Panaji: A Septuagenarian priest, popularly known as “the miracle child,” was among some 400 pilgrims from Goa who left for Colombo on Saturday to attend the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz.
Pope Francis will declare the 17th-century Goan priest as a saint at a special ceremony in Colombo on January 14. The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka a day earlier on his second visit to Asia in six months.
Blessed Vaz’s canonization has thrilled hundreds of thousands of Indians, especially Catholics in Goa and Mangalore who have been praying for the cause for the past three centuries.
The Goan pilgrims plan to visit places in Sri Lanka where Joseph Vaz, an Oratorian priest, worked for 24 years from 1687 to preserve the Catholic faith that was persecuted by Dutch Calvinists.
The Indian priest had left a marvelous legacy behind — an incultured Church, 15 big church edifices, several schools and hospitals, says Father Cosme Costa, a Pilar priest who paved the way for Blessed Vaz’s canonization.
“I have not done anything. It is Joseph Vaz’s powerful intercession before God that has saved my life,” said Fr Costa, who is visiting Sri Lanka on a special invitation from the bishops’ conference there. He had visited the island nation twice earlier.
The priest’s mother survived ‘placenta previa,” an obstetric complication in which the placenta is inserted partially or wholly in the lower uterine segment. She and her family prayed to Joseph Vaz.
Father Costa, who is now 75, says that thousands of people have received favors through Blessed Vaz’s intercession in the past three centuries. “But none of them was accepted as a miracle, except the one that God worked in my life in answer to prayers of my dear ones,” Father Costs said.
He said the canonization process began to scrutinize “the miracle” of his birth in 1990 and completed in three and a half years.
“I attended the beatification ceremony in Sri Lanka on January 21, 1995. I look forward with deep gratitude for this great event of canonization. I thank God for my mother’s deep faith in him,” the priest said.
He said canonization will entitle Joseph Vaz to be honored as a saint all over the world. He could be emulated by missionaries, especially those in difficult situations. “He stands as a beacon of light, strategy and strength in such difficult situations.”
Father Costa noted that Pope Francis comes to Sri Lanka when the situation there is fluid after the historic presidential election that saw the defeat of President Mahindra Rajapakshe. “Let us pray that all may go well by God’s grace and protection,” he added. Cosme.
Among the pilgrims who left Goa on Saturday were Archbishop Philip Neri Ferrao, his vicar general Fr Jose Remedios Fernandes and secretary Fr Joaquim Loiola Pereira.
Ria D’Souza, one of the pilgrims traveling with her family, told Matters India that she undertook the journey to strengthen her faith.
“Our parish priest Fr Romualdo Robin Rodrigues wants to make it a real pilgrimage. He has reminded us that this is not a picnic. He has asked us to carry one extra rosary each to give to the children in the orphanage there,” she said.
The Catholic woman also said that the priest had told them not to apply for the travel subsidy the Goa government had promised. “We are making a sacrifice to go for the canonization,” she added.
Matthias Vaz, who teaches French in the local university, said the people of Goa were overjoyed at the news of the canonization. “This is the greatest day in my life. It is also agift of God to the Church in Goa,” he added.
The sanctuary of Blessed Jospeh Vaz in Sancoale parish started a novena on January 7 to prepare for the canonization, vice postulator of the cause Fr Eremito Rebello said.
He said some 7,000-8,000 pilgrims from different parts of India have attended the novenas so far.
The sanctuary conducted night vigil on Saturday. It will offer special Masses on Sunday, January 11, and conduct an inter-religious prayer on January 13.
The postal department will release a postal cover on Joseph Vaz on January 14.
Bells in all the Goan churches will peal as Blessed Vaz will be canonized. The canonization is the culmination of over three centuries of expectation and supplication on the part of his devotees from Goa, Mangalore, Sri Lanka and elsewhere,” Archbishop Father Filipe Neri Ferrao said Friday.
Fr Joseph Vaz was born in Goa on April 21, 1651 as the third child of his parents.
In 1676 he was ordained a priest. In 1682 he was appointed to go to Kanara to save the abandoned Christianity there. In 1686 he left for Sri Lanka after a brief period of his mission in Kanara, and entered the country disguised as coolie.