There is not room here to explore the course of Christian missions across the whole of south and south-east Asia. Instead, we will focus on three mission fields: Sri Lanka, Timor and some of the neighbouring islands, and Vietnam.
In 1505, the Portuguese had reached Galle and Colombo in present-day Sri Lanka; they called the country Taprobane or Ceylon. At that time, the Jaffna peninsula of Ceylon had Hindu rulers and Hindu subjects, but the rest of the island was Buddhist. The Catholic mission began with the arrival of a group of Franciscans in 1543. Vikrama Bahu, the Buddhist King of Kandy, converted to Christianity in the 1540s in return for Portuguese help. Many others converted for material advantages from the Portuguese, and by 1560 there was a flourishing Christian community in Mannar on the eastern side of the island. Various Catholic orders under Portuguese patronage, including the Jesuits from 1602 and later the Augustinians and Dominicans, conducted missions on Ceylon. However, they failed to encourage local inhabitants to enter the priesthood. When the Dutch overran the island in 1658, they forced the withdrawal of the Portuguese priests, decreeing the death penalty for anyone harbouring a Roman Catholic priest. Many Catholic churches were now used for Protestant worship and the Catholics of Ceylon found themselves deprived of their pastors. In 1686, the Goan Oratorian priest, Blessed Jose Vaz (1651-1711), arrived in Ceylon and worked there amid poverty and danger for twenty-four years until his death. He developed ingenious ways ofkeeping the Catholic faith alive on the island, including reliance on native missionaries and
Was this article helpful?