Film depicts life of Indian-born priest credited with strengthening Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.
Colombo: A movie based on the life of St. Joseph Vaz — a priest described as ‘Asia’s greatest missionary’ — has been dubbed into the Tamil language to promote and popularize the Indian-born saint among Sri Lankan Christians.
Directed by Sanajaya Nirmal, a Catholic, the 2009 film Joseph Vaz had its Tamil version launch in Colombo April 25.
Tamils have long been treated as second-class citizens. In 1956, they were deprived of their Tamil language rights when Sinhala was made the state language.
Tamil separatists claiming decades of systematic discrimination later took up an armed struggle against Sinhalese majority rule, plunging the country into civil war 1983 — 2009 which killed an estimated 100,000 people. About 75 percent of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese, mostly Buddhists, and about 5 percent Tamils. Tamil is now also made an official language.
“Such an inspirational film should not be limited to the Sinhala language but be available in Tamil as well. We should be able to share the powerful message of St. Joseph Vaz in both local languages,” Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando of Kandy said at the launch of the Tamil-language version of the film.
“The Tamil community should be able to know more about Asia’s greatest missionary,” Bishop Fernando said.
The release of the new version of the film comes after a decision by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka to dedicate 2017 as the year of St. Joseph Vaz, the island nation’s first saint, a missionary from the Portuguese colony of Goa on the western coast of India who is credited with having revived the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka.
The Portuguese introduced Catholicism to Sri Lanka in 1505. However, the Dutch, who took over in 1658, introduced Protestantism and persecuted Catholics. St. Vaz, an Oratorian priest, went around the country reviving the faith in secret.
Joseph Vaz was produced and dubbed by the Catholic Center for Social Communication, the media arm of the Sri Lankan bishops’ conference. The Tamil-dubbed version will be screened in churches and Sunday schools in the Northern Province and other areas where Tamil Christians are numerous.
Sanjaya Nirmal, a well-known filmmaker, said that churches and religious organizations have screened the Sinhala version of the film in public halls and that more than 10,000 DVD copies of the film have been sold.
“This film is the first and only audio-visual material available on the life of St. Vaz in Sri Lanka and I’m glad that it being dubbed to Tamil and used to teach his mission among our Tamil brethren,” Nirmal said.
“Though this was a film about a Catholic saint and the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, there was large contribution from Buddhist artists and technicians,” he said.
“Many prominent roles in the film are played by Buddhists and several them did not ask for any pay while others charged much less than their usual payments.”
St. Vaz later won the friendship of the Buddhist king of Kandy from where he ran eight missions serving more than 60 mission stations. Born in 1651, St. Vaz was ordained as a priest in 1676. He died in 1711.
Popularly known as the Apostle of Sri Lanka, St. Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Sri Lanka in 1995 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, also in Sri Lanka.