The canonization of Joseph Vaz and calling him an Apostle of Sri Lanka disregarding Buddhist and Hindu sensitivities, is a cause for religious disharmony
Shenali D Waduge
The right to religious freedom does not and should not include the right to convert. Thus, those that are sent on missions to convert understandably cannot be expected to be treated as heroes particularly by a nation that is heir to an unique Sinhala Buddhist civilization lasting for over 2300 years, still carrying a majority Buddhist population and struggling to remain so. That forms the basic foundation of the increasing opposition in Sri Lanka to the sham campaign of the Catholic Church and pro – Christian local mainstream press to project Joseph Vaz, Goa born Christian missionary, as an apostle of Sri Lanka as well as his canonization on Thai Pongal Day (14th January) which is a day of religious significance to the Hindus and a public holiday. It is unfortunate even smacking of contempt for the sensitivities of both Buddhists and Hindus that both the Sri Lankan Government and the Church have dismissed the importance of Thai Pongal holiday and have scheduled that date to canonize a person who is not of Sri Lankan origin, who was directly sponsored by the Portuguese (regarded as an enemy by Sinhalese Kings) then ruling Goa and coveting the re-conquest of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) using spies including Christian missionaries to infiltrate the land held by the Dutch as well as the Kandyan Kingdom.
A person who had entered Sri Lanka in the guise of a spy with an aim to transfer the customary allegiance of the indigenous people to the local sovereign i.e. Kings of Kandy, to a foreign sovereign i.e. Portugal, does not fit in with a definition of a national hero or apostle under any circumstances. Christian missionaries wherever they went had used every opportunity to wean indigenous people away from their longstanding religious beliefs, and make them ashamed of everything that they had stood for and lived by i.e. their religion, their culture, their heritage, their language, their race, their food and even their skin colour. Joseph Vaz was no exception having given up his own Sanscrit based Indian name and replacing it with an European name. He had thrown in his lot with European Christian conquerors of parts of India who were attempting to subjugate the rest of Asia and like any faithful Lascoreen or Indian Sepoy Joseph Vaz was primarily engaged in trying to make Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus embrace the religion of the country’s erstwhile enemy.
What or who is an apostle
The ‘one who is sent out’ is referred to as an apostle. The New Testament refers to the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. Judas Iscariot was once such apostle but betrayed Jesus. As a general term apostles are those who are sent out as messengers/ambassadors of Jesus Christ. To qualify as an apostle traits included a) being a witness of the resurrected Christ b) being chosen by the Holy Spirit c) being able to perform signs and wonders. Thus, apostles are missionaries of Christ.
The process towards the canonization of Joseph Vaz began when Pope John Paul visited Sri Lanka on 19 September 1996 upon the invitation of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The Indian missionary will be canonized by Pope Francis on 14th January 2015 on an invitation extended by the President of Sri Lanka.
Yet, Joseph Vaz is no hero to the Sinhala Buddhists who are the majority race/religion in Sri Lanka. Joseph Vaz is also no hero to the Tamil Hindus or Muslims either. The objection is further highlighted by the fact that the Vatican and the vast majority of the Christian Western countries do not accept Buddhism as an official religion. in fact only 2 countries in Europe do, namely, Austria and Russia. Thus, when there is a lack of reciprocity on the part of the Christian West is it fair to call and allow the canonization of a Christian missionary not of Sri Lankan origin to take place on Buddhist soil?
Joseph Vaz is Indian. He was born in Goa on 21st April 1651. Joseph Vaz arrived in Sri Lanka incognito i.e. in the guise of a mendicant. The Dutch were occupying the coastal belt of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The Portuguese and Dutch were between them locked in hostilities and interested in securing Ceylon and Portuguese historian Queroz laments the fact that Portugal lost Ceylon to the Dutch but never gave up the hope of eventual re-conquest. The canonization of an Indian in Sri Lanka will be no different to the Sri Lankan Government inviting the Organization of Islamic Country (OIC) head to visit Sri Lanka when their sole aim is to spread the Islamic faith and entice Sri Lanka to join OIC. What happened to Maldives when the original Buddhists were either slain or forced to convert to Islam has given rise to existential fears among the Buddhists of this country. No elected custodian of the nation has the authority to undermine the long standing Buddhist credentials of Sri Lanka.
Betrayal of Buddhism
Is such conduct consistent with the duty imposed on the State under Sri Lanka’s Constitution under Article 9 that the State should ‘protect and foster Buddhism’?. The State has no obligation under the Constitution to foster any other religion except Buddhism. To embark on an exercise to foster an Abrahamic faith in Sri Lanka will not only be a violation of the Constitution but also be tantamount to a betrayal of Buddhism – the religion of 70% of the people of Sri Lanka.
When the practice of indigenous religions was prohibited in areas under Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka, it follows in the light of other additional evidence of criminal conduct that the Portuguese introduced and extended the infamous inquisition to Sri Lanka. This is a prima facie example to showcase that the Church was not interested in peaceful co-existence with other religions and the examples of the genocide of indigenous races in North and South America (Aztecs, Mayans, Incas) by the Spanish and Portuguese is shown primarily because these crimes were committed in the name of religion and with the blessings of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Today, contemporary followers of the faith may not like to be reminded of these crimes. However, history will remain witness to annihilation of entire tribes, entire nations and robbing and the take-over of their countries and conversion of their people. It is for this reason that these crimes can never be allowed to be forgotten despite the westerners attempting to do so by introducing new concepts like ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgive and forget’. We are no longer prepared to be deceived by mere play of words.
While Sri Lanka is being held accountable at UNHCR despite ending terrorism, the Church and the West are unwilling to accept accountability or engage in a catharsis for over 500 years of tyrannical rule across the world as colonial powers. Yet, if Germany was made to accept direct responsibility for Nazi crimes and Germany continues to pay reparations why can’t the West and the Church do the same in respect of crimes against humanity and genocide committed against black, brown and yellow people all over the world?
No public support for canonization of Joseph Vaz
There is no public support for this charade of canonization of Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka. Vaz has no roots in this country and there is no record of him ever having disowned or condemned the horrific crimes committed by his Master – the Portuguese in both Goa and Sri Lanka. The fake story of Joseph Vaz (which is not corroborated in any history volume written by local historians or Buddhist monks) is being used by both the Vatican and the Catholic Church as a subtle ploy to white wash and leverage heinous Portuguese crimes.
The Government of Sri Lanka on behalf of a proud nation should boldly call for rectification of historical injustices and in turn should be demanding an apology and reparations from the Vatican, Portuguese and Catholic Church. Until this is done to the satisfaction of the Sinhala Buddhists, Tamil Hindus and even the Muslims who suffered at the hands of the Portuguese and the Catholic Church, there is no hope in hell of a true reconciliation ever taking place between the religious communities of Sri Lanka.
A noteworthy factor of the present Presidential election is whatever extra mile the President has gone to please the minorities they have all chosen to desert him and are now in the Opposition camp as a coalition to bring him down. Apart from a handful of minorities who will vote with their conscience balancing what is best for the country, most others will follow instructions of their minority leaders/political parties and vote against the President. All that the President has to survive and emerge victor are the Sinhala Buddhist votes because the Sinhala Buddhists would do anything to preserve the history and heritage of the country and will not allow the country to fall into the wrong hands. However, Buddhist leaders should not take that for granted as they continue to do.
The sensitivities of the Sinhala Buddhists must also be addressed.