The Goa government is in the process of requesting the central government to start a direct flight between Goa and Sri Lanka.
There will be a Goan flavor to the canonisation of Sri Lanka’s first saint, Joseph Vaz, on whom Pope Francis will confer the status when he visits the island nation in January 2015.
A native of Goa, then under the Portuguese colonial regime, left in 1686 for what was then called Ceylon to propagate Catholicism in the Dutch-ruled nation, where Calvinism, a major Protestant branch, had begun taking root.
On Sep 17, the pope approved the vote of members of the congregation for the causes of saints in favour of Vaz’s canonisation, the penultimate step of the long and elaborate process. And in Goa, Vaz’s fans and flock can’t hold their excitement down.
According to Fr. Eremito Rebello, Rector of Sancoale, where Vaz learnt his first lessons in Christianity from Jesuit priests, over 1,000 Goans are expected to travel to Sri Lanka for the grand canonization ceremony.
“The response has been unbelievable. If regular flights are not available, a chartered flight may be needed,” said Rebello, who as vice postulator of the canonization of Vaz assisted in the elaborate investigation and verification into the life and miracles of the saint-in-the-making, which is mandatory before canonization.
The Goa government is in the process of requesting the central government to start a direct flight between Goa and Sri Lanka anticipating the rush of Goan faithful to Vaz’s karmabhoomi. Vaz’s followers from Sri Lanka are also expected to travel to Goa to witness for themselves the land their soon-to-be-saint grew up in.
“We are considering it. A request has come, which in principle I have accepted. I cannot guarantee this because it is not in my hands. We are trying to work out flights from Sri Lanka,” Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told IANS.
Goa has a 26 percent Catholic population and was one of the early South Asian regions to have embraced the religion after being colonized by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Vaz was born in the south Goan beach village of Benaulim, 40 km from Panaji, 141 years after Portuguese adventurer commander Afonso de Albuquerque defeated the forces of Adil Shah of Bijapur to carve out the first Portuguese territory in this part of the world.
He grew up in his still-standing paternal home in Benaulim, but earned his oats as a priest in the Jesuit order in Sancoale, some 20 km south of Panaji.
According to Rebello, the story of how Vaz slipped into Ceylon is cloaked in intrigue.
“He was smuggled into Sri Lanka by the Jesuits who dressed him as a coolie and sent him off from their house in Tuticorin in March 1687, never to return,” Rebello told IANS.
A website maintained by the California-based Joseph Naik Vaz institute corroborates the story. It says that Vaz arrived in Jaffna “with a servant, both disguised as coolies”, and worked despite there being a price on his head for propagating Catholicism.
Rebello cannot hide his joy at the prospect of January 2015, when the pope, after landing in Sri Lanka, will complete the formalities required for sainthood.
“The entire village today feels sanctified with the knowledge that a saint walked these paths and prayed in these churches,” Rebello said.