St. Joseph Vaz, the Saint for the Least, the Last and the Lost

Pope Francis at the Canonization of St. Joseph Vaz

The sainthood to the son of Goa is an occasion that springs the fountain of joy for everyone in Goa. He is certainly not the latest entry in Heaven. He has adorned it for the last three centuries. His canonization has made him a model and intercessor for the entire Catholic Church. His heroic life continues to inspire and motivate Catholics to live their life of profound discipleship of Christ with enthusiasm and joy.  The joy of the Gospel has come alive once again for the Church in Sri Lanka and India, particularly the Church in Goa. His heroic missionary labour is unique as it did not have any direct anchorage from the official Church nor the support of the colonial power apparatus.  The fact that the Catholic Church remained cut off from the universal Church for a good one hundred and forty years and yet stayed active and teeming even against the odds posed by the persecution of the Calvinist Dutch colonizers manifests the depth of his work as well as the resilience of the Catholics of Sri Lanka.  Hence, he rightfully deserves the title, the Apostle of Sri Lanka. 

The Church in Goa rejoices and thanks to God as St. Joseph Vaz because he became her first son to attain sainthood. The fact that he has been already adopted as the patron of our diocese, in him the Church in Goa has a powerful model of discipleship and unceasingly dedicated intercessor. Indeed, the holy men being a Goan can certainly revitalize Christian life in Goa. His letter of bondage is a plunge into profound freedom because it was addressed to God.  His letter of bondage ensured that he becomes the channel of God and recipient of special protection of mother Mary. That is why we can see how he was marvellously led to fulfil divine purpose in all that he did. God seemed to show his dissident face in and through him.  God who disagreed with the colonial system and petty egocentric Church politics of turf or jurisdiction rose through his ministry in Kanara and Sri Lanka even without his conscious knowledge. The dissident God took care of his people even without the colonial power apparatus. The dissident God became the true shepherd of his people through his ministry in Goa, Kanara and Sri Lanka. The fact that he became a counter-cultural vehicle of God can be clearly discerned from his desire to be like the moon that reflects the light of the sun. For him, Jesus Christ was the Sun while he considered himself moon and called others to be the same.  

The life of St. Joseph Vaz is extraordinarily heroic.  ‘When Christ call us he bid us to die’ is said to be the cost of discipleship by  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The saint paid the wages of discipleship on a daily basis as he ministered to his fellow Catholics in Sri Lanka.  He seems to have lived to the fullest the self-emptying (kenosis) love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He manifests great courage of strength and determination because he became a fool for Christ willing to subject himself to great suffering, persecution and ignominy for the sake of his suffering brethren.   He allowed his love for Christ and his people to spur him with great compassion and reached out to the last, the least and the lost. He lived the Gospel of the dissident God, the God who disagree with the oppressors and sides the oppressed and exploited. That is why he becomes a great inspiration for all of us Goans. The dissident God is always working to liberate the oppressed and the downtrodden. Like St. Joseph Vaz if we totally surrender ourselves to Him, we too can become the channels of his liberation to the oppressed and the exploited in our days.  The saint is a great inspiration of total self-surrender to the dissident God, the God who sides the weak and the lost.    

The total self-surrender of St. Joseph Vaz began with his letter of bondage and he remained committed to it to the last breathe of his life. His life of detachment was not a running away from or sanyas from the world but an immersion into the struggles of the people. He’s become a Christian Karm Yogi who gave himself to his suffering brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka which became his Karm Bhoomi. Hence, it would injustice to his greatness if we abstract or bracket his dynamic passion and compassion for his struggling people flowing from his profound love of God.  His life is an explosive bombshell that can ignite our ability to respond to the dissident God of our faith, who constantly calls us to join him in the liberation of the oppressed amidst us. The true life of discipleship that allows us to live (ortho-praxis) what we believe as Christians (orthodoxy) and build a community (ortho-koinonia) free from the shadows of every shade of oppression can begin with the imitation of the great son of our soil. Hence, the canonization of Blessed  Joseph Vaz becomes an opportunity to seek God more ardently and led by a deep divine experience allow the dissident God of our faith to let the prophet in us come alive so that we can truly bring an ortho-koinonia or communion in Goa. 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao