The historical Couch-Palanquin believed to have been used by the late Rev. Fr. Joseph Vaz who was elevated to sainthood by Pope Francis during his visit to Sri Lanka in 2015 was displayed at St. Francis Xavier’s Church in Gurugalla, Avissawella recently, where a large number of devotees from many parts of the island visited and venerated it.
He was born on April 21, 1651 in Benaulim, India and was ordained an Oratorian priest later.
Fr. Joseph Vaz visited the island during the Dutch period when the Catholics of Sri Lanka were being subjected to persecution by the Dutch authorities. History records that these Catholics who lived mostly in the coastal areas fled to safety during these attacks. The Dutch were imposing Calvinism as the official religion after taking over from the Portuguese. He travelled throughout the island bringing the Eucharist and the sacraments to clandestine groups of Catholics. Later in his mission, he found shelter in the Kingdom of Kandy where he was able to work freely. By the time of his death, Vaz had managed to rebuild the Catholic Church in the island.
He arrived in the island disguised as a beggar and mixed with the suffering and attended to their religious needs. Volumes were written on the mission of Fr. Joseph Vaz and he is hailed as champion of protecting the Catholic denomination, its rites and teachings. In his pursuit to protect the Catholics and their ardent faith in the face of severe oppression and harassment by the Dutch, Fr. Joseph Vaz moved from village to village, caring for devotees and nursing the sick. Folklore reveals that he had lived in Ruwanwella, Kegalle and Karawanella disguised as a beggar.
Although born in India, Fr. Vaz is known as the Apostle of Ceylon. On 21, January 1995, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Colombo. He was canonized on January 14, 2015 by Pope Francis in an open-air mass ceremony at the Galle Face Green in Colombo.
During the exposition of this historical Couch, the Parish Priest of St. Francis Xavier, Awissawella, Rev. Fr. Gratian Hapuarachchi said the couch was kept for several days in the church and that several Holy Masses and other rituals were held with the participation of a large number of devotees. These services were held under the patronage of the Bishop of Ratnapura, Rev. Dr. Cletus Chandrasiri. This couch, dating back to more than 400 years has now become an historical artefact. This exposition was made possible with the intervention of the Gurugalla Apelapitiya Sri Sudharmarama Viharadhipathi Ven. Dammarathana Thera and Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharadhipathi Ven. Abanwala Hemalankara Nayaka Thera. The couch was returned to the Raja Maha Viharaya where it has been kept for many years.
This priceless artifact which has a religious importance for Christians was preserved by the Ven. Monks at Maniyamgama Rajamahaviharaya and Rev. Fr. Hapuarachchi was grateful to the Buddhist monks for making it available for exhibition at the church. “The Couch was preserved and protected because of the Ven. Monks and this is what we called religious harmony and coexistence,” Fr. Hapuarachchi said. This is a valuable treasure belonged to the temple and after the exhibition and religious veneration we returned it to Rajamahaviharaya, he said.