Saint Joseph Vaz was born into a Christian family and was able to attend primary and secondary school, going on to the University to finish his studies. He was a very brillant man and had a gift for preaching and learning several different languages.
As a priest, his heart belonged to Our Lady, and he devoted himself entirely to Her service. In 1677, he consecrated himself as a “slave of Mary,” sealing the consecration with a document now referred to as his “Letter of Enslavement.”
He was a very compassionate man and was concerned about the condition of Catholics living in Ceylon, who were being persecuted by the Dutch, and had been without a priest for 50 years. Altough he sought permission he was asked to go to the mission in Kanara. There he preached, celebrated Mass and heard confessions. Not only did he carry out his daily duties, he also visited the sick, and was able to ransom Christian slaves as well, often dressing as a beggar to travel around.
Becoming quite ill with dysentry, he was able to recover and began once again on his mission, by secretely reaching out to Catholics and hiding from the Dutch. He ministered to the Catholics under the cover of night and with the help of his flock, was able to keep one step ahead of the authorities. He was a couragous priest who continued his misionary work and upon hearing of another large village of Catholics who were without the Sacraments or a priest, he headed that way. But instead of being able to work freely he was captured and imprisioned. While in prison he learned the local language and under the somewhat lax guards, he was able to administer to the other prisoners. Slowly, but with continued effort he was able to convert many more of the people. And due to miracles that occurred, he was released and able to continue his missionary works.
He died of natural causes 1711, in Sri Lanka. There were so many mourners at his funeral, his body had to be exposed for three days to accomadate the crowds. He is buried in the central providence of Sri Lanka, known as Kandy.
When one looks at the life of this hard working priest, who overcame so many obstacles and was able to convert many pagans to Christianity, it is without a doubt due to the fact that he loved the Blessed Mother and consecrated himself as a “slave of Mary,” sealing it with the document known as his “ Letter of Enslavement.” As you read his words, dear reader, ask yourself, can you consider yourself a ‘slave of Mary’? God bless.
“Let it be known to all who see this “Letter of Bondage”, angles, human beings, and all creatures, that I Fr. Joseph Vaz, sell and offer myself as a perpetual slave of the Virgin Mother of God. This I do through a free, spontaneous and perfect act of devotion which in law is known as an irrevocable act among the living. I give myself and all that I possess so that She, as my true Mistress and Mother, may dispose of me and my possessions as She wills. And because I consider myself unworthy of such an honour, I beseech my Guardian Angel and the glorious patriarch St. Joseph, the most blessed Spouse of the Sovereign Lady and the Saint whose name I bear, as well as all the citizens of heaven that they may obtain from Her this favour to be included among the number of Her slaves. I confirm this and seal it with my name. I would have liked to sign it with my heart’s blood. Written in the Church of Sancoale, at the foot of the altar of the same Virgin Mary Mother of God, Our Lady of Health, on this day the 5th of August, the Feast of Our Lady of Snows, in the year 1677.”