India’s ‘dancing missionary’ dies

Divine Word priest Charles Vas of India was a legend in Hindi liturgical hymns

A Catholic priest who was known to dance and sing classical Indian music to bring the message of the Gospel to millions died in Mumbai on November 30. He was 77.

Divine Word priest Charles Vas was a legend in Hindi liturgical hymns. He established the Sangeet Abhinay Academy, an institution of song and dance, in 1980.

Father Vas was a poet, composer and musician who had directed musical events such as ballets, music dances, and bhajan programs in India and abroad.

He was known as “a singing visionary,” “a dancing missionary,” “a bhajan chanting Catholic priest,” and “an evangelist through dance.”

A bhajan is a devotional song with a religious theme or spiritual ideas. It is a group event, with one or more lead singers, accompanied with music, and sometimes dancing.

Father Vas produced more than 40 CDs of bhajans and hymns that enriched Church singing in different languages.

“His music and hymns have been most popular devotional hits in the country especially in Hindi speaking area,” read a message from his congregation.

Father Vas was born on Feb. 12, 1944, in Omzoor parish in the Diocese of Mangalore.

As a young boy, the future priest played drums for the village music band, sang in the church choir, and developed a penchant for music.

He joined the Society of the Divine Word in 1956 when he was in the sixth grade. He pronounced his final vows in 1976 during his ordination to the priesthood.

Seven years later, he was awarded a doctorate in music from the Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Miraj, Maharashtra. His doctoral thesis was “East meets West.”

Father Vas was awarded the “Alankar Shiromani Puraskar” award in 2006, and Kalakar Puroskar in 2008, for his excellence and outstanding contribution in the field of music and dance.

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