Wednesday, January 30, 2019

St Joseph Vaz: Man of God, man of people and man of the Church

In the context of public ministry of Jesus, “he went on doing good” as the scripture says, we could ask this question. Where did Jesus get so much energy and passion to preach the Word of God, to heal the sick, lame, and blind and go about teaching people from one place to another without much rest and leisure? One thing is prominent in the life of Jesus is that he was chosen to be the saviour of the world, he was conscious about his mission. Therefore, Jesus was clear about who he was. Hence he spoke for God, he meditated God in his life, he worked for God. Jesus lived in the spirit of God.  
Here we are in this shrine of St Joseph Vaz in Mudipu. A man committed to the Gospel, committed to God. Once a person gives himself to God then he has to live for God, he has to speak for God, he has to bring people to God. This is what Joseph Vaz did in his life.  I would like to place before you three aspects, which I believe are very prominent in the life of Fr Joseph Vaz.
The first one is: Joseph Vaz was a man of God. He came from a simple family in Goa. His parents gave him the faith in Jesus Christ. He was nurtured in that faith. And this faith made him to offer himself to God. In other words, he experienced God in his life. He could not contain this experience of God to himself. He wanted to share this faith with others.  To do so, he thinks that becoming a priest is an ideal way. Therefore he applies to the newly arrived Jesuits. Unfortunately, they do not receive him in their order. Finally, he joins the Oratorians order and becomes a priest. His heart was bigger than himself. His love for Christ and to share that faith he begins his intense pastoral life. He comes down to Gangolli, Kundapur, Mudipu in the Coastal Karnataka in order to preach the Gospel and to strengthen the already existing Christians here. He sees the problem in the Church. There were no priests or apostolic vicars in the coastal belt. He recommends the Church authorities in Goa to send the pastors to these places.  Christians were returning to their previous religion as there were none to guide them. There were problems in the Church of 17th century in India especially the hierarchical politics of Pedro Vado and Propoganda Fide and colonialism. This does not disturb him but makes it a point to save the faith of Christians. Because, Joseph Vaz was a man of God.  While he was in the Canara he hears how the Christians in Sri Lanka are suffering under the Dutch, under persecutions. He did not remain silent or mute. He begins his journey. He hears the God’s voice that he should go to Sri Lanka and save the people of God.
The second point is: Joseph Vaz was a man of people. He lived in a society in which castism was part and parcel of it. There were class structures. There were people who were part of the ruling class.  There were people belonging to various religions either in Canara or Sri Lanka like, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, etc. But he was a pastor of all. He never made any distinctions among the people. He was close to the King of Kandy. He even translated the book of herbal medicine from Portuguese into Sinhala, which would serve the people in Sri Lanka. He won the favours from the king in Kandy for his good deeds for all the people. People from other religions revered him; they protected him from Dutch who were persecuting the Catholics. Joseph Vaz was truly a man of people. He was people’s pastor. He nursed the sick and poor. He took care of people who were fallen to small pox.  He started hospices and clinics for people. In this context he showed through his life that we are supposed to unite people and not divide.      
The third point is: Joseph Vaz was a man of the Church. Why? He loved the Church so much, being a native of our land, India he understood that natives will do a better job in preaching Christ. He understood clearly the existing Church problem of not taking the natives into the religious order, and allowing the natives to become priests. Strangely, Church said it does not need them. But Christ needed them. So, he founded an Indian version of Oratorians. Through which he prepared men for the Church. He wanted to serve the Church better. This was a radical shift in the way he thought and worked for the Church. This in fact, is a revolutionary idea from his part.  In spite of the problems in the Church, he said that he needed a strong lay Church. In fact, Church needed him badly. Sadly, Church is still not a lay Church, lay oriented Church but a priestly centered Church, a clerical Church. He wanted people’s Church. Only when we become people oriented Church we can serve the Lord better and boldly. Certainly, Joseph Vaz was a man of the Church. He loved the Church more than any other.
Christ critiqued his religion, Judaism. He condemned the bogus practices of its priestly class and religious leaders like scribes and Pharisees. However, Jesus did not leave his religion. Until his death on the cross, he was a pure Jew. He worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He read the Tora. He did what a normal Jew would do. He had his strong foundations, roots in the Jewish religion. Joseph Vaz followed this Jesus as his model and faith in his pastoral and missionary life.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
16 Jan 2019 
Feast of St Joseph Vaz