29 January 2019
On a home visit, Father Vinu Joseph and Sister Savari Arul administer medication to a patient. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Anubha George reports on the inspiring work among the poor with a mobile clinic Healing the Forgotten in India. Here, she offers more details from her visit.
It is the end of October. The roads are winding. We’re driving up the hills. The Sun is at its scorching peak. The weather is humid. We in the Kanyakumari Social Service Society (K.K.S.S.S.) ambulance are sweaty and thirsty. But the morale in the team is at an all time high. It’s as if nothing can faze them. There is no urgency as the palliative care team visits one home after another. It’s as if serving the community is their one and only purpose.
That is the one thing I take away from them: that service is a calling. There are people in this world who go to absolutely any length to help others, without expecting anything in return.
K.K.S.S.S. was set up in 1972. It is the social development arm of the Diocese of Thuckalay in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. K.K.S.S.S. runs a mobile ambulance which provides palliative care for people who are very poor and have nowhere to turn to for help.
This morning, the Rev. Vinu Joseph is leading the team of a nurse and three volunteers. We go high up in the hills. It’s a tribal area. It’s an actual forest. Tigers and wild elephants can be spotted. Health services aren’t easily accessible to people here. We park the ambulance by the foothills and start to climb up. A two mile hike later, we’re at Vijay Kumar’s home. It’s a hut. He’s 52 and had a stroke a few years ago. Doctors said it was caused by high blood pressure. Vijay Kumar wasn’t even aware he had high BP. His daughter stands by the door with her two children. One is a toddler, the other an infant. There are big poisonous spiders weaving their webs all around. A dog guards the hut. There are some hens and chickens running around.
Vijay Kumar is bed ridden. He has been so since the stroke. His wife welcomes Father Vinu as he walks in. I’m too scared of the spiders to go in. Vijay Kumar puts his hand out. I hold his hand from outside the window. Members of the K.K.S.S.S. team have known the family a while. Father Vinu prays. The family are Hindus. But they’re glad that someone’s come to check up on them. They’re happy that someone prays for them. Vijay Kumar’s daughter tells me they appreciate the support and help.
It turns out that the K.K.S.S.S. team make this trek up the hills just to check Vijay Kumar’s blood pressure a couple of times a week. All that just to check up on one person? I ask Father Vinu if that’s worth it. His reply touches my heart.
“People like Vijay Kumar look after our forests. They guard nature. The least we can do is look after them,” he says. Then he adds: “The service of the poor is the service of Christ. Jesus gives us the strength to do what we do. And he alone shows us the way.”
Read more in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
29 August 2018
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Bishop Jacob Barnabas Aerath from India. (photo: CNEWA)
A trailblazer from India stopped by our New York office this morning for a visit: Syro-Malankara Bishop Jacob Barnabas Aerath.
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, described a visit to the bishop’s home turf, what he calls “The Great North,” a few years ago:
The great call of these churches is to reach out to the real mission territory of India: The spiritual sons and daughters of the Apostle Thomas have undertaken a new missionary thrust to evangelize the “unreached” in the northern half of India.
On a series of visits with my hosts — a team of humble priests, religious sisters and lay leaders, including catechists — I have experienced firsthand this new approach to missionary life in India. It is happening not by building schools, erecting clinics or developing social service projects, but simply by humbly living with the poor. This means no formal structures — no buildings per se — but living, breathing witnesses of Christ who share with the poor the love that God has for all, giving them a sense of hope and belonging.
Cultural and political sensitivities prohibit me from sharing with you where some of these visits have taken place, but I can tell you what I experienced. I met humble, tribal people. Many were not of any caste (thus, they are literally outcasts) and all of them were hungry to learn about Jesus. They felt very comfortable and loved by the priests, sisters and lay leaders who were sharing their faith with the poor.
I may have been the first North American to have ever visited them — and these beautiful, spiritually thirsty souls made me feel most welcome by making the sign of the cross and praying with me (in their local language) the Lord’s Prayer. This is where I really choked up; at that moment I felt that God truly was the father of us all. They reminded me of this tenet of my faith.
We got a great sense of that faith from Mar Barnabas, whose zeal and joy enlivened our office. He shared with us stories of the tremendous sacrifice and sense of mission that animate the Christians in his diocese — men and women, mostly lay people, who carry the message of the Gospel to people who may never before have heard the name of Jesus.
Often, these lay catechists teach and lead liturgies in an atmosphere of great risk.
“I tell them,” the bishop said, “at maximum you may lose your head. Get ready for it! And they respond, ‘We are ready!’”
The region he serves in northern India is very humble — he himself has no chancery, no house, no income beyond a modest budget to make ends meet. He described visiting one mission in his diocese and sleeping on the floor. But again and again, he reminded us of the faith that sustains and inspires his flock.
He told us about one man who isn’t a physician, yet people call him “the doctor,” and bring him anyone who is sick. He prays with them and for them—and often, that is enough.
“He tells them, ‘I have just one medicine,’” Mar Barnabas explained with a smile. “‘Prayer and fasting!’”
To spend time with this bishop — whom Msgr. Kozar described as “my younger brother”— is to be reminded of the missionary roots of our faith, and how that kind of fervor, even in times of great difficulty and challenge, continues to bear witness to the Gospel today.
23 August 2018
Tags: India Indian Bishops
In India, massive flooding has destroyed thousands of homes in Kerala. CNEWA has released emergency aid to help some 4,000 families in need in the devastated region. (photo: CNEWA)
Catholic Near East Welfare Association has released $67,000 in emergency aid to help some 4,000 families cope with the flooding that has devastated much of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. Nonstop monsoon rains have swelled rivers, creeks and ponds, immersing heavily populated low lying areas in muddy waters. The rains have triggered landslides, severing power, washing away roads, livestock, crops and homes. More than a million people have fled their homes for refuge in camps set up on higher and drier ground. Up to 400 deaths have thus far been recorded.
The emergency aid includes food kits, potable water, medicines and sanitary items, said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, as well as household materials and school supplies for children. These items will be delivered to families in higher elevations in Kerala by social service teams of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, including the High Range Development Society of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Idukki, the Shreyas Social Service Center of the Syro-Malankara Eparchy of Bathery and the Center for Overall Development of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Thamarassery. Aid to low-lying areas will follow.
The latest reports indicate that the rains have subsided, allowing some of the waters to recede. Recovery efforts are just beginning.”The local government and social service organizations of the church are all involved in rescue operations in many places around Kerala,” writes CNEWA Regional Director M.L. Thomas from his own flooded village near Cochin. “Food packets and clothing are being supplied to the hundreds of relief camps. [But] with so many people stranded in so many places, there is difficulty supplying essential materials.
“Right now, the needs are urgent and immediate. This is a terrible situation and will soon require help to rebuild and rehabilitate many neighborhoods and help thousands who have lost everything.”
An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the subcontinent of India, the Middle East, Northeast Africa and Eastern Europe. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to displaced families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the children, elderly and disabled; and offering formation and supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders.
CNEWA is a registered charity in the United States by the State of New York and in Canada. All contributions are tax deductible and tax receipts are issued. In the United States, donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone at 800‑442‑6392; or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022‑4195. In Canada, visit www.cnewa.ca; write a cheque to CNEWA Canada and send to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9; or call toll-free at 1‑866‑322‑4441.
20 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Floodwaters have left thousands of people in Kerala stranded or homeless. (photo: CNEWA)
Late Friday, we received the following message from M.L. Thomas, our regional director in India, regarding the devastating floods that have swept through the region:
The flood situation in Kerala is very scary and unpredictable right now. People — including many of our staff — are overwhelmed by the water and not able to move. Almost all of Kerala is now under water. The telephone and other connections are not working properly. Utilizing all sources possible, I am in touch with some of our priests and I have already received requests for help from many of them. I am personally involved right now in the rescue work.
The local government and social service organizations of the church are all involved in rescue operations in many places around Kerala. Food packets and clothing are being supplied to the hundreds of relief camps. With so many people stranded in so many places, there is difficulty supplying essential materials. However, everything possible is being done by the government and the Catholic church.
My own village is surrounded by floodwaters. There are two relief camps set up at my parish, and at another parish nearby. Thousands of people were evacuated to these two places.
A woman surveys the damage in her flooded home. (photo: CNEWA)
Almost all the dams are releasing water, which is now finding its way into many parts of Kerala through various rivers. In some places, the rain is still pouring.
Right now, the needs are urgent and immediate. This is a terrible situation and will soon require help to rebuild and rehabilitate many neighborhoods and help thousands who have lost everything.
To help support those in need in India, visit this page. And please keep all affected in your prayers.
9 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Residents gather for prayer and group discussion in the outdoor spaces of the Trippadam Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center run by the Bethany Sisters in Kerala. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Anubha George takes us to A Refuge to Mend and Grow, where the Bethany Sisters are helping forgotten and abandoned women. She offers some additional impressions below.
After an eight-hour journey from Kochi, we begin our climb into the mountains of Wayanad in north Kerala.
Fourteen hairpin turns later, where we see monkeys snatching food off people, the air turns cold. Gone is the humidity of Kerala. This feels a bit like the Indian version of the prairie —it’s spacious and very breezy. The air is clean and there are tall coconut trees all around. It is indeed a very picturesque part of the place known as “God’s Own Country,” Kerala.
There are two friendly faces waiting for us at the Trippadam Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center in Sultan Bathery run by the Bethany Sisters. We meet Sister Tabitha and Sister Darsana. Along with three other sisters, they look after 50 women who stay here. These women have been abandoned by their families because they suffer from mental health problems. Some of them will be here until their dying day. There’s medical help available here from the local government-run hospital; women can receive an assessment and monthly follow-ups with a psychiatrist, along with free medication and regular counseling sessions.
There are many challenges. The building is old; it was once a convent before it became an orphanage. It needs repairs. But in the middle of all this, the sisters offer a place of welcome and peace.
The sisters have created a sense of community and well-being for those who are with them; they give the women a feeling of security and of being loved. There’s a purpose to their lives— a life of routine. The day here starts at 5.30 am when the women are given coffee in bed. Then there’s prayer and meditation, followed by Mass. After breakfast, it’s on to chores around the center, such as cleaning and cooking. There’s also the garden to take care of, and chickens and cattle that need looking after. After lunch, it’s nap time. In the evening, there’s prayer outdoors in the garden (where there’s a little chapel) and then it’s lights out at 9 pm.
Throughout the day, there’s significant focus on prayer, alongside medical help and emotional support. The sisters believe it helps calm down the women. It gives them a sense of well-being and makes them feel that they’re not alone but that Christ is with them at all times.
We are reminded of that as we leave. As we walk out, a woman named Usha says goodbye. ”Christ looks after me,” she says. ”And he loves me.”
Read more from Anubha George in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
30 October 2015
Demonstrators in Bangladesh protest anti-Christian assaults throughout the Indian subcontinent. (photo: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/ZUMA Wire/Corbis)
In the Autumn edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi writes on the persecution of Christians in India. Here, he reflects on his experience of reporting on anti-Christian violence in the country for more than 30 years.
Christians in India seem to be jittery these days. They feel helpless amid unprecedented attacks they have been facing for some time now.
Reporting these attacks now has given me a feeling of déjà vu.
I started reporting persecution of Christians in 1982, the year I joined South Religious Asian News, a news agency, as an in-service trainee.
That year Christians and Hindus clashed in Kanniyakumari, the southernmost district of India. Police firing on clashing groups had led to several deaths. The news agency ran stories for months about sectarian clashes involving both Christians and Hindus. Hindus then formed 49 percent of the district’s population and Christians 46 percent. The rest were Muslims.
Several probes by government and independent bodies blamed a group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S., “national volunteer organization”), for dividing people on the religious lines.
R.S.S. was formed in 1925 as a charitable, educational, volunteer, Hindu nationalist non-governmental organization. However, its main agenda is to create a Hindu theocratic state in India. It has now become the umbrella organization for all rightwing Hindu groups in India. Its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P., “Indian people’s party”) now heads the federal coalition government.
Attacks on Christians and other minority religious groups in India have happened in proportion to the growth of R.S.S. and its affiliates in the country.
Most reported incidents of violence against Christians in 1998 occurred in Gujarat; it was the same year that the B.J.P. came to power in the state. The year began with an unprecedented hate campaign by groups espousing Hindutva (the ideology of Hindu nationalism). It culminated with ten days of nonstop violence against Christian tribal people and the destruction of churches and Christian institutions in the southeastern districts at the year’s end. Human Rights Watch investigated these attacks in the Dangs district in southeastern Gujarat. The events were preceded by escalating violence throughout the state in which many police and state officials were implicated.
Ten years later, Kandhamal district in Odisha, an eastern Indian state, witnessed much worse violence against Christians. Violence erupted upon the impoverished Christian minority in August 2008. A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced — many forced to hide in nearby forests, where more died of hunger and snake bites.
The violence was carried out by mobs adorned with saffron headbands, a sign of right-wing Hindu militancy, and shouting slogans such as “Jai shri ram!” (victory to the Hindu god Ram) and “Jai bajrang bali!” (a tribute to another Hindu deity). Attackers wielded rods, tridents, swords, firearms, kerosene and even acid.
The same year, as many as 24 churches, including the chapel of cloistered convent, were damaged and several Christians were attacked in Karnataka, a southern Indian state.
All these incidents occurred away from New Delhi, India’s political capital. However, this ancient city also faced an unprecedented anti-Christian violence six months after the B.J.P. took over the national government. Over three months, at least five churches and a school were vandalized and the blame went to R.S.S. and its affiliates.
The Delhi incidents put the government in a bad light internationally. The attacks stopped suddenly and all churches in the capital were given police protection.
However, attacks now continue in villages far away from Delhi — giving me no respite from reporting on anti-Christian violence.
Read Jose Kavi’s report, ‘There Will Be More Martyrs’, in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE.
23 December 2014
Tags: India Violence against Christians Indian Christians Indian Catholics
On 26 December 2004, tens of thousands of lives in India were changed forever by one of the deadliest earthquakes and tsunamis in history. More than 200,000 people lost their lives throughout Indonesia.
CNEWA’s program director Thomas Varghese, now based in New York, was working in India at the time. In the video below, he describes what he experienced and saw — and how CNEWA responded to this humanitarian disaster.
28 August 2014
Tags: India Tsunami
Mahinder Singh sits with neighbors in their tiny village in Gangapar. (photo: John Mathew)
In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi explores the life and times of “untouchable” Christian Dalits. Here, he offers further insight into what he saw while covering the story.
I was happy when I was asked to write an article Dalit Christians. The Indian Church has been demanding justice for its Dalit members for nearly 65 years.
An estimated 70 percent of Christians in India are of Dalit origin, mostly in the Latin Catholic Church and Protestant denominations that were introduced in India by Western missionaries.
The presence of Dalits among the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, is around some 20 percent, concentrated mostly in Kerala, the church’s base in southern India. It is hard to identify these people of former low-caste origin, since they are well integrated into the mainstream churches.
So to write this story I turned to northern India, where the Syro-Malabar Church has several dioceses. Both Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Faridabad and Bishop Aboon Mor Barnabas Yacob, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church’s apostolic visitor to North India, said their churches are currently focusing mostly on their people, who have migrated to northern India from Kerala. However, they do support the church’s Dalit struggle.
Photographer John Mathew and I asked priests in the Bijnor Syro-Malabar diocese if they are doing anything for the Dalit people. They said they have a few local converts but were not sure if they belonged to any Dalit communities. The diocese covers Uttarakhand state and parts of neighboring Uttar Pradesh.
We decided to try our luck and set out to Gangapar-Birbhanwala, the diocese’s newest parish, in Uttar Pradesh. And it was a journey into new world. After traveling about five hours, we left the highways to enter a narrow dirt road. It took an hour to cover the 12 miles. We stopped at a bridge in Dhampur built over the Ramganga, one of the tributaries of the Ganges. Its blue and clean water gave us our first shock of the trip. The Ganges we have seen downstream at places such as Varanasi and Patna is no better than a sewage drain. The new government is planning to spend billions to clean up the river Hindus consider holy.
The Rev. M. J. Joseph, the young parish priest who came to the highway to guide us, said the river had changed its course only five years ago after a flood. The flood had washed away the road to Gangapar. We negotiated through farms and gutters and reached a tiny shed in the middle of an open field as the sizzling summer sun blazed above us.
“It is the parish church,” Father Joseph said with an apologetic smile. The tin-roofed shed has no cross, a normal sign of a church. There is no altar. The only Christian reminder is a painting of Jesus on the shed’s only wall. There was neither electricity nor running water. Our driver had to go to the nearby forest to answer nature’s call, as the place has no toilet.
Jarnail Singh, the church’s caretaker who lives in a room attached to the church shed with his wife and two children, asked his daughter Pinky to bring us water, which she did from the hand pump near the entrance.
Jarnail’s wife, Malkeet Kaur, readied the lunch by the time we finished exchanging pleasantries and conducting a few interviews. The special dish for the visitors was scrambled eggs.
After the lunch we set out for the villages. Most people live in thatched mud huts. Piles of cow dung cakes used as fuel and haystacks welcomed us at every entrance. Water buffaloes were tethered to poles near the huts. You could see charpai, the traditional cot that doubles up as sofa and bed, kept in the front yards.
Despite such dreary existence, everyone we met, including the aging Mahinder Singh, looked cheerful. He described his escape from Pakistan when the Indian subcontinent was divided. “I was so thirsty and went to drink from rivers, but they were filled with corpses. Then I went to wells, there also were dead bodies,” he recalled.
We asked him, “What makes you happy?”
“Prabhu Jisu” (“Lord Jesus”), he answered.
What more needed to be said?
Read more about Dalit Christians in Caste Aside from the Summer edition of ONE.
20 November 2012
Tags: India Indian Christians ONE magazine Indian Catholics Dalits
CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar joins other dignitaries in the opening ceremony of the New Delhi event. (photo: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church)
Editor’s note: On Saturday, 17 November, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, addressed a missionary conference in New Delhi, India, organized by Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. His exhortation, “Into the Deep,” praises the Eastern Catholic churches of India for their missionary fervor and their generosity to the universal church.
New Delhi, India, 17 November 2012
Many thanks to you, Your Eminence, Cardinal George Alencherry, for your kind invitation to join you at this very festive celebration. It is an honor for me, as a Latin-rite priest, to address all of you and to share with you my thoughts about your missionary charism and the bright missionary future the Syro-Malabar Church shares with the church universal and the world.
It is also a special honor to be welcomed into this new diocese where my friend Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara is the newly installed shepherd. I fondly remember his presence in New York when he served at the United Nations as the secretary of the Holy See delegation there. Many hearty congratulations to you, Archbishop Kuriakose, and to the wonderful faithful of your diocese.
Let me tell you a little bit about me to better situate my sharing with you.
In various interviews with the media, I have been asked: “How would you describe your role as President of CNEWA?” My answer is always, “I am just a parish priest on loan to the world.” I then add that my priesthood is intimately linked to being a missionary.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I always wanted to pursue the priesthood. My heroes were visiting Maryknoll missionaries who gave presentations in our school. My ultimate hero was a Maryknoll bishop who had been imprisoned in China for many years. His suffering — including many instances of torture — and his abiding faith resonated with me in my formative years. I wanted to imitate his spirit.
While in the seminary, I had the great fortune of serving a summer in Juliaca, Peru, working in the Altiplano with an all-indigenous population. It was at high altitude, freezing cold — but the hearts of the poor were warm and welcoming and the missionary needs were great. I got the fever: the missionary fever. This was a life-changing experience. It confirmed for me some important values for my priesthood.
As a deacon in my last months of preparation for priesthood, I had the good fortune to meet Archbishop Fulton Sheen, former national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith — a role that was bestowed on me years later — a television and media star, and the personality who put the missions on the map in America. It was Fulton Sheen who boldly asserted in interventions during Vatican II that everyone is a missionary by baptism. This pronouncement would become the mantra for the Propagation of the Faith. I believe strongly this should be the mantra of the Syro-Malabar Church.
To finish up on my own missionary journey…
I was ordained a diocesan priest in 1971 and was very happy and satisfied in all of my priestly assignments, but the call to reach out as a missionary was strong and would not diminish.
I remained in my home diocese and did not join any mission society, but soon learned the lesson of St. Theresa the Little Flower that I could still be a missionary in prayer and in good works done in solidarity with missions all over the world — and remain at home.
Eventually, I became the diocesan director of Missions and then was given the honor of being national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies — a role that brought me many times to India, mostly in service to the Latin Church.
And now, I am the President of CNEWA — the Catholic Near East Welfare Association — and am learning to breathe with the other lung of the church, its Oriental or Eastern lung.
But I am still a parish priest on loan to the world.
But what has happened to the missionary spirit in my country and in much of Europe? What has happened to the spirit of Pentecost? In large part it has been overwhelmed by anxiety over legal and financial problems, an uncertainty about vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and an unwillingness to share and reach out to the missions in our own want. Without making a sweeping generalization, the flames of the Holy Spirit and the call to be missionary in a time of Pentecost have diminished greatly.
Enter the Syro-Malabar Church. You are a missionary church to the core. You are a church alive in the Holy Spirit. You live the mandate of Pentecost.
Fifty years ago, after centuries of suffering — losing much of your identity as an Eastern church, after breaking the shackles of Latinization — the spirit of St. Thomas broke through and you undertook a bold, risky venture to go where others would not. You set out for Chanda.
Bishop Januarius Paul Palathuruthy, a Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, like the first apostles, like St. Thomas, offered himself and the Syro-Malabar Church as a loving representation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His simple, but very measured “seven step” catechetical approach resonated with the poor. He began by teaching a simple signing of the Cross. Then came the image of Christ, who died for all, then the Bible and so on.
His abiding presence, his missionary heart, his patient endurance and especially the grace of God have brought about this miracle of evangelization in India. With a small group of migrated Catholics, the seeds of faith were planted and produced the fruits of 25,000 souls.
This has been a true Pentecost event in your history. Why did Bishop Januarius and the Syro-Malabar Church have such a miraculous harvest? You shared in your want, you served, you fed the poor and you healed the sick. All of this was accomplished through a very healthy partnership between the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church and its religious congregations — in the case of Chanda, especially with the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. It is not an atmosphere of competition, but one of fraternal collaboration.
Congratulations on this 50th Anniversary of this important chapter in your missionary history.
As you have set this missionary course these past 50 years, there continue to be many challenges, some sufferings, hardship and sacrifices that won’t go away — but there are blessings in abundance.
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life continue to flourish. The call to be missionary is exciting to many and is readily accepted by young people. Priesthood is not perceived primarily as a ceremonial vocation, but one of service, surrounded by a willingness to reach out “into the deep.”
I think of the marvelous example and call to serve as given by Archbishop Mar Joseph Kundukulam of the Archdiocese of Trichur. His legacy of countless social service and helping programs gave hope to the poor and disenfranchised. Having visited Trichur, I am inspired by his spirit, still alive and carried forward by Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, a dear friend who has honored me with a recent visit; Cardinal Alencherry, your major archbishop; and our dear brother, Cardinal-elect Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church.
I am also inspired greatly by Mar Joseph’s legacy in founding the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, who do heroic work with God’s special “little ones.” Their missionary hearts, their selfless giving is a towering beacon of service in the name of Jesus.
Their light is a beacon for vocations in your church.
There are countless religious sisters who are the “foot soldiers” of the Syro-Malabar Church. Their loving maternal affection, especially for children, gives the reassurance, the security and hope of Christ. They are catechists, formation directors, “adoptive mothers,” nurses and care givers; they are Christ.
Let me tell you about a little girl I met a few years ago here in India…
This 8-year-old girl came from an aboriginal area and was living at a hostel with some religious sisters — the only opportunity for her to receive an education. While there, she learned many hymns and songs of praise to Jesus and enjoyed learning about Jesus and his mother from the sisters.
While at home during school recess she was set upon by a group of fundamentalists, who accused her of proselytizing as she was heard to be singing songs to this Jesus. Her life was threatened and she was rescued, narrowly escaping bodily harm or even death for herself and her family.
I asked her: “Were you afraid when they threatened you?” She answered straightforwardly as she looked me in the eye and said, “No, because Jesus would watch over me.”
What a testimonial in faith from a little one not yet baptized, but led to Christ by the gentle and loving hearts of the sisters. And others want to follow in their footsteps; the Syro-Malabar Church continues to be blessed with many women choosing to be religious.
Your dynamic missionary spirit resonates at home and abroad, as it must. There is a real Pentecost spirit at work all over India.
I have been privileged to participate in a popular mission, presented by the Vincentian Fathers in Chenganassery. My hearing was a little impaired after four hours of high decibel shouting, giving praise, singing, testimonies, etc., but the fervor of the thousands of people present was dramatic and the whole thrust was missionary. It reiterated the mandate of Pentecost: “Go tell others what you know, he is risen! Alleluia!”
You present the missionary challenge very clearly to your people:
The John Paul II Peace Center, which is dedicated to the care of people of every age with severe physical and mental challenges, is part of the Paul VI Mercy Home, a complex of social service modules owned and operated by the Archeparchy of Trichur. (photo: John Kozar)
- You do not apologize for our faith, as Pope Benedict reminded us in his recent exhortation to the church in the Middle East. You celebrate your faith through our life in Jesus.
- You are not anonymous, you are followers of Christ, but you do not boast.
- You welcome and offer unconditional service to everyone, just as Christ reached out to all. In the West, we have largely separated our faith from our good works.
- You especially reach out to the poor, the lonely, the Dalit.
Ad Gentes — To the peoples of the world
First of all, in the vast mission territories of India, your missionary witness and presence is alive and well.
I am amazed and inspired that 24 Syro-Malabar bishops are serving in Latin dioceses in India, often with no recognition and little appreciation. This is an untold story, one that I personally share with audiences, especially in my own country. Almost 40 percent of diocesan priests serving in Latin dioceses in India are Syro-Malabar priests. And more than 60 percent of religious priests serving in Latin dioceses are Syro-Malabar.
The missionary outreach of the Syro-Malabar Church extends to every continent, to 36 countries. Three thousand religious sisters of the Syro Malabar Church serve outside of India, as do more than 1,200 priests, including 205 in my own country.
In some areas of the world, despite large numbers of Syro-Malabar faithful, you do not yet enjoy juridical status, but you do not retrench or retreat. You maintain your Christ-like service and missionary presence. You continue the legacy of St. Thomas. God continues to reward you with growth and vitality in your church and the refreshment of vocations.
In New York, I must comment on the missionary spirit of Father Jos Kandathikudy, Pastor of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church in the Bronx. At a recent celebration honoring the tenth anniversary of the parish, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and I, both privileged to join in this celebration, were overwhelmed by the dynamism of this young mission-minded parish and the Christ-like service of dear Father Jos. His missionary heart, as representative of the Syro-Malabar tradition, serves as a beacon to all of us in New York: Celebrate Pentecost, be happy, be faithful and respond to Christ. Go out into the deep.
We have just initiated a Year of Faith. Our Holy Father invites us to enter the “door of faith,” a life of communion with God, the journey of a lifetime.
He invites us, as Christ has called us, to leave everything behind to follow him, to be missionary.
In this call to be missionary, our Holy Father reminds us that faith without charity bears no fruit and charity without faith brings doubt. Charity and faith require each other. These are our walking orders to be effective missionaries.
We just concluded the Synod on New Evangelization, in which some of you participated. As Cardinal Alencherry has personally shared with me, perhaps there is nothing new about evangelization: just some humility needed to admit we have not done well the first time around or in evangelizing since Vatican II.
This reminds me of a commercial 15 to 20 years ago for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. As you have probably tasted them, Corn Flakes is the father of breakfast cereals, the simplest, most basic, probably the healthiest — no sugar coating, no chocolate covering, no nuts or yogurt flavoring — just simple corn flakes.
The commercial promoted the cereal with the motto: “Corn Flakes, try them again, for the first time.”
Maybe some have forgotten how good and tasty they are, how simple they are, how unadulterated. Maybe some have never even tried them. So: Try them again, for the first time.
Your church encourages all to experience the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. To those maybe in my country, in Europe or in foreign lands, your invitation as missionaries in this new evangelization to try the faith again for the first time is warm and inviting. Go and tell others: He is risen, Alleluia!
And to those who have never known this Jesus of Nazareth, the Syro-Malabar Church offers this bread of life to the hungry, the poor, the alienated and the forgotten.
There are many celebrations of interest today:
- 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II.
- 50th Anniversary of setting the missionary course in Chanda.
- The anniversary marking the beginning of reclaiming and re-discovering your roots and your identity as an Eastern church.
- The beginning of a Year of Faith.
- The closing of the Synod on New Evangelization.
- The closing of a Syro-Malabar Year of Mission, which gathers us here these days.
But more than anything else, this celebration is about Pentecost. Despite sufferings, sacrifices, disappointments, you maintain the countenance of Christ.
Thank you, brothers and sisters of the Syro-Malabar Church. You challenge the church universal to be as Christ, the supreme missionary, and as Mary, his mother, the missionary to the Apostles. You enkindle the spirit of St. Thomas, your father in faith.
Pentecost is alive. The Holy Spirit is burning in your hearts.
Cardinal Alencherry, dear bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters and loving lay people — we who breathe from the other lung of the church, we love you and we need you.
Go tell the others: He is risen, Alleluia!
14 September 2012
Tags: India Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Christians Msgr. John E. Kozar Indian Catholics
A dance group from Mumbai’s Syro-Malabar Catholic eparchy rehearse a traditional Keralite routine backstage at an annual festival. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the January edition of ONE, we featured a story about generations of Thomas Christians from Kerala who have built a community of their own in Mumbai:
“Because the Eparchy of Kalyan was formed exclusively for the Syro-Malabar faithful, a lot of re-evangelization has taken place, meaning people who were on the fringes now started coming forward,” he explains.
“Otherwise, what happens? In the Latin Church, they were unknown. The Latin parish in Vikhroli has 10,000 people and seven Masses every Sunday. Nobody was bothered if they were there or not. But now our parish is very small: a hundred families. We have one liturgy. So if somebody doesn’t come for it, we ask: ‘Where has he gone?’ There’s much more community now that we have the eparchy.”
Mrs. John waits patiently for her husband to finish his thought before speaking. Humble and articulate, she is the perfect blend of the gentility characteristic of rural Kerala and Mumbai’s cosmopolitanism.
“With time, our roots in Kerala have diminished,” she says. “But we still follow all the traditions we learned from our parents. Like when mom passed away, we called everybody over on the 40th day. We follow all the rituals we learned to the core. All the celebrations we do in Kerala are also celebrated here in Mumbai. Basically, we just want to keep our culture alive. We don’t want our kids to lose out on that front — in the home or in the church.”
For more, read A Church of Their Own.
Tags: India Cultural Identity Kerala Migrants