Goa Church to seek sainthood for another Lankan missionary

Panaji — Canonization of St Joseph Vaz also threw the spotlight on another illustrious Goan priest and his colleague, Fr Jacome Gonsalves, but it inspired the Goa Church enough to consider petitioning Vatican to begin the process of his cause for sainthood.

Pope Francis conferred sainthood on St Vaz, popularly known as apostle of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), in Colombo on January 14, 2015. This ended a long wait for the islanders grateful for his work in reviving their church and Goans eagerly anticipating the historic moment for 304 years.

The 18th century saint is known for his exemplary work as a missionary in laying the foundation for a strong church on the island. Gonsalves also stands out as a great missionary, architect and builder of the faith, second only to Vaz, church sources said.

Fr Eremita Rebello, former vice-postular for the cause of canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, is studying the matter to consider the possibility of pursuing sainthood for him.

“I am trying to study the subject and gather information about the books written by Gonsalves as well as other literature on his life,” Rebello said.

Gonsalves was a multifaceted personality, a linguist, poet and writer. After St Vaz began his work on the island amid severe persecution from the Dutch, suitable literature was needed for the Christian congregation, The Times of India reported.

Vaz chose him for the huge task of composing the literature and the priest from Divar proved equal to the task. The large body of literature he produced earned him the sobriquet ‘Father of Sinhala Christian literature’. His copious work, comprising 42-odd religious texts written for the first time in Tamil and Sinhalese, as also a catechism, helped strengthen the faith on the island. He died in Bolawatte on July 17, 1742.

Under normal circumstances, the canonization process for any holy person can be started in the locality of his death. “I will write to the parish priest of Bolawatte, where he was buried and his tomb is also located, and also Bishop of Chilaw diocese under which the above parish falls to start the process for his canonization,” Rebello, rector of sanctuary of St Joseph Vaz, said.

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, many nuns, priests and around 2,000 devotees from Goa attended the historic canonization in Colombo. They also visited other places on the island. “The visit in January gave us an opportunity to learn about Gonsalves’ missionary work,” Fermino Fernandes, a devotee of St Vaz, said.

The process can also be initiated elsewhere only in certain circumstances with special permission from congregation for saints at Vatican. Joseph Naik Vaz Institute (JNVI) in California has petitioned the Vatican to facilitate the beatification and subsequent canonication of Gonsalves and other companions of St Vaz.

Gonsalves was born on June 8, 1676, to Thomas Gonsalves and Mariana de Abreu at Chorao and joined Congregation of the Oratorians as a novitiate at Cruz dos Milagres, Old Goa, on November 2, 1700. He later joined St Vaz with his other companions and helped build a strong church in Sri Lanka.

Famous church historian S G Perera stated in his book on Gonsalves that two priests stand out pre-eminent in the history of the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka, St Vaz and Fr Gonsalves. “Father Vaz planned and Father Gonsalves watered the vineyard of Ceylon and God gave it increase. It is these two priests more than to any other before or since, that the modern church in Ceylon owes its existence, its numbers, its traditions and its literature,” he stated.

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