You are on page 1of 3


The Apostle of the Indies and the Apostle of Ceylon
Director, Xavier Centre of Historical Research, Goa.

Ad genies — " to the nations " - is the
Decree of Vatican II on the missionary activity of
the Church, and it is in the spirit of its teaching
that an effort is made in this brief write-up
to assess the missionary activity of St. Francis
Xavier and Fr. Joseph Vaz. Hence, this is not the
text, nor a summary of the two talks that I was
invited to deliver to the interested public in Old
Goa on 19th December 1984 by the Diocesan
Exposition Committee. Those talks have rather
provided me with a pretext to do this little exercise
with avowedly pastoral intentions, and not for
satisfying any "itchy" ears (if they can ever be
satisfied ) interested in hearing more abcut
"myths ". The deliberate use of plural and
singular in the title above is meant to translate in
the language of the decree the differences in the
missionary call of the " apostles". As we read in
the same document, "through the Holy Spirit,
who distributes his charismatic gifts as he wills for
the common good, Christ inspires the missionary
vocation in the hearts of individuals ... For there
are certain priests, religious, and laymen who are
prepared to undertake mission work in their own
countries or abroad, and who are endowed with
the appropriate natural dispositions, character, and
talents. These souls are marked with a special
vocation " ( Ad genies, IV, § 23). Hence, any
attempt at comparing their missionary activities on
purely human grounds, needs to be complemented
with an acceptance of the workings of the Holy
Spirit that sustained his apostles and made them
fruitful. It is important that we keep this in mind
as we peep into the personalities and missionary
achicvtnents of St. Francis Xavier and Fr. Joseph
Vaz. We cannot losw sight of the trutb that there
is only one mission, and that is the mission of
Christ himself (Ad genies, 1, § 5), and the only
method is the one that Christ himself adopted
poverty and obedience and self-sacrifice to death"
(I bid). If the same decree on missions recommends that all students for the priesthood


"should learn the history, aim, and method of the
Church's missionary activity, and the special social,
economic and cultural conditions of- their, own
people " (Ibid., II, § 16) it is only to make them
better aware of the incarnational method in the
changing historical "circumstanccs in which the
mission is exercised " ( Ibid ., I, § 6).
Two Co-founders
In the persons of Francis Xavier and Joseph
Vaz we have two co-founders of two religious
bodies, namely the Society of Jesus and the Oratorians of Goa. They originated from distant
lands : One a Spanish basque and a stranger to
the culture of India and the East; the other a Goan
brahmin of Salcete and better equipped to meet
the cultural demands of the people to whom he
preached the gospel. Both had Goa, the headquarters of the Portuguese empire, as their base
of missionary activities. However, the time-interval
between them was about a century and half, and
the fortunes of the Portuguese empire differed as
much : When Francis Xavier arrived in India
(1542) the Portuguese power was almost at its
zenith and the Portuguese gunboat was in a position to terrorize the natives into c.mversion if the
threats of hell or material allurements failed
Joseph Vaz had to operate in times (1681-1711)
when the Portuguese writ was no more respected
in Kanara or in Ceylon. The Dutch commercial
and religious rivals had wrestld away the most
prized spice-lands : clove-lands of Moluccas, the
cinnamon-land of Ceylon, and !he pepper-lands of
If Francis Xavier laid the foundation of the
Church on a massive scale and reached nations
till the Far East, Fr. Joseph Vaz has rightly been
credited with the second foundation of the Church
of Ceylon in a way that was no longer "foreign
to the people or to the rulers of that land. Whatever the differences of their personal backgrounds,

- 65 -

training, and operational contexts, these rather
determined their approachcs or methods of work
than their zeal and intrepidity, which can hardly
be brought into the area of comparison. Rightly
enough six years after Joseph Vaz had died at
Kandy the overseas councillors of the Crown of
of Lisbon had the following comment to make
These missionaries ( referring to the Oratorians
of Fr. Joseph Vaz) proceed in such an exemplary
way that only they and the Fathers of the Company
of Jesus are the real missionaries and the fittest to
convert the souls of the natives of Asia" ( Cf. C..
R. Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire,
London, 1969 p.244)
Factors to be kept in mind
Francis Xavier's personal experiences in a
turbulent Pris, the conflicts of the Reformation
in which the Society of Jesus was deeply involved,
the special request of the Crown of Portugal for
missionaries of the new Society to evangelize the
newly established empire in the. East, the powers of
papal nuncio granted to Francis Xavier, and his
quasi-supreme powers as religious superior of rae
Jesuits in the East, all these factors need to be
kept in mind while evaluating the missionary
attitudes of the man. Power and prestige that he
balanced with his self abnegations and self-sacrificing provides material for a very hard test to
anyone trying a critical :nd fair assessment. While
he had the ear of the highest political and religious
authorities (though conveniently a deaf year was
turned to him by the local Portuguese authorities !)
Francis Xavier esteemed the company of the
bed-rid-den and inmates of hospitals as well as
children and slaves. He felt more at ease (perhaps
more spiritually comforted) in their company, and
once he had gone to the extent of licking the sores
of a leper to get all natural revulsion out of his
system ! All this however had not made him
unedrthly, he still remained subject to more than
one weaknesses and prejudices of his surroundings
and background. One such was his ' western
superiority '. In one of the last letters that he
wrote from Sanchian to the Provincial designate
in Goa, we read
"I greatly urge you to take
very few into the Society, and those whom you
receive should be persons who are needed by the
Society ; and, for the service of the house, sse
well if it would b5 better to take or buy same
negroes" (Cf. G. Schurhaminer, Francis Xavier.

IV, Rome, 198 : p. 631 ). Fr. Alessandro
Valignano, the great reorganizer of the Jesuit
Asian Missions at the end of the 16th century
wrote that the saintly Xavier " realized with his
spirituality and prudence how incapable and rrimitive is the nature of this people in the things of
God, and that reasoning does not make such an
impression on them as does force. And for this
reason he considered that it would be very difficult
to form any Christian community among the
Niggers, and much more difficult to preserve it,
unless it was under the rule of the Portuguese, or
in a region whither their powr could be extended,
as is the case with the sea-coast, where the fleet
of His Highness can pass to and fro, dealing out
favours or punishments according to what the
people deserve ". Valignano added that the
spectacular success of Xavier's missionary methods
near the Fishery Coast was largely due to his
mixture of promises and threats (Cf. Valignano,
Historia del principio y progrecso de la Compania
de Jesus en las Indias Orientales, ed. J. Wicki,
Rome, 1944 : pp. 69-71 ). Hence, we cannot fully
absolve the great saint from appreciating carrotand-stick methods, nor was he fully above cultural
prejudices. His policy of keeping close to the
coast never gave him an opportunity to get into
contact with Centres of Hindu culture in the
hint9rland. His quickness to pass judgement on
Hindu culture can only be interpreted as imprudence, if not some superiority complex. His
unusually favourable judgement about the Japanese
makes one even think Francis Xavier was not
above racial feelings or colour distinctions. While
he made much of his little success in Japan, he was
very despondent about the future of the Church in
India. Whatever his powers of prediction may
have been during his life-time, times have shown
The Church of Japan
him wrong in this regard
has had a chequered growth, while he is with us
to witness to a growing and flourishing Church
Perhaps the saints also nod at times!
Missionary Approaches
We have already referred to the only road
that is open to anyone entering into the mission of
Christ. What we call methodologies or missionary
approaches are largely the adaptations that
circumstances demand, particularly the circumstances of one's personal make-up and the demands
of the environment. Sexual orgies of Francis

- 66 -

Xavier in Paris had ended when he witnessed the
deadly effects of venereal disease on a senior companion of his games. It had been such a traumatic
experience that contact with a woman even in a
dreamr led him to inflict on himself bloody injuries!
The saint himself admitted later that God had
granted him at that moment a special grace of
preserving his virginity ! (Schurhammer, op. cit.,
1, 727) There have been no lack of hints that Francis Xavier was a women-hater. But without going
to such an extreme conclusion, we could definitely
say that he did not put much trust in a woman.
Among the many practical instructions that he left
for the provincial-designate before leaving for
China, we read "Never blame the husband in
public, even though he may be at fault, since
women are so indomitable ..." (Schurhammer,
op. cit., IV, 544).
In the many small and detailed instructions
that Francis Xavier conveyed in his written notes
to Francisco Mansilhas, his Jesuit aide in the
Fishery Coast, or to Fr. Gaspar Barze as mentioned
above, we find a sort of resumé of what one may
call the " methodology of St. Francis Xavier ".
Much that he was advising others, he was striving
to practise in his own life
Patience, cheerfulness,
ever-readiness to serve the sick and the poor and
the prisoners, preaching repentance, and above all
to be constantly on the move! No surprise if he
was always in a hurry and was a burn-out in ten
Joseph Vaz was no less in a hurry ! We are
told by Fr. Pedro de Saldanha, a close companion
of Fr. Joseph Vaz in Ceylon " I have never seen
him incline to take any rest except when he is
indisposed and ordered to do so by obedience
He is very seldom in this church, but he is
constantly going on mission tours. When his
tours are over, he returns to this city of Candia
and begins to visit the surrounding districts. This
is a very toilsome work, as the city is situated in
the centre of many hills and forests and mountain
ranges ... " He adds "From the various servants
wft6 accompanied him in his long journeys 1 heard
that they have never been able to keep pace with
Father Vaz, for he walks much and with great
speed a testimony i can endorse from my own
experience of the journey I made with him from
Potulao to Mantota " ( V. Pernioja, The Catholic
Church in Sri Lanka, 1984, Vol. I: pp. 2723)
Apparently, all his energy came from rice boiled

in water and his unlimited trust in Providence
If he lived longer than Francis Xavier in spite of
leading an equally strenous life we could humanly
attribute it to his native constitution that could
better withstand our Indian strains. From the first
attack of dysentery on his arrival in Ceylon in
1987, through the gruesome trial of his physical
resistance during the year-long epidemic ten years
later, till his death that followed a long and painful
abscess in a ear, he kept up his practice of visiting
every single family of Ceylon at least once a year.
Fortunately for him by 1705 his burden was shared
by nine priests of his Oratory.
It is true that Francis Xavier died uttering
" In Thee, 0 Lord, have I hoped; let me never be
confounded ". Joseph Vaz did not have to utter
any such words. He was a living example of trust
in God's Providence. He always preferred the
opinion of others to his own, and regarded it as
the surest way of finding and doing God's will.
More than once he had to countenance opposition,
changes and delays in the execution of his life.
dream of assisting the Christianity of Ceylon.
His experience was not different fiom
that of the earlier Apostle : " For those
who love God everything leads to good ". His
formation in Goa, the years of apprenticeship in
Kanara, the formation of the Oratory, were stages
through which he was unwittingly led by Providence towards the ultimate mission that was
reserved for him.
Joseph Vaz did notfail to reach his nation.
It was a small nation compared to the Indies of
Francis Xavier, but it was a hard nut to crack.
Only a man in disguise, without fanfare of prestigious appointments, without foreign political
patr nage, unhampared by jurisdictional rivalries
of Padroado and Propaganda, and backed by a
group that was small enough not to attract
unwanted publicity could be an apostle of Ceylon.
Joseph Vaz fulfilled all these requirements. While
Francis Xavier made a good apostle for the Indies,
only Joseph Vaz could be the right apostle for
Ceylon. Unworthy as I feel of presenting any
bird's-eye-view of two missionary giants, this
exercise of assessing them may at best be
regarded as a worm's-eye-view of someone who
holds them in deep esteem.

- 67 -

XCHR, Alto de Porvorim.