New shrine of Blessed Joseph Vaz at Ampitiya

by Len R. Mahavachchi

The opening of the new scholatic year at the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka, Ampitiya on October 2, 2000 marked several important events. Firstly, the Solemn Blessing and the inauguration of the new philosophate, by the Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka. This new building complex is situated within the same premises and contains all the facilities needed for the department of Philosophy, under a Director who represents the Rector at this Institute. The Seminarians spend the first two years of their formation at this institute, before they cross over to the Theologate.

This new building and the separation of the two departments was necessitated due to the rapid increase in the number of candidates, esp. with the inflow of students from many Religious Congregations residing around Ampitiya v.g. Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Sylvestro-Benedictines, Jesuits, Claretians, Rosarians, Blessed Sacrament, Franciscans both T.O.R. and Friars Minor, Redemptorists, Voluntas Dei, etc. Except Jaffna, all the other ten dioceses send at least some of their students to this National Seminary. The total number of students has risen to 282, which is a record number. For an effective formation this separation was needed.

The second important event was the re-dedication of the old Ampitiya Parish church to Blessed Joseph Vaz by Bishop Vianney Fernando in the presence of several other Bishops, the Seminarians and a large crowd of parishioners. This indeed will be an asset to the diocese, and esp. to the young Seminarians to have before them an excellent model of sanctity and missionary zeal and a constant source of inspiration.

Mgr. Ladislaus Zaleski, the then Apostolic Delegate for the Indies, had heard of the heroic sanctity and the missionary zeal of Fr. Joseph Vaz and after building the Papal Seminary in 1893, for the higher education of the clergy of this region, wrote a brief biography of Fr. Joseph Vaz and presented him as a model to the young Seminarians. This biography has now been reprinted and is available even in the local languages.

The former Ampitiya Church was built by the Jesuit Fathers who managed the Seminary, in 1896 and was looked after it till they left for Pune in 1955. This chapel was used by the Seminary for important functions like the Ordinations, as they had no chapel of their own till 1926, when the present Seminary chapel was built As Mgr. Zaleski was a Pole, he dedicated the Parish church to our Lady of Ostrabrama, popular shrine in Poland. If Fr. Joseph Vaz had been declared a Blessed by that time, undoubtedly the church would have been dedicated in his honour.

Therefore, it is quite fitting that this old church which was recently restored through the donations from generous foreign benefactors be dedicated to this our Beloved Apostle, who made Kandy the centre of his mission for 24 years. It is indeed lamentable that we have so far not been able to trace the place where his Kandy church existed in which he was buried. To recall his ministry in Kandy and the first miracle he worked in Kandy i.e., the miraculous shower of rain during a severe drought, on the request of king Wimaladharmasuriya II, a painting of this miracle serves as the focus of the devotion in this new shrine.

The parishioners of Ampitiya are taking a keen interest in this shrine and the Seminarians too go for their morning Prayers and the Eucharistic Celebrations, in groups on several days in the week. May this devotion grow and in course of time this shrine at Ampitiya be turned into a centre where the Apostle of Sri Lanka will listen to the prayers of the many pilgrims who come there in their needs and intercede before God, esp to obtain peace in our land - for he served equally all people in our land, irrespective of race, religion and language. The first feast of this shrine was celebrated on January 21st preceded by a triduum of preparation.