Joseph Vaz: The Apostle of Sri Lanka


Meet Saint Joseph Vaz, a man who embraced hardship for his faith, gave hope to the hopeless, and shone light in the darkest corners of the world. He's not only an inspiring figure but also a testament to the power of faith.

Early life of Joseph Vaz

Joseph Vaz was born on 21 April 1651, in Benaulim, Goa, India, to devout Catholic parents. While his father belonged to the Brahmin caste, his mother, Maria, hailed from the village of Sarzora. Young Vaz developed a strong admiration for the Catholic Faith early in his life, thanks to the nurturing environment his family provided. By the age of fifteen, he knew he wanted to dedicate his life to God.

Vocation and Ordination

In his teens, Vaz expressed his desire to join the priesthood. His vocation led him to the seminary in Goa where he commenced his studies in theology and philosophy. In 1676, at the age of twenty-five, Joseph Vaz was ordained a priest. His admirable spirit and dedication to his duties did not go unnoticed, leading to his appointment as the Vicar Forane of Canara.

Mission to Ceylon

Bearing a fiery heart, fuelled by love for Christ and His people, Joseph Vaz set out on a dangerous mission to Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) in 1684. Despite facing persecution and imminent threats to his life, Vaz decided to serve the persecuted Catholics there who otherwise had no access to sacraments or spiritual guidance.

A Life of Perseverance

In Ceylon, Father Vaz lived a life of extreme poverty and hardship. He often disguised himself as a beggar or laborer to avoid suspicion while conducting mass and performing baptisms in secret. Despite facing numerous challenges, including arrest and imprisonment, his courage never wavered.

His Works and Miracles

Throughout his life, Joseph Vaz performed several miracles, confirming his sanctity and divine favour. One such miracle occurred during a severe drought when he prayed fervently and produced rain, saving the people from famine. His work also included relentless efforts to rebuild the Catholic Church in Ceylon, where he founded several schools and churches.

Eternal Rest

Finally, on 16 January 1711, after years of tireless service and unwavering devotion, Joseph Vaz succumbed to illness and passed away. His mortal remains lie in St. Lucia's Cathedral in Kotahena, while his enduring legacy continues to inspire millions of faithful worldwide.


On 21 January 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified Joseph Vaz during his Papal visit to Sri Lanka. On 14 January 2015, Pope Francis canonized him during his own Papal visit to Sri Lanka, giving him the honorific title 'Apostle of Sri Lanka.'

The Legacy of Saint Joseph Vaz

Today, Saint Joseph Vaz stands as an extraordinary example of bravery, humility, and selflessness. He is a beacon for all Catholic believers to live out their faith in the face of adversity, just as he did.

"Saint Joseph Vaz, pray for us, that we may have the strength and courage to follow your example of humble service to God."

Every aspect of Joseph Vaz's life illustrates the power of unwavering faith and commitment. His journey from a humble Goan village to the arduous streets of Ceylon tells a tale of courage, perseverance, and unconditional love for God. Not only did he bring solace to the persecuted Christians in Ceyland, but he also became a symbol of faith and hope for millions around the world.

Remember, you too are capable of following this path of faith and dedication. Just as Saint Joseph Vaz showed us, faith in God can lead us through our darkest storms into the calming presence of His love. Let us strive together to follow in his footsteps and spread the light of Christ wherever we go.

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What is Saint Joseph Vaz known for?

Saint Joseph Vaz is most prominently known for his missionary work amidst the persecution of Catholics during the 17th century in Sri Lanka. He was a dedicated priest from Goa, India who willingly embarked on a dangerous journey to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where the Catholic faith was under fire by the Dutch colonists occupying the island.

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Born on April 21, 1651, Saint Joseph Vaz developed a deep religious conviction at a young age and was ordained as a priest in 1676. Recognizing the severe plight of Catholics in Sri Lanka, he made it his mission to strengthen their faith and provide them with the sacraments, despite the severe penalties imposed by the Dutch on those practicing or promoting Catholicism.

He departed for Ceylon in 1687, disguised as a beggar due to the prevailing anti-Catholic climate. There, he worked tirelessly to revitalize the Catholic community, often under the cover of night to avoid detection. Stories of his dedication, courage, and miracles spread, leading to a significant growth in the Catholic population.

One of his most significant achievements was establishing the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in Goa, which played a crucial role in maintaining Catholicism in Sri Lanka.

Saint Joseph Vaz is also credited with having miraculously ended a severe drought in Kandy, thus earning the favor of the king.

Saint Joseph Vaz passed away on January 16, 1711, leaving behind a revived Catholic community. After more than three centuries, Pope Francis canonized him on January 14, 2015, during his visit to Sri Lanka. His legacy underscores the power of unwavering faith and dedication, even in the face of persecution. Today, he is venerated as the Apostle of Sri Lanka.

Where is St Joseph Vaz buried?

The revered St Joseph Vaz, also known as the Apostle of Sri Lanka, is buried in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. This Basilica holds significant importance in the Catholic Church as it is also the site where the remains of St Francis Xavier are kept. St Joseph Vaz's exceptional missionary work in Sri Lanka during the 17th century has made him a celebrated figure in the Catholic faith.

Why was saint Joseph was called as a Friday boy?

The term "Friday boy" is not a standard or widely accepted term associated with Saint Joseph in the tradition of Catholic Saints. However, in some cultures, there may be local legends or stories that attribute specific days to certain saints.

For example, Friday is often associated with the Passion of Christ, and since Saint Joseph is intimately connected to the life of Christ as His earthly father, he might be called a 'Friday boy' in this very specific and localized context. But this is speculative, as there's no universal Catholic teaching or tradition that labels Saint Joseph as such.

It's crucial to remember that the details of Saint Joseph's life, his unwavering faith in God, and his dedication as a husband to Mary and earthly father to Jesus are the fundamental aspects of his sainthood. Any local or cultural traditions should not overshadow these essential truths.

Who was Saint Joseph Vaz and why is he significant in the history of Catholic Saints?

Saint Joseph Vaz was a prominent Catholic missionary who hailed from Goa, India. Born on April 21, 1651, he dedicated his life to missionary work, primarily in the island nation of Sri Lanka.

The significance of Saint Joseph Vaz in the history of Catholic Saints primarily comes from his unwavering commitment to the spread of Catholicism in regions plagued by religious persecution during the 17th century. Despite severe hardships and challenges, especially under the anti-Catholic Dutch colonial rule in Sri Lanka, Vaz continued his pastoral mission undeterred, showcasing a deep sense of faith, courage, and love for humanity.

He is known for having mastered the Sinhalese and Tamil languages in order to better communicate with locals and convert them to Catholicism. He established missions, constructed churches, and cared for the sick and suffering during a smallpox epidemic in Kandy. His efforts led to a significant increase in the number of Catholics in Sri Lanka.

Vaz’s works laid substantial groundwork for the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. His unparalleled dedication led to his beatification by Pope John Paul II in 1995 and eventually to his canonization as a saint by Pope Francis in 2015. Saint Joseph Vaz is the first Sri Lankan to be canonized in the history of the Church.

Saint Joseph Vaz is celebrated as an emblem of inter-religious dialogue and is recognized for promoting peace between different religious communities. His feast day is celebrated each year on January 16th. The life and deeds of Saint Joseph Vaz are a testament to his devotion to God and to spreading the message of love and peace.

What miracles did Saint Joseph Vaz perform that resulted in his canonization?

Saint Joseph Vaz, a 17th-century priest from India, was canonized as a saint because of his dedicated missionary work in Sri Lanka and two miracles attributed to him.

The first miracle occurred in 1995 and involved the healing of a woman named Mrs. M.G. Goonasena. The woman was terminally ill with a severe case of leukemia and the doctors had given up on her, prognosticating that she only had a few weeks to live. Following prayers for the intercession of Father Joseph Vaz, her disease inexplicably disappeared.

The second miracle, reported in 2008, involved a child named Osborn Cyril Sumanadasa De Silva who miraculously recovered from a critical illness that doctors had deemed incurable. His parents prayed fervently to Saint Joseph Vaz for his intercession and, within a short period, the boy got completely healed without any medical treatment.

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These miraculous healings, in addition to a thorough examination of his life and virtues, led to the canonization of Saint Joseph Vaz by Pope Francis in 2015. He was proclaimed the "Apostle of Sri Lanka" and the first saint from India.

How did Saint Joseph Vaz contribute to the spread of Catholicism in Sri Lanka?

Saint Joseph Vaz played a monumental role in the spread of Catholicism in Sri Lanka during the 17th century at a time when Dutch colonial powers had forbidden the practice of Catholicism. He is often referred to as the "Apostle of Sri Lanka" because of his missionary zeal and efforts.

Vaz was an Indian-born priest, ordained in Goa, who made a perilous journey to Sri Lanka, entering the country secretly due to its hostile environment towards Catholicism. He arrived during the Dutch colonial era when Calvinist Dutch Reform authorities were severely persecuting Catholics. Recognizing the plight of Sri Lankan Catholics who were deprived of priests and sacraments, he decided to minister to these covert 'underground' Catholics in defiance of Dutch law.

One of his significant contributions was revitalizing and reorganizing the Sri Lankan Catholic Church. He sought out Catholics in remote villages, celebrated Mass, administered sacraments and provided religious instruction. He did this often in secret, at night and in the jungle, to avoid the watchful eyes of authorities.

Vaz also founded small communities, known as Josephite congregations, which acted as centres of faith and resilience for the oppressed Catholic population. Despite the challenging circumstances, he managed to perform his priestly duties, including baptisms, confessions, administering last rites and even conducting clandestine mass services.

Moreover, he is also recognized for his contribution to the literature and languages of Sri Lanka. He mastered the Sinhalese and Tamil languages, translated important prayers and hymns, and composed original hymns in these languages to help the indigenous people better understand the teachings of the Church.

His tireless work led to a revival of the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka, and eventually, upon seeing the tremendous devotion of Sri Lankan Catholics and their need for spiritual guidance, the Dutch authorities began to relax their restrictions against the Church.

Saint Joseph Vaz's heroic virtues, missionary spirit, and dedication to the Sri Lankan Catholic community were formally recognized by the Vatican centuries later, and he was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. Thus, Saint Joseph Vaz's life and works remain a significant part of the Catholic legacy in Sri Lanka.

Can you elaborate on the obstacles and hardships Saint Joseph Vaz faced throughout his missionary work?

Saint Joseph Vaz was a 17th-century missionary hailed as the "Apostle of Sri Lanka." His journey was filled with numerous trials and obstacles that tested his faith and resilience.

One of the key hardships that Saint Joseph Vaz faced was religious persecution. At the time of his mission, Dutch colonialists controlled Sri Lanka. They were staunchly protestant and hostile towards Catholicism, frequently persecuting Catholics in an attempt to wipe out the religion from the island. Vaz had to conduct his ministry clandestinely for the safety of himself and his converts.

Another significant challenge was the lack of support initially from the local population. As a foreigner, Vaz struggled with understanding local customs and language, which made his early evangelism efforts difficult. However, he did not give up, and eventually mastered the local language and adapted to their customs, earning their trust and respect.

He also frequently experienced physical hardship. Saint Joseph Vaz was known for his austere lifestyle and self-denial. He often worked in harsh conditions, like harsh weather and disease outbreaks, particularly during his time preaching in the Kingdom of Kandy, where he was initially imprisoned.

Furthermore, Vaz battled isolation throughout his ministry. For many years, he was the only Catholic priest in Sri Lanka. The solitary nature of his work often left him without the direct companionship and support of fellow clergy. Despite all these, he persevered and managed to reestablish the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.

Lastly, towards the end of his life, he suffered from severe health problems. Nevertheless, even in sickness, he continued his missionary work until his death in 1711. Throughout his life, Saint Joseph Vaz exemplified resilience, commitment, and unwavering faith in the face of immense obstacles.

What is the relevance of Saint Joseph Vaz’s teachings in today’s modern Catholic practice?

Saint Joseph Vaz is an important figure in Catholic history, especially due to his work as a missionary in Sri Lanka during the 17th century. His teachings and practices are still highly revered and have significant relevance in today's modern Catholic practice.

Firstly, Saint Joseph Vaz's commitment to evangelism is a value that modern Catholics carry forward. His life serves as a model of missionary zeal. He willingly traveled to Sri Lanka, knowing the dangers he would face and the persecution of Catholics that was taking place. His action encourages modern Catholics to share the Gospel and their faith with others, despite challenges or obstacles.

Secondly, Saint Joseph Vaz epitomized the virtue of humility, choosing to live in simplicity and poverty. This resonates with the Catholic teaching of leading a life of humility and serving the poor. Modern Catholics can look to his example of living a simple and humble life, focusing on serving others rather than accumulating wealth or status.

Finally, his teachings on tolerance and respect for other religions hold great relevance today. In a world where religious intolerance can often lead to conflict, Saint Joseph Vaz demonstrated respect and understanding towards the religions in Sri Lanka during his mission. His practice of building relationships rather than creating divisions provides a meaningful lesson for modern Catholics in interfaith dialogues and respect for religious diversity.

Saint Joseph Vaz, through his missionary work, humility, and respect for other faiths, provides an enduring model for modern Catholic practice. His teachings continue to influence Catholics worldwide to serve selflessly, live humbly, and coexist peacefully with those of different religions.