Sunday 21 September 2014

A Jesuit Letter to a Former Student

I am glad to see the following, especially since some years ago, on a visit to Bom Jesu in Goa, I had bothered to bother a senior and rather well-known Jesuit about books on José Vaz in the bookshop. "To amcho nhoi," was the brusque reply. But then there are always all sorts among all of us. 

The Goan Hand in an Unfinished Mission
A Jesuit Letter to a Former Student

Dear Fr. Jose Vaz,

          We rejoice with the rest of Goa at last night's
          news of your canonization, but as Jesuits we are
          particularly proud of you as our former student,
          and happy for whatever we contributed to your
          growth and apostolate.

It was the Jesuit parish priest of Benaulim, Fr. Jacinto
Pereira, who made you a child of God through Baptism on April
29, 1651.  After a couple of years, you learnt to read and
write under another Jesuit Father in Sancoale and then Latin
in our school in Benaulim.  Finally, you went to our St.
Paul's College in Old Goa for your higher secondary education
to learn rhetoric and the humanities.

I wonder what made you leave the Jesuits and go to the
Dominican Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas for your seminary
studies.  Was it that you did not come up to their admission
requirements?  Those Jesuits at St. Paul's could be rather
selective, I am told.  But I am glad we kept up our

          During your seminary days at Old Goa, did you meet
          the Jesuit martyr Sao Joao de Brito?  He came there
          from Portugal to complete his theological studies.
          You must have surely noticed the big excitement
          with music and decorated streets when on September
          6, 1673 he and his seven companions came to the new
          St. Paul's College, not far from St. Anthony's
          Chapel were you lived.

Your dream of going to Sri Lanka, in spite of the mortal
dangers awaiting you there, was fully supported by your
Jesuit friends.  They welcomed you in their house in Quilon,
where Fr. Manuel Pereira would later teach Tamil to those
going to join you, and furnished you with much useful
information.  They, then, sent you disguised as a coolie to
their house in Tuticorin in March 1687.  You will remember
that here you met a Jesuit friend whom you had known in Goa.
Wasn't it he who helped you and your servant John to cross
over to Sri Lanka after Easter that year, disguised as you
were for the fear of the Dutch?

In Sri Lanka you could build on the foundation laid earlier
by Jesuit missionaries and use chapels and houses they had
built but had to abandon after the Dutch occupation in 1662.
It was through the Jesuits that your letters, smuggled out of
the country, were conveyed to Goa.

Wasn't it due to the reports of your good work that Fr.
Andrew Freyre, the Jesuit Provincial of Malabar, sent to his
fellow Jesuits in Goa that the ecclesiastical authorities
there finally approved the Oratorian Congregation that you
had helped to start?  In 1703 the Jesuit parish priest Fr.
Henry Dolu at Pondicherry tried to support you before the
Papal Legate, Archbishop Carl Thomas Maillard of Tournon,
whom Pope Clement XI had sent to settle some affairs relating
to your work.

          During your school days with the Jesuits you must
          have heard about another Jesuit missionary at
          Madurai who had died in 1656, Fr Roberto de Nobili.
          He was in trouble with local church authorities
          because of his attempts at inculturation and now it
          was your turn that the poor European Archbishop
          could not understand.

He did admire your work but his decision was similar to the
one he had taken regarding the Malabar rites and even the
Archbishop of Goa considered it "ruinous for the Mission".
But you accepted it graciously and promulgated it with much
prudence.  No wonder, therefore, that already in 1690 Fr.
Andrew Freyre had reported to the Viceroy of Goa that you had
worked in the district of Jaffnapatam "with apostolic spirit
and zeal" and that you were "held by all to be a saint."

I wouldn't be surprised if that statement helped to hasten
the process of your canonization -- by a Jesuit Pope!  At any
rate, it was the Jesuit Bishop of Cochin Dom Francisco de
Vasconcellos, who had proposed to the Holy See in about 1737
to initiate the process of your beatification.  The process
was in fact begun in Goa, and a number of miracles were
registered.  But the non-fulfilment of certain essential
formalities led Pope Benedict XIV to cancel the proceedings,
with an order, however, that they should be re-instituted.
But that did not matter to you, because you were already
blessed and crowned by your Divine Master.

          Dear Fr. Jose Vaz, the Church needs people like you
          today: full of love for Christ, generous, creative,
          and committed.  Pray that we have them and also
          pray for us, Jesuits of Goa, who at one time helped
          you to become what you were and to do what you did
          for Christ.

Yours fraternally in Christ,

Gregory Naik, S.J.
Goa Jesuit Province
18 September 2014

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