Tuesday, November 14, 2006

GOA: Sri Lankan Bishop's Retreat on Bl. Joseph Vaz

INDIA Sri Lankan Bishop Helps Goan Priests Gain New Insights On Blessed Vaz

November 13, 2006

PANAJI, India (UCAN) -- A Sri Lankan prelate's retreats on Blessed Joseph Vaz are inspiring priests of Goa archdiocese in India with their forebear's progressive approach to evangelization.

Some priests told UCA News that retreats conducted by Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy have helped them appreciate better the 17th-century Goan missioner's far-sighted vision.

Blessed Vaz, named patron of Goa in 2000, is known as the Apostle of Sri Lanka. He went to the island in 1687, at a time when Dutch colonizers persecuted Catholics. By the time he died in 1711 at age 60 in Kandy, capital of the central Sinhalese kingdom the Dutch failed to conquer, 17 Catholic churches and 300 chapels reportedly were in use with 70,000 people openly professing their Catholic faith.

Bishop Fernando directed two six-day retreats on Blessed Vaz's spirituality during his Oct. 6-22 visit to Goa, a western Indian state. The bishop credited Blessed Vaz with implementing revolutionary pastoral methods centuries before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) made way for similar ideas.

During the retreats, Bishop Fernando presented Blessed Vaz as an Asian model for modern priests. The Sri Lankan Church leader told priests they need to open themselves to God experience, for which they need to be men of prayer and asceticism. He urged them to renounce power, prestige and positions in favor of the humility and simplicity that Asians value in a man of God.

Blessed Vaz, a priest with brown skin, built a Church "from the ashes" without political, civil or religious support, Bishop Fernando reminded the retreatants. "We cannot allow such a personality, who has deeply inspired us by his unparalleled missionary labor and burning zeal, to be forgotten."

Bishop Fernando, chairman of the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat, has a primary role in the cause for Blessed Vaz's canonization. He maintains that the missioner's foresight helped the laity keep Christianity alive in Sri Lanka without priests.

This happened centuries before people started talking about a greater role for the laity in the Church, the bishop told UCA News. Blessed Vaz reposed "great trust" in the laity, he said.

Father Leonardo Morais, a parish priest who attended one of the retreats, found himself "pleasantly surprised" when the prelate presented Blessed Vaz as someone who anticipated and implemented the thinking of Vatican Council II. He told UCA News the retreat reminded him of the need for priests to become like Blessed Vaz "in all spheres of our life."

Another retreatant, Father Eremito Rebelo, said he was fascinated when he realized that Blessed Vaz promoted inculturation in the 17th century. Vice postulator for the canonization of Blessed Vaz, he also said he was amazed to learn how "the simple man from Goa" had built a small but powerful Catholic community in Sri Lanka that withstood persecution.

Archbishop Raul Gonsalves, retired head of Goa and Daman archdiocese, attended the retreats in 2001 as well as this year. He told UCA News on Nov. 9 that Bishop Fernando's programs are "very inspiring," which he attributed to the Sri Lankan prelate's "personal touch and closeness to Blessed Vaz through his personal knowledge and devotion."

The archbishop said priests in Goa have found the retreats "very relevant and meaningful," with the spiritual exercises inspiring and encouraging them "to look at themselves and at their ministry in evangelization of Asia."

About 70 priests attended the retreats this year. Bishop Fernando started the retreat series on the spirituality of Blessed Vaz in 2001, when Goa archdiocese invited him to conduct a retreat for its priests in preparation for its synod.

The Sri Lankan bishop said that after accepting the invitation, he was uncertain whether he would do justice to the assignment. "I was scared to preach a retreat, that too for priests, and that too on a subject like spirituality of Blessed Vaz," the prelate told UCA News on Oct. 22.

However, he felt encouraged by theologians' call for identification of Asian missioners relevant to Asian context as the region's "real evangelizers."
Reproduced by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCAN (

No comments: