28 April 2016
Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios oversaw a period of explosive growth in the Syro-Malankara church in India — and was dubbed “India’s Renaissance Man” for his wide-ranging interests
and tastes. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
A figure who had a profound effect on the people of India was Benedict Mar Gregorios, the Syro-Malankara Archbishop of Trivandrum. Profiling him in 1992, Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M. wrote of India’s “Renaissance man”:
Mar Gregorios is the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, a community that achieved full communion with the Church of Rome in 1930. Ordained a bishop in 1955, his efforts to renew the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context has led to the Church’s tremendous growth. Today more than 300,000 people are baptized members. When the archbishop was ordained in 1955, the Syro-Malankara Church numbered just over 70,000 members.
Mar Gregorios has initiated programs with the Tamils in the south, and with the dispossessed — the so-called “untouchables” — in his own state of Kerala.
We met the archbishop on several of his visits to New York and were certainly familiar with his projects funded by the benefactors of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Now we were seeing him for the first time on his own turf.
We came to see what we might do. We left feeling he had done much for us.
This simple priest/erudite scholar insists, “Our Lord didn’t come to save souls alone, but to save people! We must realize that the God who gave us a body and who himself assumed a body, cannot be thought of as indifferent to our material needs, for he made us to live in human dignity — dignity that presupposes a certain material well-being.”
After his death in 1994, our magazine noted:
An agricultural expert, the Archbishop started model farms and experimented with various plant forms to bolster the lives of his people, most of whom live on farms. Many of these small plots are supported by our Association.
As Archbishop, Mar Gregorios encouraged the renewal of the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context, enabling this small community, which numbered just 70,000 members in the 50s, to grow at a tremendous rate. Today the Syro-Malankara Catholic community numbers more than 300,000 people.
We mourn “the loss of this great and good man of God,” wrote Msgr. Robert L. Stern in a letter of condolence, “...the boldness of his vision and the strength of his trust in Almighty God will ever be an inspiration and a consolation to me.”
His extraordinary vision and outreach to the dispossessed helped transform India and spread the faith — and his legacy lives on to this day in schools and institutions. This is heroism in action. As Sister Christian wrote all those years ago:
It is this reservoir of respect and good will that enables Mar Gregorios, religious men and women, and the laity, to demonstrate their love and concern for the people — the power of Christian charity in action, not just words.