayed to God to glorify His Name by sending down rain. Before he rose from his knees, rain fell in abundance but not a drop fell on him. This was the turning point in the career of Fr. Vaz for the King thereafter gave him personal privileges never accorded to others, inclusive of the liberty not only to preach anywhere in his kingdom but also to go beyond it and visit the Dutch towns as often as he pleased. Besides giving a fillip to those of the faith it brought about, for the first time, many conversions from among the people of Kandy.
His position in Kandy being now secure through the benevolence of the King, Fr. Vaz decided to make it his headquarters and sally forth into different parts of the island from time to time, but before doing so he despatched John to Goa to explain verbally the circumstances in the island and the urgent need of priests. Thereafter he went by himself to the Catholic villages of the Kandyan Kingdom namely to Sitawaka, Ruwanwella, Kendangamuwa and Ratnapura. At each place he ministered to the Catholics, got a Chapel erected, and appointed a Muppu or an Annavi or both to keep up the faith in the absence of a priest. Then in order to enter Dutch territory with safety he put aside his cassock and assumed a disguise, probably that of a beggar as it suited him best; besides, owing to his knowledge of both Sinhala and Tamil, he could easily pass off as a beggar.
The first Dutch town visited by Fr. Vaz was Hanwella. He found that the descendants of the Portuguese and the local people who were Catholics were strong in their faith. So after administering the Sacraments to them, he proceeded on his way to Colombo.
The next place visited by Fr. Vaz was Malwana. It was then a very important post, and had a church. The Catholic population was faithful, so Fr. Vaz did not have to tarry long here.
Most of the Catholics were in the Pettah named Old City, so Fr. Vaz had no need to enter the Fort or The Castle as it was called, where there were very few Catholics. Tbe number and influence of the Catholics in the Pettah enabled Fr. Vaz to remain for some time, unknown to the Dutch, in different parts of the city and in the suburbs to carry out his ministry by night and to make several conversions. By the time his presence became known and arrangements were made to hunt him Fr. Vaz was safely on his way to Negombo.
Here, there was a very large Catholic population who could not be easily tamed by persecution then or afterwards. The chief Catholic who was in the service of the Dutch but was greatly respected by the King of Kandy was the Mudaliyar of Negombo. He was in consequence appointed Muppu. Due to his influence and that of other Catholics Fr. Vaz was able to increase the fervour of the Catholic population. Thereafter he returned to Kandy to find that a young Kandyan nobleman was waiting to be instructed and baptised by him. Shortly afterwards he left for Puttalam and thence to Mantota.
This was an important Catholic village situated in the centre of a large Catholic population scattered over the district and extending to the Vanni. He ministered for some time, caused chapels to be set up, and Muppus and Annavis to be appointed before making his way to Jaffna, which he was re-visiting after an absence of four years. During this period he had visited practically the whole of the west coast of Ceylon from Jaffna to Colombo which area was then as it is now the most Catholic part of Ceylon.
PUNARIM, KOTTIYAR, TRINCOMALEE, BATTICALOA & SAMMANTURAI
Before returning to Kandy Fr. Vaz visited all these places and at the last four places which belonged to the King of Kandy he set up chapels. During these first visits he limited himself to administering the Sacraments to the Catholics who had retained their faith. On his return to Kandy he had the most welcome news that his Congregation in Goa had sent two priests and that they had already arrived at Puttalam. They were Fr. Joseph de Menezes and his own nephew Fr. Joseph Carvalho who had been his constant companion in Kanara. So he rushed down to Puttalam to welcome them.
CRROSSING THE FLOODED DEDURU OYA ON FOOT
On the way to Puttalam he had to wade across the Deduru Oya but due to floods it could not be crossed on foot; and several parties of merchants had been waiting for several days until the floods subsided. With a prayer on his lips and confidence in his heart he stepped into the rushing waters with staff in hand and bade his companions to follow him, to the great amusement of the onlookers. He advanced to the middle of the river without mishap and halting there asked his attendants to go across without fear. They did so along with some other travellers and reached the other side safely while Fr. Vaz waited till all had crossed and followed only then.
REVIEW OF WORK DONE
It is appropriate at this stage to review the work done by Fr. Vaz up to this time. Here was a priest from another country who had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to come to this island where the eternal treasure of the Faith was lying submerged and at great risk to life and health he undertook single-handed the stupendous task of salvaging the treasure. To equip himself suitably he first learnt the languages of the country. Thereafter he walked the length and breadth of Ceylon ministering to the Catholics who were scattered throughout the country. To no other priest, before or since, did the task ever fall of being the one, single, solitary priest with whom every Catholic must necessarily come in contact if he would receive the Sacraments or participate in the Mass. To no other priest was it ever given to become acquainted with Catholics of every race, caste and condition of life. He visited the Tamil areas as well as the Sinhalese areas. He worked in the Kandyan Kingdom as well as the Dutch Territories and in the districts of the Vanniyars. Being a holy and humble priest, he was content with the food, lodging and dress of the poor. He ate only boiled rice twice daily and slept on a mat on the cow dunged floor of huts. In going from place to place he walked bare-footed through forests strewn with thorns and infested by snakes and wild beasts, over hill and dale, in the hot burning sun and in sudden showers of rain, the upper part of the body exposed to the weather as part of his disguise, over streams and rivers, and with no sure place where he could lay his head and rest his weary body for the night. He knew through bitter experience what it meant to be hungry, thirsty and naked; and to be in fear of being taken prisoner and ill-treated. In hostile towns he had to live the life of a hunted animal, hiding by day and working at night. Despite all these adverse working conditions which had long ago reduced him to skin and bone, he ministered to the Catholics unceasingly and never did any priest know the Catholics of Ceylon so well and so thoroughly as Fr. Vaz came to know them at this period of his life; and learnt from them their difficulties, religious and political, their trials and tribulations, their likes and dislikes. Having completed this self-imposed task he was anxious to undertake the tremendous responsibility of organising the Church in Ceylon and as this was far beyond the powers of any single priest, however zealous he was, he awaited with eagerness the outcome of his representations to Goa firstly in writing and thereafter through his faithful servant to whom he had given his own name John Vaz. In these circumstances, it is hardly possible to imagine the joy with which Fr. Vaz greeted the two new arrivals.
MISSIONARY WORK IN CEYLON
While the three priests were yet at Puttalam, they had the unexpected news that Fr. Pedro Ferrao who was not a member of his Congregation at Goa but was anxious to be of help to Fr. Vaz had already come and was at Mantota. The first two priests having brought a letter appointing Fr. Vaz as the Vicar General of the Bishop of Cochin, his first official act was to direct Fr. Ferrao to remain at Mantota and minister to the North of Ceylon; Fr. Menezes to be at Puttalarn and minister to the Seven Korales, Negombo and Colombo; Fr. Caryalho to be in Kandy and look after the city and the villages; while he reserved for himself the remaining three-fourths of the Island which needed a priest of experience who could speak Sinhala, Tamil and Portuguese.
SMALLPOX IN KANDY
Towards the middle of 1697 when Fr. Vaz returned to Kandy from a visit to Colombo he found a violent outbreak of smallpox in the city. This is a highly infectious disease and looked up in Ceylon as a dreaded disease. The first sufferers, mostly slaves and beggars, had been removed and left to die in deserted spots and jungles. Dead bodies were thus found in forests and even on the road sides, thereby, spreading the disease. Fr. Vaz and his nephew sought out those abandoned in the woods, accommodated them in huts erected for the purpose, and tended them twice a day carrying food, medicine and clothing collected by them. Each time they washed the patient, cleansed his pustules, administered medicines, fed and clothed him and cleaned up the place, rendering the most menial services for which no persons could be found anywhere either for money or for love. Later, as the work increased, some devout Catholics assisted them. When the number of cases multiplied greatly the King and his Court left the city. The Chiefs and the well-to-do also did the same. Even the common people left as soon as a family member or a neighbour fell a victim to the disease. Before long the city was almost deserted. Fr. Vaz then went from house to house attending to the abandoned patients in their own homes, and he accommodated the others in vacant houses close to the church which he rented out one by one until there were altogether four such houses full of patients. When this became known every patient sought the aid of the two priests who treated all patients alike irrespective of their race or creed and brought to the hospital the homeless, the abandoned and the helpless. Very often the patients were moved to tears and could scarcely believe what they saw with their own eyes. Eventually the patients overcame the fear of public opinion which has been the greatest obstacle to the spread of the Catholic faith in Ceylon and many of them begged Fr. Vaz to receive them into the religion of the God who taught such manner of charity and gave him the strength and courage to practise it in such circumstances. Thus there were many conversions both among those who died and those who survived. When at the height of the pestilence there were as many as 10 to 12 deaths a day and sufficient men were not available for the work, the two priests had often to dress the corpses, carry the coffins, dig the graves and bury the dead with their own hands. When the dead happened to be persons baptised during their illness the Catholics followed the funeral procession at Fr. Vaz's request. It took 12 months for the smallpox epidemic to abate in Kandy and the King openly declared that were it not for Fr. Vaz's charity, the streets would have been full of corpses.
MORATUWA, KALUTARA AND BERUWALA
As soon as the epidemic began to abate, Fr. Vaz made his way to the towns on the sea coast to the south of Colombo which were in his charge but which he had been unable to visit owing to the epidemic in Kandy. There were large numbers of faithful Catholics between Colombo and Beruwala and he spent about two months in 1699 administering the Sacraments, organising the Catholics, causing Chapels to be erected and appointing Muppus and Annavis in accordance with his usual custom. Fr. Vaz did not go further south because although Galle and Matara were known to have some Catholics, the towns southward of Alutgama had been under the Dutch for such a long time that the faith was practically non-existent in what is now the Southern province.
KALPITIVA, DELFT, IRANAITIVU AND PUNKUDITIVU
Encouraged by the benevolence of the King and the rapid spread of the faith through conversions, Fr. Vaz wrote in 1704 to his Congregation pointing out the needs of the Mission and meanwhile in an effort to establish the Church more securely he visited the four places mentioned here.
EXTENSION OF THE MISSIONARY WORK
In response to Fr. Vaz's request for reinforcements, four more priests arrived in September 1705 thus doubling the number of priests in Ceylon. Thereafter the island was divided into 8 Missions, one for each of the priests with the exception of Fr. Vaz who was to reside in Kandy and be in charge of the general administration and also visit the Missions whenever necessary. In 1708 two other priests arrived thereby increasing their number to 10. From then onwards Fr. Vaz showed an inclination to remain in the background and let the other priests decide all important matters connected with the Missions. At this time he was only 57 years of age but the arduous work and the privations undergone by him during the first part of his Apostolate had shattered his health beyond hope of recovery. But whether he was well or ill, it was his presence in the country which enabled the others to work at all in Ceylon for it was undeniable that the success and welfare of the Church and the priests and of the Catholics depended entirely on the influence and reputation for holiness that he had with the King and the people of Ceylon.
THE LAST JOURNEY
By 1710 the life-work of Fr. Vaz was over. He had achieved what he had set out to do. He had rallied the faithful Catholics, brought back the lapsed, and converted a large number. The Congregation which he had founded was now firmly established and had provided the new Church of Ceylon with a succession of priests. In short it could be said with truth that he had fought the good fight and won "cum laude". Moreover, he had caused a local Catholic literature to be created for the edification of his fold; and the Catholics in Dutch Territory to declare themselves openly. But he was not satisfied with remaining in one place permanently. So, as his health was improving, he set out at the beginning of 1710 with his two servants on a visit to Allambil, Kottiyar, Trincornalee and Batticaloa. As usual, he ministered to the Catholics living enroute and eventually reached Kottiyar. Here he again fell seriously ill and was conveyed back to Kandy in a litter, travelling by short stages. Soon he recovered sufficiently to be able to get about with the aid of a staff. He then began to occupy himself with work in the city and occasional visits to the sick in the neighbouring villages.
HIS LAST ILLNESS
Once when he was returning after a visit to a sick person in a village remote from Kandy he fell off the 'dooly' when its bearers were descending a hill and he was brought back in an unconscious state to Kandy. He recovered a little but was never able to leave the church again. Shortly afterwards a boil formed in his ear probably as a result of his fall and he suffered much for four months but he bore all his sufferings patiently through the love of God. He was unable to say Mass any more but he dragged himself to church every day to hear Mass. When he found his strength ebbing away he knew that his end was near and he begged Fr. Joseph de Menezes in writing to be his successor by accepting office as the Vicar General and Superior of the Oratorian Fathers. The latter was not too happy about it and did not reply the letter but by the time he received a further letter in Fr. Vaz's own hand nominating him for the office, Fr. Vaz was dead and he had therefore no option but to accept the office.
Early in the morning of the 16th January 1711 Fr. Vaz'made his confession, heard Mass and received Communion in church. In the evening when his Assistant returned unexpectedly from a missionary journey lasting some months, Fr. Vaz insisted on being carried to the sanctuary and he intoned the Te Deum with his Assistant, as was his usual custom on such occasions. That night, shortly before retiring, he begged the Fathers that the Last Sacraments be administered and this was done, Fr. Vaz giving the responses himself. After some time he asked the two Fathers who were present to say the Litany, for the Agonising and he himself responded. Thereafter he fixed his gaze on the Crucifix which was in his hand and remained motionless. Soon afterwards he accepted a lighted candle which was given to him in accordance with the custom in Ceylon of giving a lighted candle to a person who was on the point of death, uttered clearly the name of Jesus, and without any further movement or sign or tremor or agony but with his eyes raised to Heaven he breathed his last at midnight on Friday the 16th January 1711 in the 60th year of his age and the 24th of his Apostolate in Ceylon. The King received the news with great sorrow and ordered all the Catholics in the Royal Service to take part in all the funeral ceremonies. Fr. Vaz was buried in the church which was erected by him in Kandy.
Revised on 23 August 1999.